Don’t Duck an Opportunity: Let Christobal and Leavitt Share

Any way you slice it, success in college football comes down to two positions — starting quarterback and head coach. The University of Oregon Ducks could shake up the status quo — and rattle every other team — by having two of each.

We’ve seen what happens when Oregon’s starting quarterback is removed for a few games (2017) or for the final half of a bowl game (2016). The Ducks averaged over 50 points per game when Justin Herbert was under center this year, and about 15 points per game for the five games he was on the sidelines.

Any offensive scheme that’s built around a dual-threat quarterback is by definition precarious. The threat goes both ways. Remove “the guy” from the formula and the team goes from leading 31-0 at halftime to a 47-41 Alamo Bowl loss.

Vernon Adams, Jr. threw nine passes for either a first down or touchdown in the first half, before a concussion ended his season 30 minutes early. Backup Jeff Lockie couldn’t lead the same team to a single score until overtime rules spotted the ball on the opposition’s 25 yard-line.

Offensive linemen and running backs learn the cadence of their quarterback. Timing and teamwork are impeded when a new voice is calling for the ball. That all may be completely true, without being necessary. With proper training, the differing styles of two quarterbacks would give a defense more fits than the offense.

Let’s assume Oregon wants to stay with the wide-open game that Chip Kelly perfected here. It plays to Herbert’s strengths and it matches how the players were recruited. But the scheme has always had a flaw that larger teams have learned to exploit. Wide-open works better on second-and-long than it does on third-and-short.

Once the defense has a good idea of what’s probably coming, the zone read offense loses most of its advantage. Razzle-dazzle loses to smash mouth. But why not have both? A team with 85 players and plentiful practice fields could be ready to give defenses a different look when gaining a yard or two is all that’s required.

Short yardage situations would call for another special unit for the offense, with a different quarterback at the helm. To be certain that this lineup knows it’s just as valuable as the starters, the coaches could bring back Kelly’s penchant for two-point conversions.

That’s a call that can only be made by the head coach — or the head coaches. Again, why wouldn’t two be better than one? Isn’t that essentially what Oregon State University is doing by bringing back Mike Riley as Jonathan Smith’s assistant head coach?

As Oregon scrambles to salvage a coaching staff and recruiting class, what if Mario Cristobal and Jim Leavitt were both offered the head coach title? Sure, that would cause some confusion, but why couldn’t that confusion be used to the team’s advantage?

The head coach position has become such a complex constellation of unrelated responsibilities, why not double up to cover it all? A head coach has to develop game strategies, while also recruiting and being the team spokesperson and responding to key boosters and managing the small army of assistant and specialty coaches.

It’s more than one person can reasonably do, so why ask one person to do it? Leavitt’s resume has been built around defense. Cristobal coordinated the offense under Alabama’s Nick Saban. Why choose between their strengths when you can have both?

Think about the pitch either could make in a recruit’s living room. “We have two sets of starters for our offense, led by two different quarterbacks. We only have four years to build the leadership skills that will last a lifetime, so this is our way of doubling the impact we can have on young lives.”

“And to prove that it’s not just talk, we’re living it ourselves. There’s another guy, right now, in another recruit’s living room, who is also head coach for the Oregon Ducks. We both are. Getting credit matters much less when success multiplies opportunities. That’s not just a football strategy — that’s a life strategy, and it’s what we teach at Oregon.”

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) blogs at www.dksez.com.