• Recruiting controversies, mediocre season put pressure on UO coach
It hasn't been the best winter for Oregon coach Mike Bellotti.
• The Ducks finished 7-6 last season and lost 38-17 to Wake Forest in the Seattle Bowl.
• Bellotti and his staff recruited junior college defensive back Rodney Woods, who may not play for the Ducks, pending a Feb. 28 judge's decision on lessening his felony assault conviction to a misdemeanor.
• And the Ducks suffered some bad publicity when high school recruit Lynell Hamilton and his family in Stockton, Calif., claimed that sex, drugs and alcohol were offered to him during a recruiting visit in October.
This week, Bellotti answered a variety of questions:
Trib: What are your thoughts on Dennis Erickson going to the San Francisco 49ers?
Bellotti: He had a good stint at Oregon State and did a fine job while he was there and earned the right to get back to the NFL level. Certainly something he must have wanted.
I've faced those decisions in the past, and I've chosen to stay here. There's a fundamental difference between me and a lot of coaches. I want and always actively try to make this the best job I can make it, as opposed to others looking toward the next job. At some point, would the NFL be interesting? Yes, probably in two to three years.
Trib: Because of the Hamilton recruiting case, will you make policy changes, say, in who hosts the players or in getting more feedback after each visit?
Bellotti: We do spend a lot of time figuring out who should host people, based on what we know of that person's character, likes and dislikes, background, and we try to always put the best person available with them. Each coach has certain favorites he likes to put into that position. They are young men who are verbal, easy to get along with, and make a good first impression. That won't change. Will we spend more time evaluating? Yes. The measures are in place to protect the recruiting process, and they have been for many years.
Trib: When a kid requests to be hosted by a guy (Hamilton requested Onterrio Smith, who had been kicked off the Tennessee team for marijuana use and been arrested for DUI in Eugene), how do you say no?
Bellotti: Within the NCAA guidelines, whatever a young man wants in recruiting, his wishes are paramount. If they request this or that, or want to see a particular aspect of your campus, we show it to them. We don't try to hide anything.
Trib: How good is Rodney Woods? You've gone to great lengths to get him.
Bellotti: I think he's a very good football player. He doesn't play corner, he plays safety in JC ball. A tremendous athlete, a very good person who was caught in a difficult situation. People misunderstand my motives. Rodney Woods may be a great football player, he may be a very good football player. We won't know until he gets here. He is a great athlete, a 51-foot triple jumper. He returns punts and kickoffs.
Is he the answer? Who knows? Part of the reason I recruited him is because he's a good football player. I also have the opportunity to give kids second chances, or to give them opportunities to go to college, that other parts of this university do not.
Trib: Will you recruit another defensive back if Woods can't come here?
Bellotti: No, we'll go with these guys.
Trib: In light of the Hamilton and Woods matters, are you concerned about your image?
Bellotti: Am I concerned? Always. I'm a public figure, and obviously being the head coach at the University of Oregon, because of what we've accomplished here, has become a bigger-than-life situation. Anytime there's any question about your ethics, that affects me. I take it home. I don't worry about it, because I know who I am and how I do things. Anytime you don't have the ability to defend yourself for various reasons, people will believe what they read in the papers. Sometimes it's true, half the time it's not. It may be somebody's conjecture or words.
Trib: Do you have to work on (quarterback) Jason Fife's confidence?
Bellotti: Confidence is a function of performance. That includes practice. Jason and I have talked a couple times; Kellen (Clemens) and I have talked. The biggest thing is going to be that competition on the field and how the two young men handle it. I don't know if you want overconfidence; they have to understand everything's going to be a struggle, and they'll have to work hard.
I don't think either one of them lacks for confidence. They are confident they can get the job done, and, given the opportunity, will perform very well.
Trib: How do you feel about your tailback position, after not being able to sign one?
Bellotti: We don't lose any tailbacks next year. Ryan Shaw, Kenny Washington, Terrance Whitehead, Chris Vincent É none are seniors. Is that enough? Yeah. Will we be looking for a tailback next year? Absolutely. It'll depend on how these young men do whether or not we'll look toward a high school senior or a junior college athlete. If they do well, it'll be less likely a JC would want to come, or we'd need one.
Trib: What will it be like to coach your son (place-kicker Luke Bellotti plans to be a football walk-on).
Bellotti: I coach the kickers and punters Ñ that'll be interesting. I coached my younger brother at college. (Chris Bellotti) played for me at Cal State-Hayward. That was difficult. Tough on me and tough on him. I was harder on him than anybody because I didn't want people to think there was nepotism.
Trib: Why has defensive end Roderkus Wright left the program? Is he tough to let go, considering his potential?
Bellotti: Violation of team rules. He's still enrolled here, he has a scholarship through the end of this term. He and Courtney Miller are done. It doesn't matter how talented they are; the hard part is they become like your children. When a young man doesn't make it, I don't feel good about it. It means we haven't succeeded as a group.
Trib: What happened with the defensive backfield last year?
Bellotti: I'll say it for the 25th time, we lost two corners who went to the NFL, we lost three corners after spring football Ñ A.K. Keyes, Jason Jenkins and Eddie Smith (all had medical issues). Our junior college athletes we recruited did not pan out. And we ended up playing with a couple first-time starters. Nick (defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti) and his staff tried to put those kids into position to have success.
Trib: Did Aliotti offer to resign twice?
Bellotti: No. Well, I should say I have no comment.
Trib: You probably could have run for governor last year. Now Duck fans take potshots at you. Is that being fickle, or the product of being a big-time football program and you're the guy to sling mud at?
Bellotti: People have their opinions. If they pay admission at sporting events Ñ or donate money Ñ they feel they have the right to criticize you, question how you do and why you do it. It's always easy after the fact. I don't have any problem with that. I actually read and listen to every e-mail and letter I get. If they sign their name, most of the time I respond to them. If they don't sign their name, I don't give a response.