1972: How to hire the wrong coach, by committee
February 8, 2012
benzduck in 1972, Coaches, Perspective, Suffering, athletic directors

Dick Enright, 1972Forty years ago, on February 3, 1972, Dick Enright, 37, an Oregon assistant coach with just two years of college experience under the recently departed Jerry Frei, was appointed head coach.

Enright signed a one-year contract for $22,500. State regulations only allowed University contract employees to be hired on annual contracts, but UO Athletic Director Norv Ritchey assured Enright, and the public, that Enright had a “four year commitment.”

Thus ended one of the more bizarre “searches” in the long history of college football at Oregon. Ritchey, after he’d blown up the Webfoots football program by publicly supporting Frei but privately refusing to stand up to boosters who insisted on personnel changes, had sole control over the hiring process. Soon after Frei’s resignation on January 19, Ritchey had made it clear publicly that Oregon would move “with great haste” to hire a successor. Privately, Enright was his man.

Norv RitcheyThis was not a completely unreasonable position for Ritchey. Although he only had two seasons on the college sidelines, Enright was popular with the players, boosters and local media. As a USC graduate and former high school coach in SoCal, his recruiting contacts were considered solid. And he was the only assistant coach who hadn’t been thrown under the bus by boosters; the rest of the staff, including future legends John Robinson, George Seifert and Bruce Snyder, had either already split the sheets or would be gone shortly, having seen what kind of support an Oregon head coach could expect from his boss. If the goal was to maintain continuity in the program, and retain any possible recruiting edge, Enright would have to be considered a logical choice.

But he wasn’t the only logical choice. And, as much as he may have wanted to, Ritchey couldn’t just anoint Enright as his new head coach.

The Oregon job was seen as an excellent opportunity, and the vacancy generated national interest. The Ducks weren’t yet irrelevant; even at 5-6, they had been competitive in all but the paycheck games, and Nebraska blew out everyone in 1971. They’d beaten USC in LA for the first time since ‘57, and with a couple of breaks could have been 7-4 instead of 5-6. The program Len Casanova had built over decades was still seen as viable. Autzen Stadium wasn’t even five years old. Frei had recruited very talented athletes, especially on offense, and Dan Fouts with his superb arm and football mind would be back for one more season. And for all his popularity with the players, and apparent support within the community of boosters, Enright had never been responsible for an entire college football program of any size. It’s a big leap from Gardena High and the CIF to Oregon and the Pac-8.

Ritchey had to justify promoting the least experienced member of Frei’s staff to one of the top 50 or so jobs in all of college football.

And it wouldn’t be a “quiet” hire. There was no shortage of interest in the position, although in many cases the “interest” was in response to a cold call from a reporter asking a question like “Would you be interested in the Oregon job?” Still, a number of reasonably qualified coaches publicly expressed at least a passing curiosity:

No John McKay in the bunch, but no lemons, either. Truthfully, the “interest” from some of these parties was decidedly one-way. (Coryell, the wildly successful coach of the Aztecs who would go on to revolutionize offenses in the NFL  – eventually coaching Dan Fouts at San Diego – was taking a wait-and-see approach. “Never in my 11 years of coaching have I applied for a job,” he said, confirming to a reporter that “no, nobody from Oregon has talked to me about it.” ) Still, Ritchey knew he’d be crucified by media and fans alike if he just handed the reins to his hand-picked candidate.

Fortunately for Ritchey, Eugene, in 1972 as in the present day, was a community enamored with the process of process; it seems there has never been a proposal that hasn’t been beaten within an inch of its life, or beyond. And Norv figured he could use Eugene’s anal retentive qualities to his advantage.

He’d create his political cover for the appointment by creating an advisory committee. Can you get much more Eugene than that? The committee would interview candidates and then vote on a “recommendation.” To ensure he wouldn’t be accused of complete manipulation, Ritchey stipulated he would ultimately select a coach from the “top two or three” candidates receiving votes from the committee.

The committee had 15 members. Cleverly, Ritchey stuffed the ballot box, naming seven football players to the panel: Dan Fouts, Rick Akerman, Tim Stokes, Greg Specht, Fred Manuel, Keith Davis and Greg Herd. All but Akerman had eligibility remaining; he would be a graduate assistant coach in 1972. In effect, they’d be hiring their own boss for the upcoming season. Other members were track coach Bill Bowerman; UO vice president Ray Hawk; law professor Wendell Basye; education professor Art Mittman; student body president Iain More and student leaders Mike Marsh, Linda Duke and Charles Carter.

Ritchey had indicated he wanted to get a coach in place quickly. That wasn’t going to happen with committee involvement. But, if it took a fortnight, he was going to get Enright hired.

***

The fortnight:

Stacking the deck hadn’t really helped Ritchey’s cause. It wasn’t athlete support that pushed Enright high enough in the committee’s evaluation to make the final cut. Only three of the remaining five players had him as their top choice; Greg Specht and Fred Manuel had both publicly declared support for Enright, meaning that of the three other returning players on the committee – Fouts, Stokes, and Davis – two of them didn’t want him.

And even Specht had reservations about Enright’s ability to organize a staff. “We know that two years ago, he was coaching in high school.” But he was optimistic.

“Only good can come from Dick’s selection. I think it’s a helluva deal.”

***

Enright had the shortest tenure of any non-wartime Oregon head coach since 1931. After six wins in two years, accompanied by defensive ineptitude and declining attendance, his decision to publicly complain about the team’s coaching facilities was the last straw. He was dismissed in December 1974. He learned of his termination from a reporter via telephone.

His football program having hit rock bottom, and amid suggestions that the Big Sky Conference was more appropriate for Oregon’s athletic efforts, Norv Ritchey resigned as athletic director in 1976, shortly before his last coaching hire, Don Read, was terminated.

The Suffering was well under way.

***

What happened to the other interviewed candidates?

The belated effort by the advisory committee to bring in minority candidates was groundbreaking for its time, but it would be several decades before minority outreach became state policy. In 2009, Governor Kulongoski signed House Bill 3118, which “requires public institutions of higher education to interview qualified minority candidate when hiring head coach or athletic director unless institution was unable to identify qualified minority candidate willing to interview for position.” 

Article originally appeared on duck downs: oregon football history (http://www.benzduck.com/).
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