Nevada at No. 16 Oregon
When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday
There are a lot of things I would like to see on Saturday when the Oregon Ducks get their second chance to make a first impression.
For one, not a timeout before the first snap of the game.
Nevada at No. 16 Oregon
When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday
Also, on third down and 7, Justin Herbert dropping back instead of handing off. Also, I want more imagination from the play caller, Marcus Arroyo. Included in that, I want to see Oregon challenge Nevada with a handful of deep shots down the field.
But most of all, I would like to see UO second-year coach Mario Cristobal get more comfortable in the role of program CEO.
It is counterintuitive, but Cristobal needs to take a step back to take a step forward.
Saturday is an oddly important game for Oregon. We all expect the Ducks, more than three-touchdown favorites, to beat Nevada handily at Autzen Stadium. But a less-than-impressive showing, even in victory, could tip the narrative in a troubling direction.
Cristobal told me this summer, “I’m building this thing to last.”
He also said, “This stuff isn’t for the faint of heart.”
He is a hell of a recruiter, teacher and motivator, isn’t he?
The guy makes you want to run, barefoot, across a field of broken glass. I love his energy and focus. He does not mess around. And I am already on record, predicting that the greatest recruiter in program history will take Oregon to the College Football Playoff inside of his first five seasons.
That said, his strengths are his weaknesses, aren’t they? And if he does not figure that out, he is going to make my prediction look dumb.
He is a longtime position coach who puts in long hours. He is hands-on. He loves talking and focusing on the little things that make major college football programs successful. But my sense in watching him post a 9-6 record in the first 15 games of his tenure at Oregon is that he gets hyper-consumed with the minutia during games.
Probably because he drills down on the little things all the time.
Cristobal needs to find a way to become more of a 20,000-foot guy.
His 10 full-time assistants were set to make a combined $4.22 million this season. He has since hired former UO assistant John Neal as a defensive analyst. He also flirted in the last year with hiring an offensive consultant to help his play caller. The Ducks coach needs to learn to step back some in the heat of the game, trust his staff, and be better prepared to make the critical big-picture in-game decisions that good head coaches make.
This Nevada game would be a nice pivot point.
Cristobal is demonstrative on the sidelines. I am not asking him to turn into Nick Saban or Chris Petersen. But maybe take a cue, though. Because anyone who has watched those coaches manage a game gets the impression that they are mostly operating from a calm, anchored position of thought and strategy. I think Cristobal could use more of that, which would certainly help him with the growing number of critics.
Fans are already impatient. It is what they do. I think Cristobal is now going to reel off five straight victories and settle everyone down. But it is him I would like to see settled down most of all. And yes, I know, at 48 he is not young. Also, he has a small-college head coaching stint in his past. But I think we are still watching him grow as the leader of a program.
Cristobal needs to become the CEO.
In the last week he has taken some unfair heat nationally when it comes to clock management. The timeouts were sloppy. But Oregon also dropped an easy touchdown pass (-7 points). The Ducks missed a 20-yard field goal (-3). At the Auburn 9-yard line, Herbert fumbled an exchange and the Tigers scooped it up and went 83 yards the other way (-3 or -7).
The clock management was not great. But it is not why Oregon lost to Auburn. Simply, the Ducks left somewhere between 13 and 17 points on the field against an SEC opponent. Also, they curled into a ball trying to protect the lead and I have to think Cristobal is kicking himself this week.
There is work to do. Oregon’s defense looked impressive against Auburn. The Ducks offensive line is going to push around some Pac-12 opponents. Beyond two nonconference games against inferior opponents lie tests at Stanford, Washington and USC. Also, Oregon has a Washington State problem. The Ducks have lost four straight to Mike Leach — the last three by an average of 15 points per game.
Maybe there is something to be learned here.
The best head coaches are great CEOs. They have vision, set the culture and delegate. They focus on the big picture and are unfazed by the minute-to-minute distractions. They are not easily swept up in the moment. It is a thought underscored this week beautifully on Twitter by Washington State coach Leach.
Leach wrote: “One thing that I learned in Law School. Never pick up mouse turds, when there are elephant turds falling everywhere. Focus on what’s most important. I try to remind myself of this.”