In the last 20 years few college football teams have gone through the change visualize below. Oregon is one of them.

Good To Great Companies


1. COACHING LEADERSHIP >> Recruiting & Game Strategy:

Coaches put endless hours into recruiting, and rightly so. The best guys are the most important raw ingredient to start with. But a head coach manages all aspect of the game and one of the most critical, again to refer to Jim Collins, is getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus and the right people in the right seats. It all takes a lot of collaboration among coaches and players with “team success” taking presidence over individual agendas.

But the next question is: Where is the bus going and how will it get there? A unified game strategy that fits the players’ unique talents allows the coaching staff to work smarter, not just harder. Here’s an illustration: To better utilize the speed of QB’s Kellen Clemens and Jason Fife, Coach Bellotti wanted to change to a no-huddle, spread offense as early as 2003 but he just couldn’t get the other coaches fired up about it and the Ducks suffered it’s only losing season under Bellotti, 5-6 in 2004.

Finally, to take advantage of QB Dennis Dixon’s dual threat, in 2005 he made a full commitment to it and brought in Gary Crowton as offensive coach but he had limited success. After a disappointing season and crushing defeat in the 2006 Las Vegas, he moved on. What took place after this bowl defeat was a little known team intervention led by Bellotti. There for his first team meeting was Chip Kelly, his perfect candidate to implement a fast-pace, no huddle spread-option offense. (For more details, click here.) Coach Kelly ended up being arguably the most innovative coach in the country with a four-year 46-7 record to show for it. With coach Kelly came a new mantra, Win The Day!

The expectations have risen so much (and that’s a good thing) that Oregon could not see itself limping into the 2017 season with a 4-8 record in the rear view mirror. So an entire coaching leadership change has taken place with an energetic and determined coach, Willie Taggart, at the helm. No one person, no particular staff, is more important than the TEAM getting to GREAT and then staying there!

2. PLAYER LEADERSHIP >> Talented Athletes become a Unified Team:

A couple of rating organizations give high school football athletes a 1 to 5 star rating. This means something, but how much? Marcus Mariota was a 3-star rated high school player. Looks like somebody missed something! But Coach Helfrich, then offensive coach, didn’t miss Marcus’ potential. Even though he went to his high school to watch another player, it was Marcus that he came away impressed by… and the rest is history.

Raw talent–speed, strength, game intelligence, is well, raw. How coaches and team members forge a TEAM makes all the difference as well as the CULTURE they build and develop for young players. Those who put aside self, for the greater good, have the potential to become something special. Jim Collins says the two paradoxical qualities of Level-5 leadership are 1) an iron will and 2) personal humility–“I want the team to succeed more than me and will do what I can to that end.” It’s that second quality that is often not valued or lacking and yet so necessary for a good team to become a great one. So, which have been Oregon’s greatest teams. Here’s one person’s opinion.

And who’s the best player? Well #1 is not hard to agree on, although here’s a list from someone who thinks Marcus may have some competition. Here’s the top #100 as rated by fans. Current fans, however, don’t have a memory that stretches back more than a couple of decades (like for QB and punting legend Norm Van Broklin), so here’s yet another ranking.

Top 10 Oregon Players

3. SUPPORT LEADERSHIP >> The Administration, Key Donors and Fans: 

In an earlier book, BUILT TO LAST, Jim Collins identifies key qualities of companies over 50 years old which, though going through ups and downs, have proven themselves to be great companies. In the world of college track and field, the Duck’s men’s and women’s teams would present a great case study of a team BUILT TO LAST.

Why? Much of the reason for this rests on its outstanding coaches of which there have been just seven permanent ones since it’s inception in 1895, including the “three-Bill’s… and Vin”–coaches Bill Hayward (from 1904-1947!, yes, think Hayward field), Bill Bowerman (Nike co-founder), Bill Dilliger (won five NCAA titles in 25 years) and Vin Lananna (2016 Olympic track coach).

With a BUILT To LAST commitment that includes winning 28 NCAA National Championships since 1971 (see here) these coaches developed not only a century-plus of outstanding track and field and cross country athletes but gained a deep commitment from Oregon’s campus administration, it’s key donors as well as fan support that rivals any in the country. Indeed Eugene is now considered worldwide as TrackTown USA and will be the first US city ever to host the World Track and Field Championship in 2021.


To see a two-decade GOOD TO GREAT Oregon football program turn into a century-long BUILT TO LAST Oregon football program will likewise take an ongoing commitment to excellence from the campus administration, key donors and fan base that transcends any one coach, player, team.

Does Oregon have what it takes? If they keep following the model, they will!

Good to Great flywheel

While Oregon is starting the 2017 season with new coaching leadership and a lot of questions and a few answers. For some additional perspective check out