Beavers not being pushed around
Reflections on Oregon State football, plus bonus coverage with Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott …
• Cory Hall is justifiably proud of what he has been able to accomplish — and what his players have accomplished — in two weeks of Beaver Football II this season.
Now it's important for Oregon State's interim head coach to not get carried away with his role in the upsurge and keep the eyes directed straight ahead on the immediate future.
After the Beavers' excruciatingly tough 15-14 loss to 20th-ranked Stanford last Thursday at Reser Stadium, Hall was asked what has changed within the program since Gary Andersen resigned and Hall took over the reins.
"It's a different mentality — my mentality," said Hall, who began the season coaching OSU's cornerbacks. "I always believe a team is going to take on the identity of the head coach.
"I'm no one to be pushed around. And so you're going to develop a team like that, and everybody's going to take notice of it."
Hall paused, realized the bravado in his words and called for a mulligan.
"Let me step back," he said. "I don't want to sit here and say 'I.' Myself, my staff, the administration — everybody understands the goal.
"I've been given the opportunity to showcase my talent and have some input to how I believe a program should look like. I have a great group of guys around me who believe in it. It's liberating almost."
I'm sure it is, and not just for Hall. The Beavers' self-esteem had taken a pounding during the six games this season under Andersen, the coach being the most visible example of the emotional beat-down. In near-misses, and inspired performances, against Colorado and Stanford, the coaches and players have shown plenty of heart and fight and pride.
But this isn't about a coach showcasing his talent. It's about a couple of dozen coaches and support staffers and more than 100 players, and all of Beaver Nation. It's about a collective effort toward respectability and building a winning program.
Hall is the caretaker — temporarily — and is doing one whale of a job.
He has earned the confidence of the players, a major step toward getting the job accomplished.
There's no question Hall, 40, would like the "interim" removed from his title. He deserves consideration, too, though his very limited college coaching experience — three years as a paid assistant coach, one at FCS Weber State and two at OSU — works against him.
On Saturday, I asked athletic director Scott Barnes if Hall's body of work the past two games has enhanced his chances to be the Beavers' head coach next season.
"I won't talk about any potential candidates as it relates to the full-time job," Barnes said, "but I'm pleased with what Cory has done. It affirms our belief (when he was named interim coach) that he was very capable of doing a good job.
"He has galvanized. He has motivated. He has inspired. It's been impressive."
If Hall doesn't get the job — and I'd put it in the "unlikely" category at this point — Barnes has told me twice that he would strongly suggest that Hall be retained on the staff.
It would be a shame for Hall to leave Corvallis after the contribution he has made this season. Here's hoping it will work out for all parties, and that Hall is able to remain on the scene in Corvallis in some capacity.
• Kudos to D-coordinator Kevin Clune and Oregon State's defensive coaches, including Hall, for putting together an excellent game plan for Stanford. Ditto for the execution by OSU's defensive players, even without three starters in the secondary due to injury.
The Beavers got a break when Heisman Trophy candidate Bryce Love was held out of action with an ankle injury. Even so, to hold the Cardinal to 15 points, 12 first downs, 81 yards rushing and 222 yards total offense was an achievement.
"Outside of the last two minutes, that's some the best defensive football I've seen in awhile," Hall says. "Those boys executed."
• Hall knows how close the Beavers have been to victory the last two times out.
"It's been one or two plays," he says. "We all know the kids want to win. Well, don't say it; let's do it.
"We have to take care of the football. Against Stanford, we gave up nine points after two fumbles. We have to create some turnovers. Three or four interceptions were dropped (by OSU defenders). The biggest opponent has been ourselves."
• Stanford's David Shaw spent extra time exchanging words with Hall as the coaches met at midfield after the game. What did Shaw say to Hall?
"He told me, among other things, he was proud of me for getting those boys playing," Hall said. "He said he was proud of the job I had done to this point."
Stanford's special-teams coordinator, Pete Alamar, coached for two years at Fresno State, Hall's alma mater. When Hall was coaching high school ball in Los Angeles not long ago, Alamar would stop by for visits.
"I've had a relationship with Stanford for a while," Hall says.
• A few weeks ago, Oregon State had open tryouts on campus for scout-team players. One of the survivors was Mikey Alfieri, a receiver out of Jesuit who is younger brother of Stanford linebacker Joey Alfieri. Their father, Phil, was a linebacker at Oregon State in the 1980s.
