Former Oregon coach and athletic director Mike Bellott spent 14 seasons roaming the sideline in Eugene and is the Ducks' winningest head coach. Bellotti currently works as an analyst for ESPN. He answers our questions.
Former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti
Would you consider a return to coaching? Would you consider coaching in the SEC?
I always would consider coaching again. I would coach anywhere and the SEC would is the greatest conference in football. It is important in the SEC to everyone. It matters. No one should coach for money or ego. I coach for the challenge to get to the top of mountain and work with young people. But, it has to be the right situation. The administration, the boosters, everyone have to be on the same page.
What is it like having someone like Phil Knight around the program?
Well, it’s certainly an absolute blessing. He’s a lover of sports, accomplishment and achievement. Look at the way he built Nike. He has a soft spot for Oregon. He’s so philanthropic – and not just in football, but the entire university. Personally, his insights into marketing, what attracts young people, look, performance enhancing products really helped us. He loves competition, athletics, golf, tennis, track. The fact that he chose to spend his time with the Ducks made me proud.
Can a team run the spread and still have a dominant defense? How much pressure does that offense put on its own defense?
It’s hard. It depends on how you term dominant. Yes, but the reality is that if you go no huddle spread that’s different than just going spread. It depends on if you bring H-back in motion and run the power. Total numbers will be misleading. Scoring and red zone defense are what’s important. Up until last week, Oregon was in the top 25 or 30. You’re going to play a lot of people. The more they play, the better they will get as season goes along. To me, dominant defense is big and physical. In the SEC the line of scrimmage is the difference. Depth in lines goes to the SEC.
Do you think that Oregon and Chip Kelly’s offense could compete week in and week out in the SEC? How does the SEC compare to the Pac-12?
Chip Kelly’s offense can compete with anyone. Would they win as much or score as much? Probably not. The defensive front in the SEC is the differentiating point. Oregon threw for over 300 yards against Auburn in the national championship game. The game against LSU two years ago was closer than the score. Take away the two big plays by the Honey Badger… Oregon was moving ball against their defense. They’re recruiting bigger corners and DB’s and defensive linemen. You see a lot of spread. In the Pac-12 you don’t see a lot power run like Alabama and LSU. You don’t see it every week in the SEC either.
There are a lot of people who think Chip Kelly could be coaching in the NFL next season. Do you think he would consider it and do you think he’d be successful?
I think he considered it last year. He will have that opportunity every year. He can be successful anywhere. The system he uses at Oregon works. He’s not stuck on the system itself. He will do what allows his players to be successful. He will draft or trade to his system. Or will he adapt. He’s an exceptional, excellent coach. He will figure out a system that will work.
If you were an athletic director looking for a head coach, which candidates would top your list? Would you consider Bobby Petrino?
I think you have to look at Gary Anderson at Utah State. Darrell Hazell at Kent State. Sonny Dykes at Louisiana Tech. gosh. Mark Helfrich. Mark Stoops. Those two guys have to be considered based on what their teams have accomplished. They are along the Muschamp lines. Charlie Strong. The progress of that Louisville program has been unbelievable. Bobby Petrino is a more difficult sell. He has tremendous coaching ability, but as a head coach you have to be an example. He may have to go be a coordinator for a couple of years before he gets another chance. On ability, he’d be at the top of everyone’s list. If you hire him you’re putting the success of football above character – and you’re taking a chance that you’ll lose fan base and boosters.
Will the four-team playoff help or hurt the SEC’s dominance nationally?
I think when you get to four teams I think it will be difficult… I don’t think it will affect the ultimate end. The SEC has won six in a row. BCS or four team playoff format… one more game I’m not sure will have any affect.
When do you think the NCAA ruling on Oregon will come and what do you expect the penalties to be?
How long does it take to make a decision? Reggie Bush took four or five years. I’m surprised it has not happened already. New legislation by the NCAA as result of Oregon will change some things. From what I understand, it is not going to be a major violation. There will be some type of sanctions, but I don’t think they will be major. As I understand it, there will be some new pages in rulebook in regard to it.
What was your greatest memory at Oregon – what was you most difficult?
Greatest memory was… there are many. I can’t pin it on one. The Fiesta Bowl, Holiday Bowl, the first Las Vegas Bowl. The last Las Vegas bowl when we lost to BYU was the most difficult. I was disappointed with the team and with myself that I hadn’t done more. After that, we revamped a lot in terms of player dedication and. communication. By far, it was the most disappointing - and the hangover after the game that went into the offseason.
Who was the best player you coached at Oregon?
Probably Haloti Ngata. He was the greatest, most powerful player I ever coached. 350 pounds. Runs like a deer. Could have played defensive line, tight end, linebacker, fullback… I have had great running backs, defensive backs, quarterbacks.
Haloti stands out as a wow, amazing athlete.
Why did you shave your mustache?
I shaved my mustache in 2000 or 2001 to support a friend who was going through breast cancer and chemo. She asked me if she shave my head if she lost her hair. I told her I’d shave my mustache. A year later I grew it back. It had gone out brown and come back gray. A player came in and said, “Coach, you look so old.” I said, “Okay, I think that’s good sign I think it has to go.”
Could you make the case why Chip Kelly should stay at Oregon rather than go to the NFL?
Well, yes and no. The obvious is until he wins a national championship; he may feel his work is not done. He has all the elements in place to be successful: facilities, college down, administration support, booster support, Phil Knight. Chip is driven young man who views the NFL as the ultimate challenge.
Compare Marcus Mariota now to Dennis Dixon as a senior.
Well, Marcus as a redshirt freshman and Dennis as a senior might not be a fair comparison. Dennis had been in the offense for three seasons. He was a magician with the ball. He was fast, nimble and could make people miss. Dennis had a quick release. He could get it in and out of his hands. Marcus will be as good or better. He’s 10-15 pound bigger than Dennis. Right now, he’s had issues with fumbles and ball exchange. That’s young quarterback. It just takes repetition. Marcus Mariota can and will be one of - if not best - to play quarterback at Oregon. That ‘s assuming Chip stays and they run the same offense or they hire someone who runs that offense - and he says healthy.