When Oregon Head Coach, Mario Cristobal, took over the program in December, it was clear he believed he could develop the Ducks into a National Championship contender once again. Given the three successful seasons he spent working under Alabama Head Coach, Nick Saban, in Tuscaloosa, one could definitely argue Cristobal has the right DNA to make that happen.
Establishing an Elite Culture
The Ducks have definitely seen their share of success and had a taste of what it takes to make it to the National Championship. But after major changes in the program, including three new head coaches in five years, getting there again may just mean establishing a new culture that demands the excellence elite teams, like Alabama, do.
It’s early; but nearly four weeks into Oregon Spring Football, it’s evident Cristobal is doing just that.
For Cristobal, establishing that culture starts with setting high standards both on, and off the field. Off the field, that means holding players to a high standard on campus and in the community.
“A lot of times people think when we come together we’re just talking about football but we’re not,” Cristobal said.
“We’re talking about making sure we’re early to class, making sure we’re doing a great job note taking, making sure we’re doing a great job sitting up in the front couple of rows to make a tremendous impression on campus, on our teachers.”
Cristobal hopes that focusing on the little things off the field will “carry over” to the gridiron. Clearly this isn’t a new concept, but what stands out about Cristobal is how he seems to be walking the walk. From the moment he joined the program as an assistant last season, one could immediately see Cristobal was special. He was focused, incredibly smart and always seemed to be in the mix with his guys, teaching and correcting rather than directing and spectating.
At this point, perhaps more than ever, Oregon Football needs a dose of what Cristobal is prescribing, especially after being one of the most penalized teams in the country last season.
“It’s all discipline related, right?” Cristobal said when talking about correcting last season’s penalty woes. “That’s our fault as coaches and we have to fix that. . .the pressure is on us to get organized. That’s all carry over.”
Everyone Plays a Role
It comes down to setting an example and being detailed as a whole program, Cristobal explained.
“If you watch our equipment guys, they’re held to a high standard too now,” Cristobal said. “Kenny Farr (UO Equipment Manager) does an unbelievable job making sure those guys are running around. . .sprinting from drill to drill, because the culture carries over to everybody.”
It’s no secret that winning a National Championship not only requires incredible talent, but also requires every aspect of the program being disciplined, prepared, challenged and in sync. It seems Cristobal is instilling that foundation on a daily basis.
“He’s intense and serious about taking the team to the top and doing things the right way,” Equipment Manager, Kenny Farr, told gridirongirl last week.
But what does all that mean?
Farr explained that doing things the right way means making sure players are getting dressed properly and then having consequences when they don’t. Again, this may be a little thing but Farr said he is already seeing players now holding their teammates accountable in the locker room and Cristobal, himself, commented last week that players were buying in, even more than before, and showing up early to practice.
What Sets Cristobal Apart?
Perhaps the most telling aspect of Cristobal’s coaching style is the fact he seems to be in tune with all aspects of the program rather than mainly focused on the offense or plays, for example.
“He (Cristobal) notices equipment being out-of-place before it becomes a problem,” Farr said.
Farr explained that by noticing the hard work of even those working behind the scenes, it creates an atmosphere where everyone is being challenged.
“I’ve been around Oregon since 1997 and I’m very encouraged about the direction of the program,” Farr said.
As the Ducks head into this weekend’s Spring Game and look ahead to the fall, the team will have plenty of time to work on all those “little things” off the field. Given what Cristobal and Co. have shown so far this Spring, there’s reason to believe those things will definitely carry over to September 1st.
The question will be whether or not they carry over to January.