Canzano: Who's got it better than... Justin Herbert?
That -- plus, Dan Lanning, Scott Rueck, Stanford, OSU, WSU and more.
Justin Herbert scored a victory this week when Jim Harbaugh became coach of the Los Angeles Chargers.
They’ll win together.
In four seasons of college football at Oregon, Herbert played for Mark Helfrich, Willie Taggart, and Mario Cristobal. Let’s face it, the quarterback made them all look better than they were.
In the run-up to the 2020 NFL Draft, all the questions from scouts were about Herbert’s ability to lead and be more vocal. Could he command respect in the huddle? Would the soft-spoken kid from Oregon raise his voice in a pro setting?
I don’t think nearly enough was made about Herbert’s proof of performance under less-than-ideal circumstances. He demonstrated an ability to succeed in college despite utter chaos, volatility, and turnover going on around him.
Helfrich got fired.
Taggart bailed after one season.
Then, Cristobal put the offense in a straight-jacket.
None of it mattered. Herbert thrived. When he was healthy, he made everything look passable, effective, and pretty. When he left for the NFL I wondered if what he’d endured in Eugene was lost on scouts. I’ve covered the NFL. It’s a league of mercenaries. Colleges love to say they’re in the business of preparing young people for the real world. Well, Oregon did exactly that by cycling through coordinators and head coaches in Herbert’s four years.
Herbert is now on his third full-time NFL head coach and sixth coach since enrolling at Oregon in 2016. Harbaugh is easily the most qualified of the bunch. Part of what made the Chargers’ job more attractive than the other vacancies was the proven commodity at quarterback. And therein lies the beauty in what finally happened for Herbert — he got an ally who will stick around.
Not one clinging to his job like Helfrich was when he started the true freshman out of desperation. Not one looking for a ticket out of town, like Taggart was. Not one who wanted to run the ball on first and second down, and ask Herbert to bail the operation out on third down and 8, as Cristobal often did.
Harbaugh is going to be great for Herbert because he knows how to build around a proven commodity, not just lean on it.
• Life just keeps getting better and better for Dan Lanning. The University of Oregon football coach also caught a break himself this week when the Chargers handed the keys to the empire to Harbaugh.
Michigan loses some momentum in the Big Ten. Meanwhile, Ohio State’s Ryan Day will absorb a mountain of expectations and pressure to win the league championship next season. I couldn’t help but think of Lanning as a beneficiary.
In the last month, Lanning hung out with Michael Jordan, joined ESPN on the set of the College Football Playoff title game, got a standing ovation at a Ducks’ basketball game, picked up some talent in the transfer portal, saw his nemesis Kalen DeBoer go from Washington to Alabama, and now has slipped in front of defending national champion Michigan.
Lanning presenting at the Oscars?
I’m a believer in the value of talent, work ethic, and continuity. It’s not bad to be lucky, either. I spoke this week with a pile of college athletic directors. One of them, from the ACC, brought up Lanning and the $20 million buyout in his contract.
“Oregon has him in a set of golden handcuffs,” the AD told me.
• That might be true. But I don’t think Lanning exactly views himself as “stuck” in Eugene. He’s got a top-three NIL collective, Phil Knight’s backing, the glow of Nike’s marketing machine, and the competition around him is melting as he heads to the Big Ten next season.
• It might also be true that UO athletic director Rob Mullens has a rabbit’s foot in the pocket of his coat. If you think about it, Mullens tried hard to retain Willie Taggart (unsuccessfully). Then, three years later, tried to retain Mario Cristobal (again, unsuccessful). Mullens ended up hiring Lanning, who now looks better than both his predecessors.
• Lanning is 0-3 vs. DeBoer. I suspect Oregon’s coach was itching for the chance to match up vs. Washington without Michael Penix Jr. If Lanning and DeBoer meet next season, it will be in a College Football Playoff game.
• I know. I know. Jonathan Smith did what was best for himself. He took the bird in the hand and left Oregon State for Michigan State early in the hiring cycle. But I can’t be alone in wondering if Smith is kicking himself for not being more patient. Given the openings we’ve seen, he could have done better than MSU.
• Smith could have ended up as the coach at Washington, for example.
• Is Chip Kelly headed back to the NFL? I’d bet against it, but who knows? Reports surfaced this week that the UCLA coach could be part of a package deal with Dan Quinn for the Seahawks. I’ve talked with Kelly a handful of times in the last year and got the sense he was happy living in Southern California. I’d be surprised to see Kelly give up his zip code.
