Bellotti's legacy? He is Oregon football

March, 13, 2009
3/13/09
6:07
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

My first experience with Mike Bellotti came in 1999 when I learned that many, many folks in Seattle loathed him.

I had just moved to the Northwest to cover Washington football for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Before the Huskies played Oregon, my boss asked me to write about Bellotti.

 
  Kevin Terrell/Getty Images
  Mike Bellotti won 72 interconference games, the third most in Pac-10 history.

I knew nothing about Oregon. I was an SEC guy, born and raised in the South. I had only a faint idea that the Ducks and Huskies hated each other. I had no idea who Kenny Wheaton was.

My story about what a great job Bellotti was doing with the Ducks delighted my Seattle audience like a poke in the eye. Some Huskies fans never forgave me.

Which tells you what Bellotti's ultimate legacy at Oregon is as he steps down and hands the program off to offensive coordinator Chip Kelly.

He made Duck football matter.

Washington fans hated Bellotti because he built a program that threatened the Huskies' longstanding Northwest dominance. And, in 1999, Bellotti hadn't even posted the first of his four seasons with 10 or more wins.

Number of 10-win seasons in Oregon history before Bellotti. Zero.

Bellotti's legacy? Since joining Rich Brooks' staff in 1989 as the Ducks' offensive coordinator, Bellotti has left fingerprints on nearly 28 percent of the program's 558 victories.

Brooks deserves credit for leading Oregon away from college football's skid row, but he posted a losing record in nine of his 18 seasons.

Bellotti, 58, posted only one losing season during his 14 as head coach.

Over the past decade, the Ducks have collected six Top 25 rankings. Since 2000, they've finished ranked in the top 10 three times, including a No. 2 perch in 2001 and last year's No. 10 finish.

Bellotti finished with an 116-55 record at Oregon. He went 72-43 in Pac-10 games. Only UCLA's Terry Donahue (98) and Washington's Don James (97) won more conference games.

Two words: Good company.

Some might point out that Bellotti never won a national title. Nor did he ever play in a Rose Bowl, though he would have in 2001 if the BCS computers hadn't spit out that scintillating Miami-Nebraska national title blowout in Pasadena.

Yet keep in mind that Bellotti built a Top-25 program in a state that produces only a handful of BCS conference signees a year -- only 44 in the last five years, in fact, according to SI.com.

Other critics would point at Nike founder Phil Knight's sugar-daddy relationship with the athletic department and the program's state-of-the-art facilities to downgrade what Bellotti has accomplished.

And don't even start on the uniform combinations that made college football traditionalists vomit.

Whatever. As if that stuff made it easy to win games.

Bellotti liked the facilities because they helped recruiting. He seemed mostly amused by the uniforms, always remarking it was about what his players wanted, not what he wanted or some 60-something booster or some 50-something media critic.

His office was modest. A little cluttered. Come visit in the summer, and Bellotti was likely wearing a golf shirt and flip-flops.

Want to chat? Sure, come on in.

Bellotti has long been one of the nation's most accessible and articulate coaches. He'd lead off the weekly Pac-10 coaches teleconference, and in-the-know writers from across the country would swarm in to ask him all sorts of random questions -- the halo rule? the BCS? Cover 2? scholarships for kickers? concussions? etc.

He almost always made his way to the hospitality room before Pac-10 media day. He'd hang out for a few hours. Have a few beers, too. Played the regular-guy role so well he might actually be a, well, regular guy.

Remember that horrible feud Bellotti had with Rick Neuheisel? Bellotti was one of the first people to reach out to Neuheisel when things started to go to hell at Washington -- a generous, empathetic gesture that couldn't possibly sprout from an ulterior motive.

Oh, not everyone loved him. He got accused of dirty recruiting more than a few times. And it seemed like he and USC's Pete Carroll never saw eye-to-eye -- you might recall Carroll's profane greeting to Bellotti during a game that was caught by television cameras.

When the succession plan was announced in December that established Bellotti would step aside for Kelly and then become athletic director, Bellotti chiefly cited a desire to spend more quality time with his family.

That seems like a good reason.

What he leaves behind is a distinguished career.

There was an ill-fated attempt to coin a nickname for Autzen Stadium last year: "House of Loud."

It didn't stick.

That's because Ducks fans know Autzen Stadium is the "House that Mike Built."

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