The 113th Civil War comprises many facets: It is among the nation’s spicier rivalry games; a clash of cultures (holistic, liberal Eugene vs. rural, ag-intensive, conservative Corvallis); the de facto Pac-10 title game; and a chance for the Oregon Ducks to make their sugar daddy, Nike chairman Phil Knight, feel better after a tough week spent hearing about the “transgressions” one of the anchors of his empire committed.
It’s also a riveting matchup of two superb head coaches, each of whom has weathered adversity with aplomb. We’ll start with the new guy.
The cameras couldn’t get enough of Chip Kelly on the first Thursday in September, the rookie head coach living a rookie head coach’s nightmare. The sheen on Kelly’s forehead, as Boise State blew up play after play, had to be flop sweat, right? Kelly’s calm veneer as his quarterback made a string of poor decisions; as his clueless offensive line whiffed on block after block; as his vaunted, spread attack proved incapable of racking up a single first down in the first half — that had to be a facade, right? A lid covering a cauldron of panic.
Or not. Kelly has gotten his team to the cusp of the Rose Bowl by … changing very little. Oregon has gone from that debacle on the blue rug to the de facto Pac-10 title game by … continuing to do what it was doing, just doing it better. In this way, Kelly paid unintentional homage to his Civil War counterpart, Mike Riley, the conference’s serene, smiling Zen master at staying the course.
Check out this sad little petition from 2006, when a scattering of disgruntled Oregon State fans wanted Riley gone. Seeking 5,000 signatures, they netted … 59. Even then, the vast majority of Beavers fans grasped what the petitioners didn’t: that they’re lucky to have this guy.
I intend no disrespect to the talented, hardworking Beavers by pointing out that no Division I program does more with less. In a state that yields roughly 10 Division I prospects a year, Riley and his staff have been more resourceful than Les Stroud and Bear Grylls put together. It is a measure of their eye for talent, and ability as teachers, that seven Beavers players were selected in last spring’s NFL draft — second most in the country behind USC, against whom Oregon State is .500 since ’06. None of those players, remarkably, fielded a scholarship offer from another Pac-10 school.