In the days after Mario Cristobal left Oregon to become the head coach at the University of Miami, I received a pile of email correspondence.
One note stuck out.
It was from a jilted neighbor. A father, whose family lived a few blocks from the Cristobals, wrote to tell me that his children attended the same elementary school as Cristobal’s two sons, Rocco and Mario Mateo. The reader’s children were mourning the loss of friendships — for a second time. They’d also grown fond of one of ex-ex-coach Willie Taggart’s kids and watched him move away, too.
“I told my kids, ‘No more friendships with coach’s kids,’” the dad wrote.
Dan Lanning and his wife, Sauphia, have three sons. Caden, the oldest, plays the clarinet and would love to be a movie director. Niles, the middle child, is creative and strategic. And Titan, the baby of the family, is often introduced as a spirited, unbridled version of Dan Lanning himself.
Said Lanning: “My wife always says, ‘Caden is the rule follower.’ Then, you have the rule breaker, that’s Niles. And then there’s Titan — the rules don’t apply.”
I didn’t want to like Lanning.
But how can you not?
I told Chip Towers, the long-time Georgia football beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, exactly that a few days ago. Towers is visiting Oregon, doing a series on Lanning’s arrival as a preamble to the Bulldogs-Ducks Sept. 3. season opener in Atlanta. Towers is asking a lot of good questions. But the biggest mystery is one that Lanning himself will have to answer over the next few months: Can the guy coach?
In the last 14 years, we’ve cycled through a line of head football coaches in the state of Oregon — Mike Bellotti to Chip Kelly to Mark Helfrich to Taggart to Cristobal to Lanning on the Ducks’ side. And Mike Riley to Gary Andersen to Jonathan Smith on the Beavers’ front. That’s nine head coaches in 14 years between the state’s two major college football programs.
It has been a blur, hasn’t it?
Smith, at OSU, is likable, too. He’s a tremendous fit in Corvallis. Not just because he visited his grandmother not far from campus as a kid and later attended college and played football at Oregon State. Rather, Smith’s vibe feels right for OSU and he’s coming off a seven-win season.
The more you’re around Smith (and his players) the more you understand that the Beavers’ coach has a competitive fire, always percolating just beneath the surface. I asked him a couple of weeks ago what the next step was for his program.
“We want to win the championship,” Smith told me. “We want to go to Vegas and be in the Pac-12 championship game.”
He’s never said that out loud before, at least not to me.
Is Smith a forever guy at OSU?
Could be. But we’ve learned to proceed carefully on that front. Riley felt like he’d stay at OSU forever. Right up until he felt disrespected and Nebraska sent a private charter to pick him up. Andersen had a little early momentum, then promptly face-planted. Smith has encouraging trajectory, so I’m eager to find out where he takes this.
Will Lanning and his family stick around Eugene? What if he wins big at Oregon and the SEC calls? I don’t know the answer to that but I think we’ve all learned to tread lightly and live in the moment.
This whole exercise got me thinking about the biggest question that each Pac-12 football program needs to answer this season. Here they are with my thoughts:
Oregon — Can Dan Lanning coach?
OSU — Is there another step forward for QB Chance Nolan?
USC — The Trojans are dangerous at the skill positions, but will they be able to win in the trenches?
UCLA — Is Chip Kelly about to break through?
Utah — How will the Utes handle being the unanimous favorite?
Colorado — How patient will the university be with coach Karl Dorrell?
Arizona — Is transfer QB Jayden de Laura good enough to keep games close?
ASU — Can we trust the Sun Devils on game day?
Cal — We know coach Justin Wilcox will be great on defense, but will the Bears find consistent offensive juice?
Stanford — Really good QB + talent and depth at WR and TE positions… is that why David Shaw is smiling like he knows something we don’t?
Washington — Will QB Michael Penix Jr. stay healthy?
Washington State — What is the ceiling for transfer QB Cameron Ward and new offensive coordinator Eric Morris’ “Coug Raid” offense?
• VOTE: I have a Heisman Trophy vote. So this college football season, I’m going to post occasional thoughts on that front. I’d be curious to know who you think will win the Heisman Trophy this season. Who should be considered from the Pac-12? Post your thoughts in the comment section.
• IRISH: What will Notre Dame do when its media rights come up for bid? The market is being set now. I covered it in depth with my Sunday post. It’s worth your time if you missed it.
• RESIGNATION: Oklahoma assistant Cale Gundy resigned over the weekend and it’s raising some questions. Gundy noticed that a Sooners’ player, who was supposed to be taking notes during a film session, was distracted. The coach picked up the player’s iPad and read the words on the screen.
Said Gundy: “I want to be very clear: the words I read aloud from that screen were not my words. What I said was not malicious; it wasn’t even intentional. Still, I am mature enough to know that the word I said was shameful and hurtful, no matter my intentions.”
We all know what word must have been included. Gundy read it aloud. Still, a number of coaches from across college football were confused by the resignation.
One told me, “Bizarre… looking for an out?”
Another said, “I’m confused why he’d have to resign for reading someone else’s words. There has to be more to this.”
• BIG DATES: Oregon vs. Georgia is Sept. 3 in Atlanta. It’s a huge date for the Ducks. But the bigger opportunities for the Pac-12 to shine probably come in other spots this season.
Utah travels to Florida in Week 1 in a game that is huge for the Pac-12. Arizona State travels to Oklahoma State in Week 2. That same week, Washington State plays at Wisconsin. In Week 3, Washington hosts Michigan State in Seattle and Oregon hosts BYU at Autzen Stadium. USC, Cal and Stanford all play Notre Dame this season as well. Should be fun.
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Oregon had a pretty mediocre season last year after the Ohio State game. Lost to Stanford, which was awful, almost lost to Cal, got pulverized by Utah twice.
The Heisman is largely a meaningless award, in that it purports to celebrate the best player in college football. What it really is, is the best QB (or maybe rarely RB or WR) at a Top 10 program having a great season - essentially, the best from a selection of maybe 8 - 12 guys who qualify for the award.
When I start seeing LBs or DLs or OTs winning the award, or a phenomenal player on a team that went 8 - 4, then I'll care.