Reflected Glory: Oregon athletics
While the Oregon men and women prepared for their first round game of the NCAA tournament, the Oregon football coaches had their own miniature version of March Madness. Sure; the basketball hoop used for their dunk contest was lower than normal; but really that is not the point.
For several years, Oregon fans and alumni alike have been basking in the reflected glory of several sports which had risen to the level of elite; men’s basketball made a Final Four run that was inches from a berth in the national championship game; the women’s basketball team was in the midst of historic runs; the softball team was a national title contender; and of course both track teams were still hovering near the top of college track and field.
But it was the flagship sport which had been gone from the leader of the movement to the end of the line. While it would be useless to rehash the past and even less useful than that to create a blame game of hypocrisy; there is a valuable lesson to be learned from the resurgence of Oregon football and how the men and women leading that charge have refracted their moments to bring attention to the sports that are as big a part of the community reflection as any other.
In some ways, those other sports are the soul of the Oregon community; without them, there is a vacuum of one which brings neither joy, hope, happiness or solidarity.
When Mario Cristobal was named head coach – one of the platforms which he included among his thick plan for the future of Oregon football was how the program would bask in the glory of the university rather than be the force which controls their soul.
There's a heart that must be free to fly
That burns with a need to know the reason why
That heart is bigger than a single team; it is a community of many formed into the soul of one. Cristobal has developed a strong love of the Oregon athletics department and knows that there is value in his support of the rest of the department.
Nearly two decades ago, as the university began to recognize that their rising football star was bringing applications from all over the nation, a push was made to create a national brand. It was successful and yet as those other applications began to roll in; as athletes from other sports gravitated toward Eugene based on that new national brand, no one thanked them; no one recognized them.
Cristobal learned a lot at his previous spot; but not everything is a duplication of Nick Saban and the Alabama way. In fact, what Mario Cristobal is doing right now for the Oregon athletic department is above and beyond just about anyone in the nation. Cristobal attends women’s games; he sits in the student section; he takes the ESPN cameras and focuses back on the real drivers of the university – its students.
We have written a lot about the family culture which Cristobal has successfully implemented. When we talk to recruits, they are unanimous in what stands out most about the Oregon football program: the family atmosphere. What Cristobal is doing is extending that family feel to the entire athletic department.
It says something that when elite football recruits visit Eugene, they are just as excited to take a picture with Sabrina Ionescu as with any other athlete on campus.
The tiger and two cubs laid low
By using the platform that is the driver of the department – Oregon football – Cristobal and his staff are letting the reflected glory calm the team and university.
Earlier this week, we mentioned the rising expectations and how that might affect the pressure felt by the staff and football team heading into the 2019 season.
The water soothed their skins, No other place seemed wise to go
It is only the second year of the Mario Cristobal era at Oregon. It seems the term ‘era’ has come to define every coach at every school now and this is no different. Usually the second year of a rebuild process carries little if any pressure. Nor should it; but the Ducks are starting to get some press as a potential Rose Bowl team – and maybe more.
Does Cristobal feel this as pressure on his shoulders? In two words: yes and no. With expectations come pressure. It is a given. But he also knows that those expectations are already built in to what message he is giving the team. They already expect to compete for a conference championship; they already expect to contend for a playoff berth. This team expects to get the best effort of every opponent they face. Cristobal knows he has a potential number one overall pick; a fierce offensive line; a deep pool of talent at running back and a vastly improved defense.
Reflected glory calmed them all
And that might be the biggest take from the manner in which the Oregon football program has become the biggest and most important cheerleader of every other sport; their reflected glory calms them all.