The faces behind Oregon's flashiness

EUGENE, Ore. -- A bevy of orange-clad folks ambled through the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex at Oregon last week. Some gaped; some smirked; and a few let "Are you kidding me?" slip out, revealing a distinctive Tennessee twang. They all seemed duly impressed with Oregon's new football palace, a 145,000-square-foot facility that seems more like something designed for the Four Seasons in Silicon Valley or a luxurious Wynn property on the Las Vegas strip than for a crew of 100 or so sweaty 18- to 23-year-old young men and their coaches.

The visitors saw a lobby with 64 55-inch TVs and a sound system developed in Finland; rugs handwoven in Nepal; a huge weight room with Brazilian ipe wood flooring; a custom-made, 35-foot-long, black walnut table made in Germany in the main coaches meeting room; rooms that grant entry with biometric thumbprint scanners; a players' lounge with motion-activated doors and foosball tables custom made in Spain; a media room that has Nike pigskin leather on its walls; a shower tiled in Italian white marble with black urinals imported from Turkey; and meeting room chairs upholstered with the same leather used by Ferrari.

The building is flashy and excessive, built and paid for at a conservatively estimated cost of $68 million by Ducks booster No. 1, Nike co-founder Phil Knight. It perfectly exemplifies what Oregon football is about.

Then on Saturday, Volunteers fans ambled into Autzen Stadium and watched their team get a whipping that was even worse than projected. The final score of 59-14 could have been much worse if the Ducks' starters had played the fourth quarter.

The victory was flashy and excessive, built and paid for by a collection of speedy, disciplined athletes and smart coaches with sound schemes on both sides of the ball. And it perfectly exemplified what Oregon football is about.

Oregon is a program that, since the early 1990s, has risen from mediocre to good to elite. Tennessee has gone the opposite way. The Vols won the 1998 national championship and were the nation's fifth-winningest program 1993-2002. In that same span, Oregon ranked 15th.

Oregon ranks ninth in winning percentage over the past 10 years and third over the past five.

The Ducks have risen despite a stadium that seats just 54,000. The Vols have fallen with one that seats more than 102,000.

The difference between the schools' current state of affairs can't be attributed to money. The Tennessee football program had $55 million in revenue last year. The Ducks made $52 million. Forbes rated the Vols the nation's ninth-most valuable program. Oregon was 15th.

Facilities aren't the answer, either. Tennessee has great facilities, starting with one of the game's great game-day venues: Neyland Stadium. In fact, Tennessee just opened its own football palace, the Anderson Training Center, which is pretty darn impressive.

So, what is it? What has allowed Oregon to become an elite program despite owning the smallest stadium of any team that has played in the BCS national title game? And what is it doing to maintain its lofty perch?

The easy answer is people. Oregon has picked capable people to administer, coach and play for its football team.

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