eDuck Sports has learned that Bellotti's deal with UCLA could be as much as $2 million and now it is a question whether the Ducks want to get into that price range, or do they want to move on to a new coach?
On one hand, Bellotti, who turned 57 today (Dec. 21) has represented stability and compiled a Pac-10 conference record of 105-52. The Ducks have won two Pac-10 championships and were on the verge of the best season ever this year until quarterback Dennis Dixon suffered a torn ACL that stopped the Ducks dead in their tracks. Oregon was 8-1 at the time of Dixon's injury and ranked 2nd in the BCS standings. Oregon then lost its last three games to Arizona, UCLA and Oregon State.
Oregon travels to El Paso, Texas the day after Christmas to play the University of South Florida in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31st.
Bellotti came under fire for his decision to play Dixon against Arizona. Dixon apparently had suffered the knee injury in the previous week against Arizona State, but according to the head coach, had been cleared by team doctors to play the following week. Bellotti's comments that he had "taken himself out of the decision" were questioned. Bellotti maintained that he had counseled Dixon regarding the injury but since Dixon had been cleared and wanted to continue to play, he would leave it up to the player and the doctors whether Dixon would continue to perform on the field.
The swan dive the Ducks took after losing Dixon was most evident in the 16-0 loss to UCLA at the Rose Bowl on Nov. 24th. The Ducks were unable to score and generated only 148 yards of offense compared to the 40.9 points and 505.8 yards of total offense in its first 10 games of the season. During the UCLA game, the Ducks also lost back quarterback Brady Leaf and were forced to play the fourth string quarterback, Cody Kempt until he too was knocked out of the game. Justin Roper, the team's No. 5 quarterback finished the game. Oregon's No. 3 quarterback Nate Costa was lost for the season due to a knee injury suffered in practice earlier in the year.
Oregon played a much more competitive game the following week against Oregon State and was in position to win the game in the final few moments but a coaching error created confusion on the field. The game was tied at 28 when the Ducks had moved to the outer limits of field goal kicker Matt Evensen's range. With 26 seconds left in the contest, Evensen missed a 53-yard attempt, but a personal foul on the play moved the ball the Beaver 21-yard line. Instead of kicking the field goal from the spot, the Ducks chose to call one play to move the ball to the center of the field hoping to give Evensen a better angle at the kick. However, after Roper took the snap and moved to the middle, instead of the offense lining up and Roper spiking the ball to stop the clock, Evensen was sent back onto the field. The Ducks were out of timeouts and the clock was running. It was clear that there was much confusion among the Ducks on the field. Roper was able to take the snap and Evensen attempted the kick, but the ball fell short of the uprights and the game went into overtime. Evensen did not seem ready to make his attempt as would have been expected if the Oregon had been able to properly set up for the kick. The Ducks had time enough to stop the clock by spiking the ball and allow the field goal unit time to properly set up for a field goal attempt but by sending out the kicker early the play disintegrated.
The Ducks lost in double overtime to the Beavers, 38-31.
Controversy also reared its head earlier in the season when Bellotti's ex-wife had a confrontation with a Portland newspaper columnist in the Oregon press box over comments the columnist made about the couple's son, Luke. Mike Bellotti was on the field at the time and had no involvement in the incident, but the issue was made public and was obviously a source of embarrassment for the head coach.
The 2007 season was a turn around year for the Ducks compared to the 2006 campaign when Oregon had folded in the later part of the season and finished the year off with four straight losses including a humiliating 38-8 loss in the Las Vegas Bowl to BYU. Bellotti had raised the ire of many by suggesting BYU was not good enough to be a top-flight program in the Pac-10 and maintained his opinion even after suffering the loss.
In 2007 though, Bellotti brought in Chip Kelly to replace Gary Crowton as offensive coordinator when Crowton accepted a similar position at LSU. Kelly's influence on the Ducks was felt immediately as he introduced a high-paced approach to practices that was first noticed by bystanders at spring workouts. When Dixon went off to play baseball during the summer, Bellotti expressed some displeasure by Dixon's departure as the coach would have preferred the quarterback stay with the team during involuntarily summer workouts in June and July.
However, when Dixon reported in for fall camp it was apparent that Dixon had used the time away from football well and was much better player. Dixon and the Ducks shocked the football world with a 39-7 trouncing of Michigan at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor before a national television audience. The Ducks moved up the polls and were only sidetracked briefly with a 31-24 loss to California, coached by Jeff Tedford, a former Duck offensive coordinator under Bellotti.
Last year the Ducks had their best recruiting year ever, ending up with a recruiting class ranked 11th by Scout.com. Bellotti played as many as 10 of those recruits during the 2007 season, the first time in Bellotti's tenure at Oregon that so many true freshmen played their first year.
This year's recruiting class has appeared to fill needs, but Bellotti has mentioned that the Ducks are always going to be at a disadvantage in recruiting because Eugene is not close to a major metropolitan area that produces quantity Division I football players. Duck fans became excited about the recruiting year when it was learned that Oregon was among Terrelle Pryor's finalist. Pryor is Scout's No. 1 quarterback prospect this year and hails from Jeannette, Pennsylvania and has listed Oregon along with Florida, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State as his favorites. Pryor is not expected to announce his decision on where he will go until National Letter of Intent signing day on Feb. 6, 2008.
If Bellotti were to leave Oregon, the Ducks likely would immediately pursue Kelly, Tedford or Chris Peterson, the head coach at Boise State. Peterson was an assistant to Bellotti several years ago.
Will He Stay or Will He Go?
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