• A UCLA football player told me that Bruins’ athletic director Martin Jarmond dropped in at a strength and conditioning workout this week. It was unplanned. But Jarmond showed up, walked through the workout, and talked informally with a few athletes. It was a smart touchpoint for the AD.
Kelly is supposedly on the road, recruiting. I suppose in today’s world of the transfer portal and the anxieties that come with it, it’s not bad to have an athletic director who can help play some defense and ease concerns.
• Tara VanDerveer broke the all-time record for coaching wins in college basketball last weekend, beating Oregon State 65-56 on Sunday. The Stanford coach passed Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski with win No. 1,203. It’s an amazing accomplishment and a testament to her longevity and skill.
VanDerveer, 70, was out for dinner at Nobu restaurant in the Bay Area this week, when she got a surprise visitor at her table. Former Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey congratulated her on the career accomplishment. They posed for a photo that was later posted on the Stanford women’s basketball Twitter account.
• Anyone think Oregon State was going to get a favorable officiating call in that Stanford game? There was a lot of hoopla and ceremony surrounding the milestone. I wondered how the Beavers would react to being invited to dinner only to discover they were featured on the menu.
• Can I take a moment to give Scott Rueck some love? The OSU women’s basketball program is 15-3 this season and ranked No. 25. The Beavers are at home this week vs. No. 3 Colorado on Friday night and No. 16 Utah on Sunday. Those are big games for a program that has played in a bunch of them in recent years.
• There’s one Pac-12 men’s basketball game I’m watching carefully this week — Arizona at Oregon on Saturday at Matthew Knight Arena. I’ll be there to cover it. The Ducks not only need to win their home games, they get very few opportunities to get victories against quality opponents.
• The ACC released its 17-team football schedule for 2024. It will never feel normal to me to see Cal and Stanford alongside Pitt, Miami, Syracuse, etc. in the standings. The Big Game between the Bears and Cardinal is scheduled for Nov. 23 in Berkeley.
• The ACC schedule includes some “first-time ever” games in college football history. Stanford has never played vs. Syracuse, NC State or Louisville before. Cal has never played NC State, Florida State or Wake Forest. All of those things will happen next season.
• The ACC is going without divisions. The conference teams will play 68 football games, head to head. The top two teams based on conference winning percentage will compete in the conference title game on Dec. 7 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
• Oregon State’s road game at Cal will now be played on October 26. That game was previously scheduled for Sept. 28.
• The Beavers 2024 schedule includes seven home games. The school is still working on selling the rights to those games to a media partner. I don’t think OSU will have difficulty selling the games vs. Oregon and Purdue. The rest of the inventory could prove to be trickier. The market is soft, I’m told by my media sources.
• Washington State has six home football games in 2024. The Cougars play Texas Tech at home on Sept. 7. That one should be easier to sell than some of the others. I expect both OSU and WSU won’t sell the rights to the games to a single network. It’s more likely that they spread them around, à la carte.
• Netflix is acquiring the rights to WWE Raw in a $5 billion deal to be paid out over 10 years. A couple of weeks ago the NFL made news with its broadcast of a playoff game on Peacock. More than 23 million viewers tuned in. Hans Schroeder, an NFL executive, says that the league is already thinking about how it will expand its digital presence next season. Amid it all, I can’t help but wonder if the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors have some regret passing on the Apple deal.
• I wrote a column about Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff this week. It’s time for the commissioner to part ways with the conference. He’s in the way of Oregon State and Washington State’s plan. They need to spend the next eight weeks figuring out the next two years. Kliavkoff was on a plane when I posted the column on Wednesday, headed to the East Coast where he and other commissioners were scheduled to meet with NCAA president Charlie Baker on Thursday. Is Kliavkoff the best representative the “Pac-12” would want in the room?
• Stay tuned for Friday’s edition of this publication. I interviewed a multitude of athletic directors from a variety of college conferences this week about the changing nature of their jobs. They spoke freely about the challenges in the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and beyond. The feedback was candid, raw, and fascinating. Make sure you’re subscribed if you’d like to receive it in real-time.
I appreciate all who support, subscribe and share this independent writing endeavor. Please consider a paid subscription or gift a subscription to a family member or friend here: