What kind of coach was Mike Bellotti?
A hall of fame coach.
The National Football Foundation made it official on Thursday when it announced that Bellotti, the winningest coach in Oregon history, will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame on Dec. 9 in New York.
Bellotti will be the third Oregon coach to receive the honor, joining Hugo Bezdek (1906, 1913-1917) and Len Casanova (1951-1966). Five Oregon players have been inducted: J.W. Beckett (1913-16), John Kitzmiller (1928-30), Norm Van Brocklin (1947-48), Mel Renfro (1961-63) and Ahmad Rashad (formerly Bobby Moore, 1969-71).
“It’s somewhat surreal when you look at some of the pictures of where we came from,” Bellotti said. “It’s still hard for everybody to say, `Wow, look at this. What an amazing transformation over time.’ “
Bellotti was 116-55 at Oregon, racking up many of the victories before the football facilities were dramatically upgraded and the Nike uniforms changed every Saturday.
From 1894 to 1988, the Ducks made six bowl appearances. Beginning in 1989, when Bellotti was hired by Rich Brooks as offensive coordinator, until he retired after the 2008 season, the program made 16 bowl appearances.
After sharing the Pac-10 title in 2000, Oregon won the outright conference championship in 2001 en route to an 11-1 record and No. 2 final ranking.
“Mike had a wonderful way of relating to everybody,” said Joey Harrington, Bellotti’s star quarterback from 1999-2001. “You see a lot of coaches today that pick one side or the other. They’re either the dictator, my way or highway, or a quote, unquote players coach, trying to be friends.
“Mike had an incredible way of doing it all. He could be your friend, he could be a disciplinarian, he could be a voice of reason and for me a voice of calm.”
In 1916, Bezdek’s Ducks finished 7-0-1, including a 14-0 victory over Pennsylvania in the Rose Bowl. Oregon lost 10-7 to Ohio State on Jan. 1, 1958, in Casanova’s only Rose Bowl appearance.
Despite all of the success during Bellotti’s 14 seasons, the Ducks didn’t play in the “Granddaddy of Them All” while he was the head coach.
“We reached the pinnacle of success as much as anyone at Oregon,” Bellotti noted of the 2001 season.
The Ducks dismantled Colorado 38-16 in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, 2002. Many football observers believed that Oregon should have been matched up with Miami in the BCS national championship game — played at the Rose Bowl that season — instead of Nebraska, which had lost 62-36 to the Buffaloes in the regular-season finale and was drubbed 37-14 by the Hurricanes for the title.
“In reality, we should have played in the national championship,” longtime Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said. “Nebraska didn’t even win their own division in the Big 12.”
In 1994, Oregon ended a 37-year Rose Bowl drought. After the season, Brooks left to become the head coach of the St. Louis Rams, and Aliotti decided to go with him to the NFL.
Bellotti was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach by UO vice president Dan Williams, the start of an Oregon tradition that continued with the ascension of Chip Kelly in 2009 and Mark Helfrich in 2013.
Current staff members Gary Campbell, Steve Greatwood, John Neal, Tom Osborne and Don Pellum all helped turn the program into a consistent winner under Bellotti, who hired Helfrich as a graduate assistant in 1997 and welcomed Aliotti back in 1999.
“I think that contributed to the mystique of Oregon being a place you want to be at, not just a steppingstone,” Bellotti said. “I think the staff that’s there, in great part, was put together by me. … I really take pride in that and I’m proud of where we came from.”
After the Rose Bowl season 20 years ago, Bellotti guided the 1995 Ducks to an 9-2 regular-season record in his first fall as the head coach before a 38-6 loss to Colorado in the Cotton Bowl. Oregon went 6-5, 7-5 and 8-4 over the next three seasons.
The Ducks ended the 1999 season with a six-game winning streak, capped with a 24-20 victory over Minnesota in the Sun Bowl, to finish 9-3. The 2000 team became the first in program history to win 10 games after a thrilling 35-30 victory over Texas in the Holiday Bowl, setting the stage for the 2001 team’s success.
“Those three years really took the program to a new level,” Aliotti said. “The first season that really turned things around was the 1994 Rose Bowl team with Rich Brooks.
“Then there was a little bit of a lull, but 1999 to 2001 it started to take off.”
Bellotti also enjoyed 10-win seasons in 2005 and 2008 before passing the head coach’s headset to Kelly, who took the Ducks to four consecutive BCS bowls, including a national championship game, before leaving Eugene to coach the Philadelphia Eagles.
After an 11-2 debut by Helfrich last season, Oregon will be among the favorites to compete in the inaugural College Football Playoff in 2014.
“We can talk about the uniforms get attention and facilities get attention, but they don’t win the games,” Bellotti said. “It’s the kids inside the uniforms that win the games and it’s very important to recognize that aspect.
“I think we made Eugene, Oregon, a place people know about, that people respect and that people are excited about. There’s no question that fires me up.”
Bellotti’s influences in the profession include Jim Sochor, for whom he played and coached for at UC Davis, Tim Tierney, who he coached for at Cal State Hayward, and Pete Riehlman, who he coached for at Weber State.
“It’s exciting, it’s humbling,” Bellotti said of his emotions after his selection. “It’s an honor and it makes you realize how many people are involved in something like this.”
In 1984, Bellotti took his first head coaching job at Chico State, where he was 21-25-2 over five seasons before joining Brooks’ staff. He worked as Oregon’s athletic director for one year after retiring from coaching and is currently a college football analyst for ESPN.
“Would I coach again? Maybe,” the 63-year-old Bellotti said. “Do I need to coach again? No. I miss coaching a ton on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings.
“I don’t miss it Monday through Thursday.”
Follow Ryan on Twitter @rgduckfootball . Email firstname.lastname@example.org .