It’s More than a Big Game — Life Has Changed Since 2007

We all want Monday’s football game to be about more than the game. We want it to be about life, history, the whole shebang. That would help explain how we have rearranged our lives to watch what others think is “just a game.” With appropriate apologies to both mountains and mole hills, I’m only too happy to oblige.

On February 14, 2007, the University of Oregon hired a little-known coach from New Hampshire to be their football team’s new offensive coordinator. That same day, the Federal Reserve worried in its quarterly report that median home sales were dropping. We saw the first signs of a sub-prime mortgage industry collapse. The housing bubble was about to burst.

What followed seemed like chaos at the time, but now we can see that a fundamental realignment was underway. For the United States economy and for collegiate football, nothing has been the same since. Here are a few lessons we have learned.

Big, Fat and Happy? How Does Two Out of Three Sound?

Americans for not-quite-a-century have been known for being “big, fat, and happy.” We’ve done it better than anyone else in the world. But recently — only in the last couple of decades — the “fat” part of the formula has become troublesome. For the first time since World War I, Americans sense they are falling behind.

Football recruiting has long held to the belief that a successful teams needs only a few “unstoppable forces,” but dozens of “immoveable objects.” It was easy to train a big kid to stand still and let physics do the rest. The “smash-mouth” game wasn’t much fun to watch, and even less fun to play. But it worked — until it didn’t.

Trade Width for Height and Go For Wing-Span

Every 300-pound high schooler will get plenty of offers to play football. In the old way of doing things, simply taking up room was enough for earning one’s keep. University of Oregon Strength and Conditioning Coach Jim Radcliffe sees it differently — physical mass is good, but explosive power is better. The Ducks started recruiting for height and wingspan. As Coach Ken Woody harps at the defense in his columns, “get your hands up.”

Likewise, savvy employers have changed how they recruit employees. Gone are the days when workers were hired based on their work experience, grade point average, and professional pedigree. Companies are increasingly designing their own creativity and problem-solving tests. They care less about how good a worker might be at what they currently do. The emerging metric is how good they’re likely to be at whatever they’re asked to do next.

Speed is Not Only in Your Feet

The Ducks recruit for speed. (It helps that Hayward Field offers our only legitimate sport legacy.) But speed has to be mixed with smarts in our system. The “zone-read” system is designed to give players multiple options. Adaptation is key. Effort matters, of course. But output is less disputable. Trying your hardest won’t matter, if what you’re doing doesn’t work.

Whether we’re merging onto a highway, choosing from a dinner menu, or buying an extended warranty on our latest electronic gadget, we’ve never been asked to make more choices in life. Unfortunately, life didn’t slow down to make room for all that choosing. So those who do well and sleep content are those who have learned to make their choices quickly and clearly.

Role Players? Try Roll Players

Running back Byron Marshall reinvented himself as a wide receiver. No cornerback wants to Marshall’s fullback frame at full speed in the open field. If you can roll with what the system requires, there’s a bright future for you. If you’re planning to stand pat and play a single role for decades, good luck with that.

In today’s economy, gold watches are no longer being given for years of service. Every day is a competition. Workers follow opportunities and reinvent themselves to capitalize on them. If there’s an opening — whether inside the company or working for a competitor — it’s full-steam ahead.

The West Shall Rise Again

Populists have gotten frustrated with the continual gridlock in Washington, DC, so they’ve turned to states and cities, where progressive policies can be incubated and proven. Whether it’s for minimum wage increases, marijuana destigmatization, sick-leave mandates, or inventive transit projects, the West is seen as fertile ground. There’s less fear of the unknown out here, even though there may be more unknowns.

While the rest of the country would mostly prefer to resist change, we’re more likely to embrace those changes and find ways to make them work for us. In post-season play this year, ranked PAC-12 football teams were 5-1. Not only did the South East Conference get shut out from the national championship game for the first time in more than a decade, but their ranked teams were 2-5 in bowl play.
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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.