What happens on the football field is just part of a grand effort

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHE ONSTOTT - Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota breaks out for a long run in the frist quarter against Stanford Saturday at Autzen Stadium.EUGENE — The University of Oregon has two Southeastern Conference-influenced movers-and-shakers at the top of the athletic department, and they have one big goal for the Ducks.

“The amount of support we have nationally is comparable to any school in the country,” says Craig Pintens, senior associate athletic director for marketing and public relations, who joined Oregon from LSU. “That’s why our goal is to not only be a national brand, but be THE national brand.”

Thanks to Nike, a self-sustaining $93 million budget this year and the sustained, high level of success by Oregon’s well-dressed football team, Pintens believes the Ducks are very close to being the most-recognized college athletic program in the country.

“We have such a unique opportunity,” he adds, “given our wonderful relationship with Nike. They’ve built much of this brand, they’ve put us on the map.

“With the amount of attention we get, it’s the natural thing to want to be the best. That’s something we strive for in our department. From a pure marketing standpoint, we think we can get there.”

Oregon fell from No. 1 in national polls, losing to Stanford 17-14 in overtime last weekend. And now it’s time for the Civil War game — Oregon (10-1, 7-1 Pac-12) at Oregon State (8-2, 6-2), noon Saturday.

A lot of eyes in our state will be on Reser Stadium in Corvallis, with the Ducks looking to win a fifth consecutive game in the rivalry and the Beavers hoping to continue their resurgence and knock Oregon out of the Pac-12 title and BCS pictures.

The Ducks are still riding high, predominantly because of football — feeding off the work started through the success of coach Rick Brooks’ teams in the late 1980s and early ‘90s.

The Ducks then made big strides when Nike founder/premier donor Phil Knight, then-athletic director Bill Moos and Brooks’ successor, Mike Bellotti, ramped up the program. Oregon jumped into the national football picture with QB Joey Harrington from 1999 to 2001, earned routine bowl appearances with Bellotti at the helm and then reached national champion contender level under Charles “Chip” Kelly.

No doubt, the crowning achieving would be a national title. The Ducks had their chance in January 2011. Auburn outplayed them, but had to squeak out a 22-19 win in the championship game.

“But only one team gets to do it every year,” says Director of Athletics Rob Mullens, who is in his third year after leaving Kentucky. “The last two years we’ve been right there. We’re right there knocking on the door.”

Pintens and Mullens say the same thing: Kelly is the “best coach in the country.”

Kelly has a long-term contract, but he flirted briefly with fleeing to the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers last offseason, and public discussion recently has him being one of the NFL’s hottest coaching prospects.

“We’re fortunate to have him,” Mullens says.

The Ducks have won 44 of 51 games under Kelly, who quickly points out that “good players” have been the reason for the team’s success.

Kelly and his emphasis on “Win The Day,” game preparation, conditioning and pace, and his ability to orchestrate an incredible offense have contributed mightily, too. So has the stability of the coaching staff, which includes veterans Steve Greatwood, Gary Campbell, Nick Aliotti, Don Pellum, John Neal, Tom Osborne and strength/conditioning coach Jim Radcliffe.

“You can’t just put it on (Kelly),” running back Kenjon Barner says. “He’s a huge part of it. You have to give credit to the rest of the coaching staff, and James Harris our nutritionist, and the players. Without Coach Kelly, we don’t have this system, don’t have his attitude. But there’s a lot of credit that goes around to a lot of different people.”

It’s like a perfect storm. Better yet, Barner adds, “it’s like Chex Mix, a big bowl of everything. You have to thank everyone.”

Seniors such as Barner, Nick Cody, Dion Jordan, Michael Clay and Jackson Rice — and injured John Boyett and Carson York — are enjoying quite a stretch of success: three BCS bowl games and playing for a fourth this season.

“It’s just the mindset of this group,” says Taylor Hart, a junior defensive tackle from Tualatin. “ ‘Win The Day,’ it’s that simple. We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves. We come to work each day. It’s a fun environment.”

When Kelly took over, he brought in offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, an Oregon native, as well as position coaches Scott Frost and Jerry Azzinaro to complement the veteran guys.

“It’s got a different feel about it here, for sure,” Helfrich says. “This place has unlimited potential.”

Bandwagon fans

The administration has had some shakeups along the way. Mullens succeeded Bellotti as athletic director, after Bellotti took over from donor Pat Kilkenny, who basically served as placeholder for the department. There have been multiple changes in other administrative positions, and the Ducks inked a deal with IMG Sports Marketing — like many other colleges — that has allowed Oregon to think more nationally. And, the league’s contract with ESPN and the addition of exposure from the Pac-12 Networks certainly helps.

Moos once said that it was imperative that the Ducks continue to win in football, or he feared empty seats in Autzen Stadium and problems with the athletic bottom line.

Season-ticket renewal was 90 percent this season, down from 96 percent; Oregon had raised its ticket prices. But all tickets this season were sold, Pintens says. The Stanford game was the 89th consecutive sellout.

“With success breeds higher expectations,” says Pintens, who oversees marketing, public relations and the UO’s arrangement with the Pac-12 Network and IMG. “We want to make sure that we have a fan base that is also realistic about things and enjoys the ride. To use a

cliché, stand back and smell the roses.”

Pintens says national sales of Oregon merchandise online compares favorably to that of Alabama and Notre Dame.

He understands that much of the following includes “bandwagon” fans.

“We’ve become a national brand in college athletics, and we want to be THE brand in college athletics. No. 1,” Pintens says. “To do that, you need bandwagon fans.

“I know a lot of longtime fans say, ‘Hey, there’s all these Johnny-Come-Latelys.’ You know what? There’s enough room for everyone. We’ll build that bandwagon as big as we possibly can and take as many people on board as we want.”

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