Thanks for Your Support

Your donations keep Duck Downs ad-free and eliminate the need for wasteful popup blockers!

Why support this site?

 

 

 

Sunday
Mar202011

September 1975: Oklahoma 62, Oregon 7

·         National News:  Trying To Kill The President threatens to replace streaking as the national pastime. 

·         Oregon’s Bottom Ten ranking, Sept 11: #10 (down from #8)

·         This Week’s Game: Oregon vs Oklahoma, in Norman, 9/12/75  1:30pm. 

 

    

(Some of those team stats are a bit suspect — 617 OU return yards? — but not the important ones.)

 

 

***

Many college football coaches will, out of respect or a fear of karma, refuse to say anything before a game to denigrate the quality of the opponent. At Notre Dame, Lou Holtz became legendary for his ability to make it sound like Navy had a chance to beat the Irish. (“Have you theen how Navy runs the ball?”) At Georgia, Vince Dooley would bend over backwards to compliment his weekly non-conference victims, as would Tom Osborne at Nebraska.

 

Barry Switzer would NOT tolerate that kind of nonsense.

Barry Switzer, 1975. Now that’s a stare.

Before the first game of 1975, OU coach Switzer complained that it was sometimes hard to get his teams up for games like this, against opponents who were “not the caliber of our football team.” Switzer could be allowed a touch of arrogance: he’d coached the Sooners through 22 games and not lost one.

OU assistant Jerry Pettibone, who would eventually learn the true meaning of epic failure as a HC at Oregon State, commented:

“if we could suit up 120 people, we could hold the score down. But Barry’s pushing [RB Joe] Washington for the Heisman.”

Having finished third in 1974’s Heisman race, behind Archie Griffin and Anthony Davis, Washington certainly had a shot.

The opponent Switzer and Pettibone were alluding to was Oregon, returning to open the 1975 football season for another paycheck, having long since spent the last one they’d earned in Norman for enduring a 68-3 loss.

Oklahoma was merely the defending national champion, ranked #1 in the AP and UPI polls, carried a 20-game win streak, had not lost a game since 1972, and were coming off two years of NCAA probation — sanctions that did nothing to stop the team’s dominance. They graced the cover of Sports Illustrated’s college football preview, in which it was noted that “improving on perfection is difficult.” The Sooners appeared little bothered by the NCAA’s new scholarship and dress-out limits, something that Bear Bryant called “cruel” and sued to prevent. 

To quote a  local sportswriter:

“The Sooners have more speed than a Harlem pusher.”

(You could write things like that in 1975.)

The Ducks were coming off a 2-9 season, in which they were last in the Pac-8 in scoring and rushing defense, and bore the millstone of an eight game losing streak and an apathetic fan base. 

Oregon’s problems were manifold.  There had been attrition between seasons; Don Read was not what you would call a “player’s coach”, although he was reportedly beloved by the players who stuck with him. Two of the best players from the ‘74 team, LB Reggie Lewis and RB Rick Kane, had left for San Diego State and San Jose State respectively; Read insisted neither would be missed. Don Reynolds, obviously, would be hard to replace at TB. And the graduation of Norval Turner meant the student section would have to find a new favorite player to boo.

The Pac-8 Skywriters looked at Read’s cupboard and picked Oregon last in the annual pre-season poll.

What can you say about a football team whose starting quarterback has never thrown a varsity pass, whose #1 returning running back gained only 157 yards last season and whose fate is to meet the steamrolling Sooners in two weeks?  What can you say? How about good luck and is your Blue Cross paid up? 
— Gary Rausch, Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram

This was the team that traveled to Norman on week one to face the Sooners.Injuries during spring and fall camp had taken out the top two QB prospects, Jerry Jurich and Phil Brus, leaving the starting job to Jack Henderson, a sophomore out of Menlo Park who turned 19 in August and, at 6’1 and 185, was considered a bit undersized to be running Read’s veer option attack. The starting and backup centers were injured, and the #3 center, sophomore Fred Quillan, was suffering from a pinched nerve in his neck. Read had benched starting OT Ron Hunt and DT Greg Gibson for violating team rules. RB Eugene Brown, the heir apparent to Don Reynolds, had turf toe and was left home. 

Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder generously made Oklahoma a 40 point favorite. He might have been thinking the Sooners were be looking past Oregon to a date with Tony Dorsett and Pitt the following week.

If OU overlooked Oregon, it wasn’t obvious. In a game inexplicably attended by Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller, the Sooners had covered the 40 pt spread by early in the 3rd period. It is not known whether the Secret Service volunteered protection for the Duck backfield. 

Despite Pettitbone’s ersatz Washington-for-Heisman game planning, the Sooner star’s famously hand-painted silver shoes barely saw the field; on a rain-soaked turf, ball control was a challenge, and Oklahoma’s first score came on recovery of a fumble by Mr. Washington in the Oregon end zone, after which he was benched in favor of Horace Ivory.

As can happen in an early-season game during a rainstorm, the game was sloppy. In all, there were 22 fumbles. The Ducks fumbled away the ball on their first two possessions. Still, Oregon trailed only 10-7 after the first quarter, thanks to recovery of a blocked punt — Oklahoma’s only punt of the day — and a toss from Henderson to WR Greg Bauer. 

Then the dam broke, the wishbone offense laid waste to the scrawny Duck line, and the final numbers were as ugly as the score. The Sooners scored six times in the 2nd period; four touchdowns, a field goal, and a safety when Oregon was called for a personal foul in its end zone. By the end of the period it was 43-7, and Switzer had pulled every starter and many of his reserves. 

Despite fumbling 12 times and losing three of those, Oklahoma still rushed for 544 yards on 91 carries. Oregon suffered ten turnovers, a record, on seven fumbles and three picks.

Read said “That’s the best football team I’ve ever seen.” This presumably included the ‘72 Oklahoma team that stomped Oregon 68-3, when Read was one of Dick Enright’s assistants. 

Afterwards, Read praised his team’s fight in somewhat pathetic terms.

“We hit the heck out of them …
The score got a little out of hand in the second quarter…
There’s hope, men, I mean it. There’s hope.” 

And Switzer? “Offensively, we didn’t play like we can,” he said. “We’ve got to go back practicing fundamentals and working on basic mechanics.” Right.

**

The Aftermath:

Oklahoma went on to post a 11-1 season, its lossless streak broken in inexplicable fashion by a 23-3 loss at home to a mediocre Kansas team. They still were Big Eight co-champions, finished the season #2, defeated #4 Michigan in the Orange Bowl, and finished the season as undisputed national champions after #1 Ohio State lost in the Rose Bowl to UCLA.

Joe Washington finished fifth in the Heisman race behind Archie Griffin, Ricky Bell, Chuck Muncie and Tony Dorsett. Here’s Joe’s 1975 highlight film.. perhaps the moves of this native of Port Arthur will remind you of another Texas product of more recent vintage:

Joe had a short but productive NFL career with the Colts, Redskins and Chargers, and reached the Pro Bowl in 1979. He’s a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. And OK, it’s not from 1975, but here’s Joe making the greatest 3 yard punt return in history against USC in 1973.

 

Switzer’s brilliant Oklahoma career ended years later with a thud; he eventually resigned, in 1989, after his lawless and scandal-ridden program made the cover of Sports Illustrated in just about the least flattering way possible. Switzer joined the Dallas Cowboys, won Super Bowl XXX in 1996, and retired from coaching after the ‘97 season.

And Oregon? The next week they opened at home against San Jose State, and none other than running back Rick Kane, who had flunked out of Oregon just six months earlier. (In 1975, you didn’t need to pull a Masoli to change schools without sitting out a year. All you had to do was find a JC that would let you pass 36 credits in one summer session. Apparently, that wasn’t hard to do.)  Kane must have greatly enjoyed beating his former team, if only with a field goal and a safety.

New UO president William Boyd was memorably quoted as saying “I’d rather be whipped in a public square than watch a game like that.” 

The Ducks finished the 1975 season 3-8, having finally stopped a 14-game losing streak with a win against Utah, a victory in the Palouse, and a 14-7 win in the Civil War — the first CW win in Autzen history — that sent Dee Andros into retirement.

 

 

Sunday
Mar202011

The Education of Rich Brooks, 1977 - 1982

This is the story of a young coach who started with nothing, built something, discovered it had a shabby foundation, and was forced to tear it down and suffer the consequences while he learned how to build it right.

