UO football players heap credit on strength coach Jim Radcliffe
EUGENE Ñ Coach Mike Bellotti may be the face of Oregon Ducks football, but one of his assistants often gets plaudits for making the most impact on the players.
They call him 'Coach Rad,' and most of the 14 seniors featured in video tributes during last month's UO football banquet last month spoke about Jim Radcliffe even before they mentioned Bellotti, defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti or any of the other assistants.
Senior Josh Rogers, a tight end and special teams player who missed the season because of a torn biceps muscle, summed up Coach Rad's influence:
'I know you hear it every year, but you make us who we are.'
Senior QB Jason Fife went one step further in praising Radcliffe:
'You are Mr. Oregon Football.'
Radcliffe, Oregon's strength and conditioning coach, has been at the university since 1985. The last 16 years, he has been the main guy in charge of getting the Ducks into shape and keeping them there. Bellotti and his assistants recruit the players, and Radcliffe gets them on the field, counsels them through injuries and pretty much becomes their big brother.
Radcliffe says the last two seasons have been the worst for injuries during his time in Eugene. Eleven players have been lost for the season. At least seven more -didn't play in the last game. And a total of 26 have missed at least one game.
But the Ducks will enter the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31 somewhat on the upswing, healthwise. Most of those who missed the Civil War game are practicing and expect to play against Minnesota.
Bellotti, of course, cannot blame Radcliffe or Kevin Steil, the head athletic trainer who players call 'Chief,' for the injuries. Injuries just happen, with little rhyme or reason. The Ducks have been hit with knee injuries Ñ top linemen Haloti Ngata and Joey Forster went down early Ñ and concussions ended the seasons of safety Stephen Clayton, fullback Luke Rowley, offensive lineman Josh Atkins and walk-on linebacker Mike Proulx.
'A lot of them have been impact injuries,' Radcliffe says. 'But the things we don't have an explanation for is the rise in concussions. Is it because we know more about them? In the old days, we'd just say, 'You got your bell rung; get back in there.' We've had three or four guys end their career because of concussions this year alone. Ten years ago, would we have that many in a five-year period?'
Radcliffe says the Ducks have more stronger and faster players than in past years. 'We're getting better athletes, and this has been a hardworking group,' he says.
Radcliffe, 45, would seem to have as much perspective as anyone. From the day Bellotti and his assistants land a player, Radcliffe basically takes over his guidance.
NCAA rules prohibit player-coach interaction during the summer but allow strength and conditioning coaches to work with athletes. Radcliffe spends nearly every summer day putting players through drills.
In the winter and spring, UO coaches recruit much of the time, leaving the players to Radcliffe on many days. Coach Rad directs most of the weightlifting sessions and cardiovascular workouts, nearly every day. All year.
'Tough love,' Radcliffe says. 'They have one coach they see every day, and that's me. I'm like their mom and dad. When they mess up, I'm the first one to let them know.'
Speedy receiver Samie Parker says of Radcliffe: 'He pretty much forced me to lift weights.'
When the coaches put the players through an intense workout Nov. 3, two days after the Ducks' embarrassing 42-10 loss at Washington, it was Radcliffe who helped them get through it. Each player had to do a staggering 480 'up-downs' Ñwhere you fall on your belly and jump back up Ñand Radcliffe did them himself, too.
And he did them with three sets of players. That's 1,440 up-downs. In one day.
You can see why players speak affectionately about the short, wiry and spunky man. The UO banquet É it almost became like a Jim Radcliffe Roast.
'I appreciate that,' he says. 'The only thing I get a chance to do is help them improve who they are as an athlete.'
After every game, Radcliffe makes sure to shake the hand of every Duck player. And it could be more than 100 players at home games, remember.
Radcliffe has another ritual, which he started in 1994. After hearing then-coach Rich Brooks talk about heart before the Ducks played USC, Radcliffe went up to each player and touched them on the heart, just to reinforce the coach's words.
Oregon beat USC 22-7, and since then Radcliffe has touched every Duck heart before every game.