It was all so unnecessary. Chip Kelly was a dynamic, innovative coach. The Ducks had success, an exciting offense, fantastic facilities. They were getting better and competing, making inroads with top talent, winning games. They made the National Championship game with recruiting classes that averaged about 24th in the country.
The success Oregon has had was exhilarating, but this price is too high. Three, four years ago we’d have been happy with 8-4, 9-3, a Holiday or a Sun Bowl now and then, and once every ten years or so with the right group of kids and a couple of breaks, a chance at the Rose Bowl or another top game. Get the right quarterback, a leader with charisma, flair and a fabulous will to win, a couple of hard-hitting linebackers, and have an occasional season for the ages.
Somehow we got greedy, or our coaching staff did. They cut corners and got involved with a questionable guy in Will Lyles, their reputation smeared by association . LaMichael James was a three-star recruit coming out of high school, overlooked because he was little and came from a small school on the east edge of Texas. His other option was TCU. Maybe they could have gotten him anyway, or made a competitive running back committee out of Kenjon Barner and one of the other stellar athletes on the roster. Terrance Mitchell had 2,360 all-purpose yards in high school. John Boyett was in the same territory. They’re not LMJ fast, but they could have been taught to run to the hole and run hard, one cut and go. They’d both of caught the ball well out of the backfield, done the little things, broke tackles for first downs, held on to the football.
The media feeding frenzy over the story is as nauseating as the story. They’re like hyenas, almost rejoicing over the allegations and the enormity of the embarrassment. There’s a particular satisfaction, it seems, because of Coach Kelly. His brusque and sometimes arrogant manner stung a reporter who asked a stupid question on many occasions, and scanning the twitterverse, you get a sense of the stored resentment. Jon Wilner of The Mercury News talked about a Kelly Death Watch, and how the Oregon success of the last two and three years has to now be considered a fraud. They chortled and sneered at the Ducks expense, already assuming the penalties will be severe and further revelations will be even more damaging. Don’t assume too much. Strip away the spin Lyles now puts on the story, with him as the ruined victim just playing along in a conspiracy, and today’s story just confirms what everyone already knew. Oregon paid Lyles for his influence with a few fast, talented recruits, and his recruiting service was a sloppy, lazy, poorly-constructed dodge of the rules.
With just a little more effort, Lyles could have been far more legit. He blames Oregon for making him the bad guy, but NCAA guidelines for a legitimate scouting service are pretty clear. All he needed to do was put together a reasonable-looking website, publish a price list, and compile some reports on recruits (which would take a few phone calls to coaches, some video editing software and basic Internet research) and he would have met every standard for an established scouting service.
Oregon’s coaching staff and compliance department should have been more careful. The hope is they were honest when the NCAA made its first inquiries back in March. It looks bad. The 2011 season probably isn’t in jeopardy (NCAA investigations are pathetically slow; the USC case took years.) But the stain of this and the ensuing fallout may be hard to erase.
It’s a grave embarassment for a coach who didn’t have to do this. He could have succeeded on talent and drive and imagination. He didn’t need a pimp.