* * *

Once upon a time, there was an ambitious young football coach named Rich Brooks. 

Rich had never been a head coach before, even though he was very experienced and smart and had helped other teams win games as an assistant coach.

One day, a downtrodden university in Eugene with a dismal recent football history, a bleak outlook, and a meager budget came to Rich. “Would you please coach our team?” the school said. “We say we’ll do anything to get a winning team, but nobody wants to coach us, because we treat our football program like crap, and then fire the coach for not beating the Aggies.”

Rich was not only ambitious, but likely a bit suspicious. He was more than a little familiar with the school that wanted to hire him; he’d been an Aggie himself, and most recently had coached at UCLA, and had never coached on a team that had lost to Oregon. But he knew he was their third choice. (The first choice, Bill Walsh, decided Stanford was a better opportunity; the second, Jim Mora, considered Oregon a dead end and dropped out of the selection process.)

Rich also knew he’d be the best coach they’d had in years, mainly because the bar had been set almost on the ground. But Oregon swore they were willing to throw a lot of resources at the problem. So, Rich got them to agree to let him hire who he wanted, and pay them as much as necessary to help him coach the team.

And: Rich didn’t promise to keep anyone from the old coach’s staff. Considering that previous head coaches had all been hired off the previous coaching organization, with dismal results, this was all seen as radical change.

Rich took the job. They paid him $32,000 a year. He said it would take him two years to turn things around, because that’s how long it would take to get the players he wanted. 

And he’d promised the school he’d put together the best coaching staff money could buy. 

One coach he wanted was a guy he’d worked with in the past, named John Becker. Rich’s predecessor, a nice guy named Don Read, had tried and tried and tried to get John to help him coach the offense, but John kept refusing, maybe because he knew Read would eventually coach himself out of work.

John lived in southern California, was a coach at a little school called Los Angeles Valley College. Rich thought John could not only help with his offense, but act as a good recruiter in California. John could bring in good quality players, and help the players stay eligible! This sounded great to Rich.

So Rich made John the highest paid assistant coach in the conference.

After a couple of years of trying really hard, and getting better, but not winning many games, things turned around in 1979. Rich’s team actually had a winning season.  They even came within a game of being considered for a bowl game in New Jersey. (For a team that hadn’t been to a bowl in 17 years, this was progress.)

With most of the team coming back in 1980, a tough option QB in Reggie Ogburn, a bevy of solid players on offense and defense, and a solid recruiting class, things were really looking up. Fans were excited. The team came close to selling out some games. 

Then, in December of 1979, the big bright green water balloon that Rich had been filling for three years exploded in his face, splattering the entire program and school and community.

It started small. Several universities were under investigation in 1979 regarding college credits that were awarded to players without being earned.  One course that seemed to pop up frequently in investigations was “Current Problems and Principles of Coaching Athletics.” This not-exactly-rocket-science seminar was offered as an extension-school summer class by “Ottawa University of Kansas”, but was actually “taught” in two locations — a garage and a student lounge, both on the campus of Los Angeles Valley College in Van Nuys, Ca.. 

Two of Rich’s players, Rock Richmond and Mike Honeycutt, had received credit for taking the class — and maintained their eligibility. They assured Rich that they’d actually taken the class, so everything was fine, nothing to see here. Another player, Paul Perez, had apparently received three credit hours simply by paying the tuition.. but because Perez hadn’t actually played in any games, his action didn’t get the school in trouble. Or so it seemed.

Rich’s bosses performed a perfunctory one-day investigation, and determined that everything was hunky-dory. But his school’s president, William Boyd — not an enemy of a solid football program, but one who had sworn with great vengeance and righteous anger to take action against a corrupt program  — made a statement that would prove ominous:

“I wanted to be damn sure the students actually attended the course to be sure there was no deceit in obtaining the credit.. I’m relieved to learn the athletic department is not guilty of the insinuations… but I am still left with an uneasy feeling that present practices may well be conducive to the erosion of sound academic standards. This practice seems to invite students to seek out “soft” courses.”

— UO President William Boyd, quoted in the Eugene Register-Guard, Dec 13 1979

“Present practices” meant, of course, what John was doing with Rich’s team.

