The People V. Nick Aliotti: The Case FOR Oregon's Defensive Coordinator

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The People V. Nick Aliotti: The Case FOR Oregon's Defensive Coordinator

I’m not an attorney.  But I’m happy to play one here on the Bleacher Report.

 

And I’ve watched more than enough movies and television to know that everyone deserves a fair trial.

 

So, before you go demanding the dismissal, yet again, of Oregon Defensive Coordinator, Nick Aliotti, I ask that you consider all of the facts.

 

THE PLAINTIFF

 

The people (Oregon fans) have definitely spoken.  From message boards to tailgates.  From bar stools at Taylor’s to bath rooms at Autzen.

 

No matter where you go, the people have their opinion of Aliotti (or “Allow-a-lot-ti” as he’s become affectionately known).  And that opinion often isn’t good.

 

But are these knee-jerk reactions calling for him to step down, that seem to accompany every third down the Duck defense gives up, grounded in actual facts?  Or is he simply the scapegoat for every fan looking for a dog to kick whenever their favorite team surrenders a touchdown?

 

THE DEFENDANT

 

Nick Aliotti has coached football for over 33 years, and is currently in his 18th season with the Oregon Ducks.  He has spent some time in the NFL and has joined the Oregon coaching staff on three separate occasions, his most current beginning in the 2000 season.

 

He has seen just about everything.  From the highs of the 1995 Rose Bowl (led by his “Gang Green” defense) and the 2002 Fiesta Bowl (punctuated by Steve Smith’s three interceptions) to the disappointments of the 2002 season, which saw the Ducks finish last in the conference in total defense.

 

What the people decide to remember is up to them.

 

THE EVIDENCE

 

In an attempt to spin the numbers as little as possible, the following are the Pac-10 Conference rankings for defensive statistics from 2000 through 2007. 

 

The intent is to focus on Aliotti’s current stint as coordinator.  What is missing are the numbers from his first go around: 1993, when the Ducks finished 5-6, and 1994, which many regard as Oregon’s best defense ever.

 

Pac-10 Conference, Total Defense, 2000-2007

Rank

School

Yds/Game

1

USC

312.13

2

Oregon State

322.02

3

Oregon

364.72

4

UCLA

369.37

5

Washington State

375.88

6

California

376.31

7

Arizona

381.29

8

Arizona State

382.01

9

Washington

386.70

10

Stanford

403.43

 

League Average

366.71

 

And in the four seasons prior to Aliotti’s return to Oregon (1996-1999), the defense allowed an average of 407.5 yards per game.

 

Also, in those four prior seasons, the Ducks defense surrendered 28.2 points per game.  And since Aliotti’s return:

 

Pac-10 Conference, Scoring Defense, 2000-2007

Rank

School

Points/Game

1

USC

18.65

2

Oregon State

23.41

3

Oregon

24.55

4

California

24.80

5

UCLA

25.21

6

Washington State

26.26

7

Arizona

26.90

8

Arizona State

26.94

9

Washington

27.87

10

Stanford

28.84

 

League Average

25.27

 

What about "bend but don’t break" you ask?  One of the philosophies of Aliotti’s defenses over the years.  Well, apparently it’s given up only the third most yards as well as only the third most points under his watch.

 

Obviously, offensive numbers have gone up over time.  And with that, defensive numbers as well.  The two go hand in hand.  In fact, a more telling stat may be scoring margin, or the difference between points scored and points allowed, or delta.

 

And looking at the teams in the Pac-10, Oregon is the only school that has not had a negative delta (more points allowed for a season than scored) this entire decade.

 

Make of it what you will.  What I see is, first of all, an Oregon defense that has shown great improvement and one that appears to be performing above the league average.

 

But mainly, I see a league that gives up and puts up a boat load of yards.

 

And is it any wonder, when in the past eight seasons these defenses have attempted to stop (or at least slow down) the likes of: Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, Carson Palmer, LenDale White, Mike Williams, Dwayne Jarrett, Aaron Rodgers, DeSean Jackson, J.J. Arrington, Marshawn Lynch, Derek Anderson, Steven Jackson, Yvenson Bernard, Mike Hass, DeShaun Foster, Reggie Williams, Marques Tuiasosopo, Andrew Walter, Rudy Carpenter, Derek Hagan, Joey Harrington, Dennis Dixon, Jonathan Stewart, Kellen Clemens, Jason Gesser, Alex Brink…and I could go on.

 

The top three quarterbacks in Pac-10 career passing all played during this era.  As did five of the top six in career total offense.

 

Six of the top seven seasons of all-time for passing yards also happened from 2000-2007.

 

Five of the top six seasons for career receiving yards came in this stretch as well.  Not to mention countless 1,000 yard rushers (actually 32 so far this decade).

 

Excuses?  If that’s what you want to call it.  I just see facts.  And here’s more:

 

Although Oregon gets a bad rap for having tiny defensive backs that get beat deep way too often, 2002 is the only season in this decade that they finished last in pass defense.  In fact, during this stretch, they’ve finished on top of the Pac-10 a league best three times: 2000, 2005 and 2006.

 

And those tiny corners?  Jairus Byrd currently leads the conference with four interceptions, after leading it in 2007 with seven picks.  Oregon’s Aaron Gipson led the Pac-10 as well in 2005 with seven of his own.  And I already told you about Steve Smith’s three picks in the 2002 Fiesta Bowl.

 

The 2008 Duck defense also leads the Pac-10 in total takeaways and total sacks.

 

Nick Reed, Oregon’s standout defensive end, is attempting to become the Ducks’ second Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year.  He would join Haloti Ngata, who parlayed the 2005 award into a first round NFL selection.  Reed led the Pac-10 in both sacks and tackles for loss in 2007 and sits atop both categories in 2008 as well.

 

And while this year’s defense may be struggling at times to keep up with the offense (which is leading the Pac-10 in scoring at 39.8 pts/gm), perhaps that may have more to do with the amount of time on the field rather than simply the play calling or schemes of their coordinator.

 

Again, not an excuse, but a fact: Oregon’s offense averages a league low of 24:55 for time of possession in 2008.  That leaves 35:05 for the defense.  And in the Arizona game alone the defense was out there for 41:46.

 

CLOSING ARGUMENT

 

In the end, it all comes down to wins and losses.  Analyze each of Oregon’s defeats over the years (and there have been far fewer losses than wins: 75-35 this decade) and honestly ask yourself if it was entirely the defense’s fault.  Or rather, was it the fault of the defensive coordinator himself?

 

While at UCLA in 1998, Aliotti’s defense helped the Bruins to a 10-0 start.  However, after a 49-45 loss at Miami and a 38-31 loss to Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, he was used as head coach Bob Toledo’s scapegoat for all the “fans” clamoring for perfection, and run out of town after just one season.  After his departure, in 1999, UCLA would go 4-7.

 

Is Aliotti perfect?  No.  Does the defense give up some plays that fans wish they wouldn’t?  Absolutely.  Is that entirely the fault of the defensive coordinator?  Absolutely not.

 

Now considering all of the above, as well as whatever you may have witnessed with your own eyes, would you vote to give Aliotti a raise?  Maybe not.  Promote him to head coach?  Probably not. 

 

And lastly, will you continue to blame him for anything and everything that goes wrong, win or lose, and demand that he be fired?

 

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