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Canzano: Oregon Ducks fueled up on Dan Lanning
Have the Ducks found their forever coach?
Mario Cristobal was barely out the door late last year when long-time Oregon lawmaker Peter Courtney summoned me for a telephone call.
He was pissed.
Courtney, the 79-year old president of the state senate, railed Cristobal, and his predecessor, Willie Taggart. Both head football coaches ditched UO to take lucrative jobs near where they grew up. Taggart landed a $30 million windfall from Florida State. Cristobal signed on with the University of Miami for $80 million.
“Guess what? You know what?” Courtney railed. “You don’t get to go home. You made a commitment. You gave your word. You told young people to follow you. You don’t get to go home. I don’t want to hear that.
“Oregon gave you the biggest break of your life. Don’t give me this ‘home’ bit. I don’t want to hear it. Look, what Oregon has done for these people is incredible and all they do is crap on my state, make fools of us, and I don’t like it. I don’t like it. I don’t.”
The Ducks beat UCLA 45-30 on Saturday. Oregon is 6-1 and ranked No. 8 in the AP poll. I watched head coach Dan Lanning after the game on the field. He slapped backs, bouncing around, celebrating with his players. I know, it’s early in his tenure. But at some point, some football coach is going to wise up and make the University of Oregon his forever place.
Why not Lanning?
Hold that thought.
Maddox Oliver is 18. His younger brother, Kellen, is 16. They live in Canby with their parents. Hours after Saturday’s big win, they pulled away from Autzen Stadium in their gray Volkswagen Jetta. Two others, a cousin, Hayden Benedict, and a friend, Ryan Petterson, rode with them.
They stopped at a Chevron gas station.
One of them looked over. Lanning was parked at the adjacent pump in his blue Chevrolet Tahoe. They nudged and whispered to each other. The Ducks football coach had stopped for gas on his way home, too.
Kellen dialed his father, Ryan, and whispered into the phone, “Dad, you’re not going to believe this, but Dan Lanning is getting gas right next to us.”
I’ve done a ton of research on Lanning. I’ve talked with his parents, friends, former players, and wrote in depth about his rural Missouri upbringing. But there’s no better way to encapsulate Lanning’s small-town mentality than to tell you what happened next.
He struck up a conversation with the kids. Then, posed for pictures. Then, the UO football coach pulled out his credit card and insisted their gas was on him. After all, they’d driven 188 miles round-trip to see his team play UCLA that day.
Ryan, their father, later told me, “The kids hunted around, looking for the best gas price they could find.”
I asked Lanning about his good deed on Monday. He downplayed it, naturally. He pointed out that the film “Pay it Forward” is one of his favorites. He’s a movie fanatic and noted that it only rated a dismal 39 out of 100.
“Phenomenal movie,” Lanning said. “I can’t believe it’s rated that poorly on Rotten Tomatoes.”
Again, it’s early in Lanning’s tenure. We need a larger sample size. But Oregon has cycled through four head football coaches in the last seven seasons. UO has deep resources, amazing facilities and is well positioned in a Power Five conference.
Rich Brooks worked for 18 seasons as the head football coach at Oregon. Mike Bellotti followed that with 14 seasons of his own. As I stood on the sideline in the closing minutes of Saturday’s game, I looked over and saw long-time Oregon assistant Gary Campbell standing a few feet away from me.
“Great to be back,” he said.
Campbell served as UO’s running backs coach for 33 seasons. Nick Aliotti put in 14 seasons as the defensive coordinator during the same era. You can talk all you’d like about the benefits of the Ducks making the College Football Playoff, but what I think Oregon needs more than anything right now is some old-fashioned stability.
Will Lanning keep winning?
If so, could he be a forever guy at Oregon?
His alma mater is William Jewell College, a member of Division II in football. It won’t come after him the way “The U” did with Cristobal. Lanning was an assistant at Georgia, but I don’t think the SEC calls to him in the way it does to some others.
Lanning’s parents were public school teachers. Don Lanning — Dan’s father — told me over the summer: “Daniel is loyal to a fault. I can promise you that he is planning on serving every minute of his contract and beyond. He’s not primarily motivated by money. It is crazy what these guys make. It’s astonishing what they make.”
Lanning’s six-year contract at Oregon: $29.1 million.
In the last dozen years, Lanning has bounced around the country, working at Pitt, Arizona State, Sam Houston State, Alabama, Memphis, Georgia and Oregon. His wife, Sauphia, has seen plenty of moving trucks. Their three sons — Caden, Kniles and Titan — are now in formative school years.
It’s true. We’ve seen this act before. Coaches show up, buy a home, plant roots and say all the right things. But there’s something about Lanning’s first act that feels different. It feels like this is just the beginning. Also, there doesn’t appear to be a no-brainer fit out there for Lanning, either.
He’d be wise to examine the lessons provided by Taggart, Cristobal, and even Chip Kelly, who struggled to win consistently after leaving the cushy haven that is UO’s football program.
Kelly was 46-7 at Oregon, but hasn’t captured consistent success anywhere else. UCLA came to Eugene on Saturday ranked in the Top 10, holding a sterling 6-0 record. But after the loss to the Ducks, Kelly’s record with the Bruins fell to 24-26 in five seasons.
Taggart? He ditched Oregon after only one season. He went 5-7 and 4-5 before being fired at Florida State. Cristobal? He stayed in Eugene for five seasons, but given his roots in South Florida, it always felt temporary. At Miami this season, he’s already suffered losses to Middle Tennessee State and Duke.
Cristobal told me Monday that he knew when he signed on for the job that there was “a ton to do” at Miami. The Hurricanes are in a rebuild. Also, Cristobal noted, “Happy to see the Ducks kicking butt and proud to know the role we played in re-establishing the brand.”
That old state senator is probably rolling his eyes. Maybe justifiably so. The business of college football is batty some days. I need to see more of Lanning. A lot more. But at some point, some football coach is going to make the University of Oregon his forever place.
Why not Dan Lanning?
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