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Canzano: There are more important things than college football
A column on Oregon Ducks' coach Dan Lanning
Dan Lanning and his wife, Sauphia, have three sons. They might as well have 83. Because we’ve all seen the photographs of the Lanning family backyard cook-outs, with a pile of Ducks’ football players laughing, eating, and playing lawn games.
I asked UO’s coach a couple of weeks ago about those team-building get-togethers.
Where did Lanning pick that up?
Why does he do it?
“I just thought it made sense,” he told me, “I’ve always done that with my guys.”
Spencer Webb’s death won’t ever make sense. The 22-year old Oregon tight end was killed on Wednesday when he slipped on the rocks near Triangle Lake and hit his head. I wrote a sobering column about a life cut short.
“Dammit,” former Oregon coach Mario Cristobal told me via text early the next day. “Really hard. Been to hell and back with that kid.”
Cristobal, who mentored Webb, crossed my mind on Wednesday night when I heard the news. I’ve been thinking about Webb’s classmates, teammates and friends in the last few days. Also, I’ve been thinking about Lanning, who got the job at Oregon six months ago and opened his arms — and his home — to his new players.
In the spring, Don Johnson, Oregon’s director of player personnel, collapsed at work and was hospitalized with what the university later termed “a medical emergency.” Johnson is a warm presence and wildly popular coach. He’s a well-liked holdover from the Cristobal regime and stuck around to work for Lanning. Johnson’s sudden illness hit the program hard.
“Do it for Don,” Spencer Webb tweeted in April.
Now, Johnson is recovering.
Lanning’s football program has already been through some stuff, hasn’t it?
This column really isn’t about football, though. It’s about people. Because while Lanning will be judged this season on how effectively his team plays on game days, I’m already impressed with the guy’s viewpoint on life.
His wife, Sauphia, was on a walk with him in 2017 when she complained of some knee pain. She was diagnosed with an aggressive case of Osteosarcoma — bone cancer — in her left leg. The tumor was the size of a golf ball. She was just 28 and endured rounds of chemotherapy, radiation treatment, a surgery, and a long recovery.
I asked Lanning in our first conversation how that experience shaped him — not as a coach, but as a person.
He said: “There’s a lot of things in life that are more important than football. That’s the first thing I learned. That helped re-prioritize my life and really the whole dynamic of our family where I was able to put my wife and kids first.”
Some coaches like to tell you they sleep, eat and drink the job. They often show up early and stay late. Sleeping at the office becomes a badge of honor. But Lanning said he’s sought balance.
“You can be a guy who is a husband and father first and still be a great coach and that’s exciting for me,” he said.
In the last decade, Lanning moved from Pittsburgh to Arizona State to Sam Houston State to Alabama to Memphis to Georgia. He got married, then became a father to those three boys (Caden, Kniles and Titan). Amid that, Lanning worked as a graduate assistant, then a recruiting coordinator, then position coach, then back to grad assistant before becoming Georgia’s defensive coordinator.
Lanning could teach a “Master Class” in navigating a young career.
Now, he’s the head coach at Oregon. In that role, he’s a lot of things to his players — life-coach, mentor and guidance counselor, among them.
This column won’t have a tidy resolution. There just isn’t one when you’re trying to sort through the wreckage of a tragic week. We all know life can be cruel. Bad things happen. But UO feels like it’s in good hands today.
Not the football program.
Those players themselves.
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