Perhaps Mike Bellotti discovered the nasty secret of college sports -- there’s no more thankless job than athletic director. After 36 years in coaching, he spent almost nine months as the Oregon AD before he hightailed it to have lunch in the Bristol cafeteria.
(Hint: Try the soup. Always good.)
Bellotti resigned Friday to join ESPN as a college football analyst. Put the emphasis on the first two words of that job title.
"He wanted to get back in football. That's the impression I got," head coach Chip Kelly said Friday. "He's really, genuinely excited about the opportunity. I'm happy for him. I'm sad. I had one of the best situations. When your AD actually understands what it's like to be football coach, it's great."
The announcement concludes a career in college athletics that will look better with each passing year. Bellotti went 116-55 (.678) in 14 seasons as the Ducks’ head coach. He led Oregon to a share of two Pacific-10 Conference championships and should have coached for the BCS title in 2001. Nebraska edged out the Ducks for a shot at Miami in the Rose Bowl that season. The Ducks finished No. 2 behind the Hurricanes.
Bellotti also should be recognized as the guy who built a powerhouse on the foundation laid by Rich Brooks, his predecessor at Oregon. Brooks needed nearly two decades to create a program good enough to get to the 1995 Rose Bowl. Bellotti took over and led the Ducks to greater heights without taking a step back.
When he tired of coaching and became athletic director last year, Bellotti promoted Kelly, then the offensive coordinator, to replace him. What looked to be a curious move -- Kelly had been on Bellotti’s staff for only two seasons, the fewest among a veteran staff of assistants -- quickly looked shrewd. Kelly led Oregon to the Pac-10 title and the Rose Bowl.
Yet Bellotti’s step upstairs never stopped being curious, simply because head coaches moving upstairs is, as Bellotti’s biography in the Oregon media guide said, “no longer the norm.”
Once upon a time, a head coach retired into the AD job, where he supported his coaches, played golf with his big donors and called it a day. In the modern age, athletic directors are CEOs of companies with eight-figure (sometimes nine) budgets. It is a corporate job.
"He's got so many things to do," Kelly said. "We don't spend a lot of time talking about other issues."
Athletic directors are marketers and fundraisers. They have degrees in sports management. They look like insurance agents. And they wouldn’t know a coach from a coachman. Why else hire consultants to help them find a coach?
Bellotti didn’t fit that mold. He stayed in the job long enough to know that when ESPN offered him an eject button, he should hit it. The viewers’ gain will be Oregon’s loss.