I was in a conversation recently about the Willie Taggart hire and what I thought about it. I figured I’d put the thoughts down on a blog post and you can tell me where I’m going wrong here.
First, my list of bullet points that you can agree with or not, but this is my list.
- The hurry-up offense isn’t a mystery anymore. Chip Kelly gets credit for being one of the first innovators of the hurry-up offense and practically re-inventing the game. When the Ducks first started using it, defenses were clueless how to stop it. Their substitution patterns no longer worked. The Ducks simply wore down defenses with their break-neck pace and it was fun to watch. But that was then, and this is now. For a few years now, defenses have been better at dealing with the hurry-up offense and many schools have adopted it themselves. It seems like fewer teams use the huddle than do. So Helfrich had the disadvantage of trying to carry forward Chips ‘let’s try to run a play every 18 seconds strategy, but for the most part, the mystery was gone.
- Helfrich lead teams have been at the bottom of the barrel in self-inflicted wounds, namely, penalties. That’s on the coaching staff.
- Helfrich has an extremely high intellect, but it takes more than intellect to consistently win. Ideally you want someone who is smart but can also inspire his players to play hard. Dig deep. Play with some emotion. We just never got to see that side of Helfrich, not even at the Alamo Bowl / TCU disaster where I desperately wanted him to call time-out, huddle up his team and give a 30 second half-time speech that inspired his players to quit screwing up. Instead he looked on from the sideline and reckoned they’d fix the problems when it came time to look at the film. The problem is it’s too late then.
- Helfrich was not at the top of his class in the recruiting game .. a crucial piece of the puzzle. The Ducks consistently lost top-tier athletes from in-State… one of the first things Taggart pointed out as a priority to fix. His recruiting efforts ended up being lop-sided because they had too many players backed up at the skill positions and never enough depth at the line. Both are bad problems. Several top recruits from skill positions left the program due to lack of playing time. Meanwhile the line couldn’t afford to have one injury or the drop off was noticeable. And even when they supposedly had depth at quarterback, twice they had to rely on 5th year senior transfers from smaller schools to fill the gap. They next guy wasn’t ready to go.
- When I coached little league and spent a few years on the local board as Vice President of Baseball, I noticed a pattern of coaches putting their strongest efforts of the season in putting their teams together. The fact is, if your team is loaded, you don’t have to coach as hard. This is in conflict with the board’s goal of trying to have some semblance of parity in the league. When we’d tell a coach that no, you can’t use special rule (z) to put that player on your team, they’d get upset and we’d just say “Don’t be afraid to coach a little bit.”
- How this relates to college football is, it’s the same thing. The more 5 start athletes you put out there, the more likely your chances are of success. The good programs are good because they take recruiting seriously and divvy up their scholarships across a variety of positions they need to fill, not just going 5 deep at quarterback.
Here’s what I like about the Willie Taggart hire, based on the few articles I’ve read.
- Helfrich had an impeccable reputation as a class guy, and with Taggart, it looks like the Ducks lose nothing in this department. He seems to have his priorities on playing inspired football, graduating, and representing the school well.
- I think Taggart will bring that missing piece of inspiration to his players and we’ll see the Ducks playing more inspired football ( with fewer penalties. Hard to imagine how it could get worse ).
- Personality-wise, I think Taggart will be a better leader because he’s got more personality and will relate to his players better. His credentials as a player won’t hurt either.
- I think Taggart will be able to figure out which pieces of the Duck magic to keep, and which ones aren’t a mystery anymore and give us a more balanced team : Offense, Defense, and Special Teams. Kelly almost got away with doing it with offense alone for a few years until the league caught up with him. The Ducks could literally give up 40 points a game and it didn’t matter because they were scoring 60.
At face value, it may not look like a huge upgrade from Helfrich to Taggart, but I think it was like one of situations we get into with a car that’s sputtering a bit and you have to decide whether to fish or cut bait. At the end of the day, I think Helfrich’s lack of inspired leadership led to his downfall. That was the common theme in the papers. “Something’s missing in the locker room.” We’re not privy to the inside talk of the players and coaching staff. About the best we get is 2nd hand from the local sportswriters. But I think Mullens had a tough call on his hand. One 4-8 season isn’t the end of the world if a lot of other things are clicking. There is such a thing as a rebuilding year, sure. I just don’t think they had confidence that Helfrich would be able to bring about the necessary team atmosphere that existed under Bellotti and Kelly. Something was missing.
Hopefully Taggart is the right guy. I’m have a lot of faith in their interviewing process. I think they knew what they were looking for and seemed to have found it.