*Photo from GoDucks.com
Win the day. It was a message that previous Oregon Head Football Coach Chip Kelly introduced in 2007. The message was simple: Don’t think about tomorrow or next week, think about this play, this down, this game, right here, right now.
After that motto was introduced, the Ducks went on to four bowl games in four years, including three Rose Bowls and one BCS Championship. As Doctor Phil would say, “How’s that working for you?” I think everyone would agree that it was working pretty darn well. This motto became more than just a motto, it became a mindset. This was evident not only on the scoreboard, but on and off the field. This could be seen in how the team practiced. Win this bench press. Win this sprint. Win this practice. When interviewed about next week’s game, both coaches and players refocused the interview on the game at hand and refused to talk about anything else. They were drinking the kool-aid and so were the fans.
Last year when Coach Kelly left (no, I’m still not over it) and Offensive Coach Mark Helfrich became Oregon’s Head Coach, Duck Nation was assured that the focus would remain the same. But now with two losses, one to Stanford and the other yesterday to Arizona, the Ducks have suffered a long and painful fall from their previous #2 standings in the BCS Rank. Who knows which bowl game we’ll go to this year, if we do at all. So what happened?
My theory is: An unbelief in the message.
Not only does messaging matter, it matters how it’s communicated and ultimately whether people buy into it. This is true for any corporation, organization or even for a football team.
See, the message didn’t go away with Coach Kelly. It remained. What changed was how it was communicated and the team’s belief in it.
When interviewed for The Statesman Journal last week about USC’s win over Stanford (opening up the possibility for Oregon to play in the Rose Bowl) several Oregon players had a lot to say:
“I don’t mind playing in the Rose Bowl, playing for the fans and my teammates,” Oregon wide receiver, Josh Huff said. “But deep down I don’t wanna be a prep game for the national championship game. I don’t want to play in a Rose Bowl unless I’m playing for a national championship.”
“Not a big deal at all,” running back De’Anthony Thomas said. “I feel like we already won a Rose Bowl.”
It’s clear they no longer believe in the message.
It wasn’t that long ago, when the biggest dream the Ducks had was to go to the Rose Bowl. These statements are embarrassing on so many levels, but for the sake of this post, let’s focus on messaging.
These two players, Huff and Thomas, are leaders on Oregon’s offense. To have them say this publicly to the press, shows how deeply they believe these sentiments. They at one point thought this, then another time mentioned it to a teammate and before you know it, it’s locker-room talk. Then, it’s said to the press. How did the coaching staff let this mentality and ultimately this message get this far? This locker-room talk should have been shutdown immediately. Imagine what Coach Eric Taylor would have done?! It should have raised flags to the coaching staff that this message of “Win the day,” clearly wasn’t being believed or followed.
Now with all hopes of the BCS Championship and the Rose Bowl far behind in the dust, I present this question to the coaching staff: How’s this working for you?
From the ground up, the message has drifted away. It can still be seen on t-shirts, bummer sticks and on the walls of the end-zone at Autzen, but belief in it is gone. It reminds me of the Christmas movie, The Polar Express where if a child doesn’t believe in Santa, they cannot hear the ring of a sleigh bell.
The Oregon Athletic Program did a stellar job of crafting a meaningful message. One that not only motivates players, but rallies fans. But a meaningful message is useless unless proper care and attention is taken to instill that message from the ground up.
The Ducks have lost their footing and have slipped. They’ve fallen flat on their faces. Problem is that there seems to be a lack of leadership in helping them back up. While I’m disappointed in the team, I’m mostly disappointed in Coach Helfrich. The losses and these comments are simply a bubbling over of a deeper problem.
A meaningful message is pointless if it isn’t carefully executed.
While I haven’t necessarily heard this locker room conversation I mentioned, we can all plainly see the results. This doesn’t just happen overnight.
I love my Ducks and always will, but right now, I’m not sure what to expect from them. The coaches are not leading and the players are not playing like a team.
Where do we go from here?