Rich was no dummy. He knew that in order to compete with the “big boys” in football, you had to act like the big boys. Everyone else was doing it. The keep-players-eligible-at-all-costs mentality was what drove football success! Education First was for places like Vanderbilt and Northwestern and Duke and Rice and Stanford, where football didn’t matter all that much. Rich wanted Oregon Football to be successful.. and he was on the way to getting them there.. and then this broke out. Frustrating.

Rich knew he had a problem. His top guy, assistant coach John, had arranged for those players to “take those classes”, darn it! This looked bad.

It was bad. 

Four days later, it was revealed that Perez had not only “earned” credit for the correspondence course, but he’d received 10 full credit hours for courses he didn’t attend — and not for the Ottawa extension course, but for actual courses at .. Los Angeles Valley College. John’s old stomping ground. It turned out Perez’s entire transcript was bogus.

On December 17, John Becker resigned as assistant coach, which apparently looked to him like a better option than getting fired, which would have certainly been the next step.

Seems that one of John’s buddies at Valley College, a guy named Early Durley, had made a statement to investigators that he’d ginned up a bunch of phony credits for John, because, well, that’s what friends are for. Officials at Los Angeles Valley College said they were shocked, shocked that Paul Perez had told investigators he’d received bogus credits — because their own records showed he’d not only showed up on campus, but was apparently a model student! He completed three PE classes (two As and a C).

Funny thing, though.. on his various applications and other paperwork, his handwriting showed the remarkable ability to resemble that of several different people. Oh, and Valley College had no record of any classes ever having been taught in a “lounge” or “garage.”

The FBI announced an investigation into allegations of mail fraud and bribery involving Rich’s football players; apparently it was a federal crime to use the mail system to get credit for a class you never took. Uh oh.

Rich decided it was time to throw himself under the bus. He sent his boss William Boyd a letter of resignation. Boyd sent it back. Nice try, Rich, he seemed to say, but you got us into this mess, and you’re going to get us out of it.

It kept getting worse.

On December 20, President Boyd announced that, um, remember those two guys who we said didn’t do anything wrong? Well, Rich went back and yelled at some people, and it turned out that Rock and Mike had apparently forgotten they’d never done a lick of work at any school in Van Nuys! Things like that just slip your mind.

Now, Rich had to accept the possibility that — at best — his winning season in 1979 would turn into an 0-11 forfeit party.

Two days later, the mess expanded. Valley College had found another “student” with credits transferred to Oregon, a freshman from Illinois named Paul Sanborn.. and Sanborn’s transcript was almost identical to the one they’d made up for Perez. Apparently, no official transcript had been issued, but Sanborn had asked the transcripts to be sent to .. John Becker. 

Finally, the president decided the school was over its head and potentially compromised in the investigation. In mid-January 1980, he named an independent investigator. It didn’t take long to dig up more evidence of compromised integrity, and an entitlement mentality.

The media, especially the Eugene Register-Guard, was more than happy to perform its own investigation. Not to be left out, the local district attorney, Pat Horton, decided that if asses were going to be kicked, by golly, he’d be kicking them.

Some of what was eventually revealed by all these investigations:

  • More phony transcripts from Valley were discovered. One player received 25 credits during the summer of 1977 while simultaneously enrolled in three different colleges located 400 miles apart. (He should have been on the cross-country team.)  Derrick Dale earned instant eligibility in 1978 by “taking,” as independent study, a jogging course at nearby Lane Community College; he was credited for running he had done in football practice. Initially dismissed as a “disgruntled former player,” Dale was, eventually, gruntled.
  • Coaches and players made numerous personal, long-distance calls billed to the university. (This was back when a 10-minute long-distance call could cost $10, so  yes, this was a big deal — the total was said to be $10,000.) Seven players would eventually be indicted by the DA on phone fraud charges
  • There was a slush fund set up by boosters at a local travel agency, used to purchase plane tickets for players, flouting NCAA regulations against special benefits. Players Andrew Page and Rick Ward were ruled ineligible for 1980 by the Pac-10, and both immediately transferred out of the league (but not out of trouble, as we’ll see).
  • Even the UO swim team got into the spirit:  six bogus credits were purchased by two scholarship swimmers, at $100 per credit.The transaction was documented by a money order receipt and a message saying “Please send units up and receipt.” The money was paid to a counselor at a juco in Southern California; the source was never revealed.
  • A citizen had reported the theft of a stereo by a football player in 1979; the stereo was “recovered” by athletic department employees, and returned to the owner, who was furious that the Eugene police were not taking action against the thief. The aggrieved citizen eventually went to the DA.
  • Starting tailback Dwight Robertson was one of four members of the 1978 team indicted in August on charges of first degree sodomy and coercion  on allegations of a gang-rape of a female student at the University Inn.  That didn’t stop Robertson from playing in the season opener against Stanford.  Rich thought it would be a crime to kick him off the team. Innocent until proven guilty. (The other players indicted? Andrew Page and Rick Ward — already famous for getting free plane tickets — and Reggie Young, who apparently used his own money to buy a plane ticket to Hawaii in search of more playing time.)

