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Bellotti Q&A© More from this issue
Q: What is your approach to disciplining players? You have a three-strikes policy. Please explain.
A: We ask for commitment from our players. Generally, we ask them to be accountable and responsible. They know right from wrong. We tell them to 'do right.' It's pretty simplistic in its approach. We have a commitment time (requiring an early morning wake-up) and if they screw up initially, they're remanded to that.
If there's something more serious, where there's an outright breaking of the rules or anything involving the law, they go directly, depending on severity, to a probationary status. That means I write them and their parents a letter stating that they're on probation and any other incident (within a year or for the duration of their career, depending on severity) may result in their suspension from the program.
The next step is a suspension situation in which they're still on scholarship but suspended from the team. At that point, I write a code-of-conduct contract for them, saying, 'this is what you have to do, these are my expectations, if you don't do this, you will be dismissed from the team.' I have them sign it, I send a copy to their parents and our athletic director. If a third incident occurs, they're dismissed from the program. I've dismissed one person in four years. I've written three or four code-of-conduct contracts, and I thank God most of those have worked.
Q: You suspended a starting wide receiver for the Aloha Bowl, for a violation of team rules. How difficult was that, knowing that it wouldn't help you win the game? (Oregon lost to Colorado.)
A: It wasn't difficult for me to do. What was hard was the disappointment I felt in the athlete, for letting not just me down, but letting the team down. And I communicated that to him. I was more frustrated that he put me in that position, but I'm not going to break my own rules. They're there for a reason: I think our players want commitment. They want accountability from each other. They want discipline. It was not a difficult decision, because it was very clear-cut.
I want to win as much as anybody. I think maybe more. But I want to do it with integrity, and I think the people at this institution will back me up. I want to be at the point where I never have to suspend anyone. I want the kids to understand that we get a limited number of opportunities each year to play football; why ever endanger that?
And to the alumni and boosters and all the other people who may question why you would ever do that, I think, 'Well, if you had your child, and you wanted them to grow up right, would you bend the rules, or look the other way, and what does that tell the kid and everybody else?'
Q: What qualities do you look for in recruiting?
A: I ask kids on their recruiting trips here how important football is to them. What I'd like to do is check that internal drive factor, that heart muscle. It might be the most important factor in our recruiting. We try to find people that obviously have athletic and academic skills, but also who are hungry. Who feel they have something to prove to themselves and the world. Who really want to play football, and are willing to give that little extra when it counts, make a play. Who are the kind of kids who sometimes may not measure up, but who have that intangible that they're going to elevate their level of play. They're going to run faster than was ever possible for them, or jump higher when it counts. We all want to find those kids. We're all looking for those kids.
And we want kids of good character. I always tell them, 'We're bringing you into our family, and you're going to live in our house.' That locker room is our house, and I want people that we're all comfortable being around and that will enjoy what we are. We're looking for that fit. If there are kids who want something and we don't have it here, I'm not going to try to pull the wool over their eyes. This is a great college town, and if you want that, then think about it. If you want something else, then we're not 4 million people.
It's important they come in with their eyes open. I don't want them to ever say, 'Hey, coach, you told me it was going to be like this, and it's not.' In coaching, I think that's one of the cardinal sins.
Q: As head coach, you take a lot of input from your staff. Why?
A: I get mad if I don't get a lot of input. I ask for it. My coaches get probably get tired of it sometimes and think, 'Coach, just make a decision.' But I prefer to discuss it first, even if there are dissenting points of view. Usually, I have an idea of what I want, and I always say that they have nine votes, and I have 10. But, sometimes, I've changed my mind based on what the coaches have said.
And then, when we leave that room, I expect them to implement that decision 100 percent. Whatever our decision is, whether its disciplinary policies, or teaching a certain technique on the field, or a specific scheme, when we leave that room, we're 100 percent committed to it. And I think by allowing coaches' input, and allowing them to discuss it (and sometimes when we vote on things I only have one vote) then when we walk out the door, I want us to be together, and truly believe in it. That might be the cornerstone of the way I coach.
I like to interact with my coaches, too. They probably get tired of it; they have things to do and want to get out of the meeting. But I have an agenda of things I want to talk about, and sometimes its nice for me in the season, just to talk, so that I can get caught up on things in the real world, so we don't get so caught up in what we're doing that we lose sight of all the rest of the things out there.
Q: You've talked about Oregon competing for a national championship. Is that still your mission?
A: Yes. You can look at last year and say we were maybe two plays away from that. Were we truly the best team in the United States? I don't know. Could we have been there? Yeah, there's no question about it. In order to get somewhere, you can't have vague references to it. You can't say, 'well, maybe.' I've learned that belief is such an important thing. That desire is such an important thing. Our players don't want me to say 'if'; they want me to say, 'when.' I don't think it's bragging. I would assume everyone has that goal. I don't know if it's going to happen this year, I don't know if it's going to happen next year, but I know that's what we want to work towards.
Q: Do you think about coaching in the NFL?
A: No. I really don't. I think about it as maybe a somewhere-down-the-road thing. I don't think for me, where I am right now in my life, that it's something I'm outwardly striving for. In seven to 10 years, who knows? Maybe I'll be in more of a situation in my life where that will be more attractive. You never want to say never, but I truly love college football and what it stands for, and I believe I can still make a difference.
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