Last week, Mikey was honored as OSU's offensive and special-teams scout team player of the week.
"I'm proud of that kid," Hall says. "That's what scout team is all about — putting them in position to develop so, a year or two down the road, they can contribute.
"That kid works hard. He's fast — I think he was clocked in 4.5 or 4.6 in the 40. He shows up, doesn't complain, and smiles more than anything."
• This might be the week that redshirt freshman cornerback Christian Wallace makes his debut.
The former four-star recruit out of Sealy, Texas, is being considered for duty on the kickoff unit as the Beavers (1-7 overall, 0-5 in Pac-12 play) visit Berkeley to face California (4-5, 1-5).
"He has to earn it," Hall says. "You can't just give him the position. But I've been watching his progress. He's been making strides."
The 6-1, 220-pound Wallace was a star running back and receiver in high school.
"When he came here, he couldn't move backward," says Hall, referring to a necessity for cover guys. "The adjustment has been slower than some, but he's picking things up."
It will be a crowded competition for playing time at cornerback next season, with returnees such as Dwayne Williams, Xavier Crawford, Isaiah Dunn, Shawn Wilson and Jay Irvine leading the way.
"But Christian is starting to look like a corner," Hall says. "He's starting to get off blocks, to recognize routes. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, he'll play next year."
• Glenn Sugiyama, managing partner for DHR International, the Chicago-based search firm that will help Oregon State identify candidates to be the next coach, was in Corvallis last weekend for a second time. He attended the Stanford game, accompanied Barnes to Eugene for the Pac-12 cross country meet and visited with former players and people whom Barnes refers to as "stakeholders."
Soon Sugiyama will put together a suggested list of candidates — "we haven't set a number," Barnes says, "but it will likely be more than one."
Barnes has his own ideas, of course.
"Any AD has a mental list," he says. "You always have a list."
Barnes and President Ed Ray will, at some point, make the final decision on the hire.
Barnes says having a coach in place before the Dec. 20 letter-of-intent signing date is a "soft target." I'd say it ought to be medium-hard. It's going to be a very difficult recruiting year, anyway, for the new coach. He's going to need as much lead time as possible to cobble together a recruiting class.
An aside: Barnes and Cal offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin worked together at Eastern Washington from 2003-05, when Barnes was AD and Baldwin was O-coordinator.
I'll be shocked if Baldwin, 45, isn't a finalist for the OSU job.
• Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott was at the OSU-Stanford game and answered a few questions from the media at halftime.
Scott calls the scandal involving Adidas, recruiting payouts and four schools — including Pac-12 members Arizona and Southern Cal — "a wakeup call." Scott has created a task force to study the situation.
"The goal is to better understand what's going on in terms of the whole recruiting environment around basketball and all the different influences that are involved," Scott says. "And from there, what can we learn from it to improve, and how we can contribute to the national process as leaders in college athletics think about reform more systemically.
"I'm concerned about all of it — and certainly that Pac-12 schools are involved — in terms of the integrity of the competition. You think about student-athletes and protecting them as well. The fact that it took the FBI about two years to complete its investigation indicates the complexity of it.
"I'm going to challenge our task force very broadly about, in addition to reform, the enforcement. And we'll talk about penalties and deterrents as part of that."
The NCAA has announced it intends to complete its investigation by early April, after which potential sanctions will be issued.
I also asked Scott about the continuance of night games on Thursdays and Saturdays, which results in much smaller crowds at many of the Pac-12 venues.
"I share the concern of athletic departments and fans," he said. "I worry when it becomes increasingly difficult for fans to attend games. That's really important to our schools."
But Scott says it's a tradeoff attached to the league's most-recent television deal.
"In order to get the financial investment and commitment to exposure that we were looking for — particularly in football and basketball — (the Pac-12 had to offer) more flexibility about when we play. Night games turned out to be particularly valuable to our broadcast partners.
"So part of the exchange in getting the kind of revenue for our schools that allow them to be competitive with our conferences and to get all of our games available (on TV) nationally was to play more at night."
Best estimates are that each school is pocketing about $15 million a year from ESPN and FOX (for all sports, not just football) and $2 million annually from Pac-12 Networks.
If I'm a fan sitting in the rain at Autzen or Reser until 11 p.m. in November, I'm still not happy about it. Better yet, I'm probably going to be sitting at home, watching on TV. And that's not a good thing for any of the Pac-12 schools.