Eventually, the NCAA and Pac-10 put the hammer down on Oregon (and UCLA, and ASU, and OSU, and even USC, just in case you thought they’ve always gotten away with it). The conference put the Ducks on probation in 1980, cut the scholarships available by three for 1981-2, and forced the team to forfeit all 10 wins from 1977 to 1979 — every game Rich Brooks had won to that point.

As if that wasn’t enough, the NCAA banned the team from post-season play for 1982, and — significantly more painfully, given that the Ducks wouldn’t come close to bowl eligibility — prohibiting the team from TV appearances that year as well. The number of scholarships available was cut from 30 to 25 for 1982-3 and to 28 for 1983-4. 

The 1980 Oregon team turned out to be pretty good, after all that, going 6-3-2, stomping the Huskies in Seattle 34-10, beating Michigan State and UCLA and playing USC to a tie. They might have made a bowl game had they been eligible. 

But, in 1981, the bottom fell out. They lost the home opener to Fresno State; they finished 2-9.

In 1982 they lost to Fresno again, and San Jose State, winding up 2-8-1. 

It would be a long climb back to respectability — on and off the field. 

Some valuable lessons were learned during the debacle of Rich Brooks’ early career, the most important being that there are no shortcuts in college football. The “traditional powers” didn’t become powers overnight, but over decades.

It would take years for Oregon to be in a position to earn respect again, as a team and a program. The fact that the respect did eventually come is a testament to the stubborn determination of Rich Brooks, and the faith the school placed in him, when not a few other schools would have accepted that letter of resignation.

Sunday
Mar202011

Brother, can you spare a few thousand for a team down on its luck?

Paycheck games. Non-conference matchups at the home field of the top tier of college football, wherein a Team That Needs The Money is offered as a sacrifice to The Team That Is Willing To Pay for a Guaranteed Win. TTNTM comes to town, gets its collective ass kicked by TTTIWTP4AGW, gets paid and leaves; there’s never a return trip next season, or ever.  

Paycheck games have been around a long time. The most famous paycheck game was probably Georgia Tech vs. Cumberland, back in 1916. Tech won 222-0. And Cumberland earned the right to not pay Tech three grand. (The twist here was that Cumberland had actually dropped football in 1915, but Tech had a contract for a game. Cumberland would have owed Tech $3000 if they forfeited — a lot of cabbage in 1916 — so they cobbled together a team and showed up in Atlanta, with historic results. There will never be another game so lopsided.)

In the current FBS football environment, paycheck games are typically scheduled with bottom-tier teams in non-BCS conferences, along with the occasional FCS team (although Michigan discovered in 2007 that you can’t pick just any FCS team and they did learn their lesson, eventually).

But, before things like scholarship limits and TV revenue began to level the playing field a bit, it wasn’t unusual for a major conference university with a weak team to pimp itself out to football’s powerhouses. And Oregon was, for years, unashamed to play Football Prostitute. Over 17 seasons from 1971 to 1987, the Ducks played, or at least showed up, for 13 paycheck games. Nebraska three times. Oklahoma twice. Ohio State twice.Georgia and LSU, in the same season.

The average score?  Home 46, Oregon 8

In the late 1950s, Leo Harris, the athletic director at the time, decided he’d take advantage of the national goodwill earned by the team at the 1958 Rose Bowl by scheduling big intersectional games, to make up for the holes in the schedule brought on by the demise of the old PCC. Some of those games were road-only, but Oregon wasn’t a downtrodden program, and few of the games were blowouts. Harris collected some paychecks, but these weren’t paycheck games — just non-conference tilts.

