Through three head coaching regimes and various tweaks to the program’s identity, one constant was defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. Replacing the 15-year Ducks assistant, whose retirement was announced Friday on the Ducks' official website, is the biggest challenge head coach Mark Helfrich faces in his young tenure, and it's a potentially era-defining decision.
Aliotti molded Oregon’s defense in recent years to complement the up-tempo offense that has been the program’s calling card. The next Ducks defensive coordinator must strike a balance between the speed, depth and athleticism that defined Aliotti’s groups and the nastier, more powerful defenses that win conference and national championships.
To that end, the university athletic brass is ready to make a sizable financial commitment to the search, 247Sports' Justin Hopkins reports.
Aliotti has his suggestion, according to Steve Mims of the Oregon Register-Guard. B/R has a few names in mind, as well.
Helfrich’s search begins internally. Oregon has a tradition of promoting its own, and defensive backs coach John Neal has 10 years of experience in the program.
The secondary has been a decided strength of the Ducks defense, finishing in the top 30 nationally for passes intercepted, and in the top 15 every year from 2010 through 2012. He's coached some of the Pac-12's top defensive backs, including All-Americans Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Cliff Harris.
Having worked alongside Aliotti for so many years, Neal is intimately familiar with the inner workings of the program. Considering a repeated point of emphasis for Helfrich throughout his first year as head coach was maintaining the course with as few hiccups as possible, Neal makes sense as Aliotti's successor.
The Seattle Times' Adam Jude reported Thursday that new USC head coach Steve Sarkisian planned to add his former Washington defensive coordinator to his Trojans staff. Concerns about Wilcox’s $1 million buyout delayed the move, but the ouster of Clancy Pendergast seemingly paved the way for Wilcox’s move to Los Angeles.
An opening at Oregon adds an intriguing dynamic to the equation, however. Wilcox is an Oregon alumnus, having played for Mike Bellotti's early teams. The connection is too obvious to ignore, a fact made evident when Wilcox's Wikipedia entry briefly named him Oregon's defensive coordinator shortly after news of Aliotti's retirement broke Friday.
He's also one of the hottest young coaching names in the profession. He transformed a Washington defense that was among the nation's most porous into a far more formidable unit almost immediately. This year's Huskies defense was among the Pac-12's best at pressuring opposing quarterbacks.
Until the rumored USC move is finalized, Wilcox is a name to follow.
Clancy Pendergast is out at USC according to ESPN's Adam Schefter on Twitter, but not for lack of production. Although injury-plagued and depleted by NCAA sanctions, the USC defense coordinatored by Pendergast at was among the Pac-12's best at reaching opposing quarterbacks and stopping the rush.
Pendergast has Pac-12 acumen with NFL roots. He spent 15 seasons in the pros before joining Jeff Tedford at Cal.
His 52 base formation affords players the freedom to make plays, but it is also rooted in a power style, which is precisely the element lacking at Oregon in recent seasons. From the perspective of the Ducks offense, Oregon should know Pendergast's credentials well. His Cal defense in 2010 was more successful slowing Oregon than any unit it faced in its run to the BCS Championship Game.
When the official UCLA football Twitter account fired off a tweet with the words "Linebacker U." superimposed around linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich, it sent a message about the identity of the Bruins defense.
Indeed, Ulbrich has worked directly with the most high-impact unit on the UCLA defense. The former NFL linebacker helped transform a struggling running back named Anthony Barr into a surefire first-round draft pick at linebacker.
Ulbrich may be an unorthodox suggestion, given his limited experience and Oregon being a program on the brink of national championship contention. Still, his intensity and exuberance has been integral to the strides UCLA has made in two seasons with Jim Mora's coaching staff.
Utah State flourished in the high-scoring Mountain West Conference as its defensive bully. Northern Illinois and Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch were the latest victims of the Aggies' defensive aggression under Todd Orlando's guidance. The Huskies managed just 14 points, the final seven of which came in the last two minutes.
Orlando oversaw a stingy defense at Florida International in 2011 and Connecticut during its most prosperous era, the late 2000s.
Because his experiences are limited to the Mountain West, Sun Belt and Big East, Orlando may be the riskiest of these options. However, he's had success everywhere he's gone, and his stock should only continue to rise.