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Oregon’s Culture is its Biggest Weapon in 2015

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


Did you stop, just for a moment, and consider the inanity of it all?

There everyone was, on a Friday afternoon, tripping over themselves to be the first one to report whether a fifth year college senior from Eastern Washington had passed a math test required for graduation so that student could exploit a loophole in the NCAA system akin to professional free agency and join the Oregon Ducks in practice.

He passed, Vernon Adams did. Not without a false alarm from Ducks blog Addicted to Quack first, but Adams passed, and he’s in Eugene right now.

Adams, if you’re unaware, is a transfer from Eastern Washington – the same team that beat Oregon State and gave Washington a run for their money last season. Adams is using a rule that allows graduate students to play immediately at the school of their choice if that school offers a graduate program that their previous school does not.

Adams is a talented football player – that much is obvious – but for whatever reason, he failed a math class and showed up late to practice in a program that values speed, efficiency, and accountability more than anything.

Point being, he’s playing from behind. The Ducks have a level of familiarity with and loyalty to Jeff Lockie, the backup last season, which will make it hard for Adams to ascend to the top job quickly.

Adams is almost certainly a better quarterback than Lockie, but if you want to believe in Oregon football this season, the best card in your hand is the one that trumpets the culture that Mark Helfrich has done a remarkable job of retaining and refining as he enters his third year at the helm in Eugene.

That culture would suggest that Lockie is the favorite to start, and, in contrast to the general hysteria over Adams’ arrival, is entirely admirable.

In truth, it’s one of the best chances Oregon has to stay ahead of an increasingly tough Pac-12 conference. The system is great, and the Ducks are still getting terrific talent on offense, but the rest of the league is on the ascent. There isn’t a school in the league that doesn’t believe in its coach right now.

That starts with Mark Helfrich, who has exceeded almost every expectation as he heads into his third year at the helm of the program. The Oregon native is extremely well liked – much more so than Chip Kelly ever was – and he’s taken what Kelly has built and fortified it.

Chip’s first year, if you remember, was a total disaster off the field. Players were in trouble every five seconds – Masoli, LaMichael, LaGarrette, Cliff Harris – and that experience in what otherwise was a banner year for Oregon football, shaped its coach and his program immeasurably.

Kelly’s last years in Eugene were about getting teams and players that would buy into his message wholeheartedly. Kelly has continued to demand total buy-in in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles, a requisite that has opened Kelly up to the charge of racism – which, in this case, is absolutely laughable.

Kelly left behind a program that was already tight-knit, but Helfrich has defined Oregon’s values even more clearly in his time in charge. It helped, of course, to have Marcus Mariota at quarterback for the first two years, but the Ducks are in a good place to continue on without him.

If Vernon Adams wins this job, you’ll know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he earned it. Not just with his play on the field, but with his attitude, leadership, and desire off it. That’s a comforting feeling in a sport where teams are frequently derailed by snowballing bad decision-making and weak coaching.

Jim Mora might be a good coach at UCLA, but he’s never built a similar kind of culture at any of his stops in college or the pros. No one at USC has done it since Steve Sarkisian, and Arizona State’s Todd Graham hardly has the résumé or people skills to make his program all about culture either.

Oregon has that culture right now. It’s one of hard work, selflessness, and focus. Helfrich (again, thanks mostly to Mariota) has the credentials as a head coach to enforce the values of that culture. DeAnthony Thomas knows – he was frozen out in his last year at Oregon for taking teams, preparation, and assignments lightly.

Adams will have to win this team over. Now that he has finally finished the most publicized college math course ever and is in camp, the hysteria stops. He’s going to have to prove that he can fully embrace the mantle of Oregon quarterback.

The rest of the team, starting with Lockie, will ensure that – and that’s how atmosphere becomes culture, and rolls from player to player and class to class.

This is going to be a fun season for Oregon. There are going to be fewer walkovers, more competitive games, and more adversity, but there’s no reason that this team can’t compete for a national championship again.

Outside of Mariota, this group is just as (if not more) talented than last year’s team. Quarterback is a big question, but it’s most likely going to resolve itself.

This program is in good hands. The games can’t start soon enough.

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News here.


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