But before Harris retired in 1967, he scheduled the first of what would become 16 seasons of beatdowns. It’s one thing to schedule Minnesota for a road-only game, as Harris did in 1966 for the 1975 schedule. It’s another to add a road game against Oklahoma to the same non-league slate.

Harris’s successor at AD, former head coach Len Casanova, shares some of the blame for the paycheck games of the 70s. Cas went on a sabbatical in early 1969 and responsibility for schedule management fell to his staff for two years. Faced with an expansion of D-1 football schedules to 11 games in 1969, the acting assistant AD, Norv Ritchey, was forced to scramble; he had six seasons to fill. The ‘69 season was easy, as Hawaii had already been on the roster, giving Oregon enough games that year. California agreed to come to Portland for one last game at Civic Stadium in 1970.  But Ritchey couldn’t resist the temptation to use paycheck games to help balance the athletic budget. He agreed to two road games at Nebraska in five years, with no return, along with a trip to Missouri, to help fill the 11th game slots through 1975.

Thus, the Ducks began their venture into full-out gridiron whoredom in ‘71, with one-way road trip losses to eventual national champion Nebraska and previous national champion Texas. With Fouts and Moore, the talent was there to at least give a reasonable effort that season. But when the talent withered away, and the budget didn’t keep up with reality, paycheck games became regular, and brutal. AD Norv Ritchey just couldn’t resist the big payouts, and saddled Oregon with road game beatdowns that went on for years after he resigned. (A story, possibly apocryphal, tells of a day that Ritchey accidentally scheduled two paycheck games for the same Saturday in 1977.)

Years later, Ritchey was unapologetic about sending his football coaches on revenue/suicide missions:

 

The income from just one of these games will more than cover our entire budgets for the sports of gymnastics, wrestling, golf and tennis … These games have become essential to us … in some years those paydays have meant the difference …

 — Norv Ritchey, June 1975

 

The Paycheck Games, 1971 - 1987

  • 1971 @ Nebraska (7-34)  (1971 National Champions)
     @ Texas  (7-35)   (ended season #12)
  • 1972 @ Oklahoma (3-68)   (ended season #2; RB Greg Pruitt won Heisman)
  • 1973 @ Michigan (0-24)   (ended season #6)
  • 1974 @ Nebraska (7-61)   (ended season #7)
  • 1975 @ Oklahoma (7-62)   (1975 National Champions)
  • 1976 @ Notre Dame (0-41) (ended season #12)
  • 1977 @ Georgia  (16-27)   (Rich Brooks’ first game as HC; Georgia ended season 5-6)
      @ LSU (17-56)   (ended season #15)
  • 1983 @ Ohio State (6-31)   (ended season #15)
  • 1985 @ Nebraska (0-63)   (ended season #4)
  • 1986 @ Nebraska (14-48)   (ended season #10)
  • 1987 @ Ohio State (14-24)   (OSU was ranked #7 at game time)

Rich Brooks, with the cooperation of ADs John Byrne and Rick Bay, slowed down the whoring, or at least tried to, until the post-probation pratfall depleted the college coffers, and forced a round of sloppy seconds at Columbus and Lincoln; the administration thought the paycheck compensated for the team’s humiliation.  Football schedules being what they were back then, it took 10 years to bring the practice to a halt. 

Duck fans have former AD Bill Byrne to thank for finally ending the paycheck games. During his second year as athletic director at Oregon, in 1985, Byrne watched the Ducks assume the position in Lincoln.

“Our team had no chance to win,” said Byrne, reflecting on the situation in 1992, when he left Oregon to take the AD job at — Nebraska. “We lost 63-0. I decided right there as athletic director I had to schedule games we had a chance to win.”  

Byrne also set up the tradition of home-and-home games against Big 10 schools, a series that began in 1993 (Illinois) and ended in 2009 (Purdue).

By insisting on home-and-home games against major conference opponents, Byrne laid the groundwork for expectations of better results.

That policy would, with time, turn Oregon into a team that hosts the paycheck games. 

Page 1 2 3