George Horton Rumored to USC? Why College Coaching is a Deeply Broken System

Ed’s Note: Written by Sean Highkin

 

About a week ago, news broke of the firing of USC Trojans baseball coach Chad Kreuter. The move wasn’t necessarily surprising—after all, Kreuter had failed in his four seasons to restore the school to its glory years of the 1970s, or even lead them to the playoffs once.

You know what else didn’t surprise me? The fact that about an hour after I first saw the story of Kreuter’s firing, somebody in my Twitter feed floated the idea of Oregon’s George Horton filling USC’s coaching void. Of course, it was just a rumor and Horton hasn’t been tied to the USC job in any official capacity (yet), but I started thinking about the fact that I believed it right away, and about the deeply broken college coaching system.

The constant shifting at the head coach position is arguably more detrimental to college athletes than it is to professional ones. If a high school athlete is sold on a college because of a recruiting pitch by the coach, who can guarantee that said coach will even still be there in the Fall? How many decisions by players as to whether to turn pro or stay in school are made because of a relationship with a coach who may be in danger of being poached by a bigger-name institution?

This lack of continuity in leadership is only making worse the biggest problem with college athletics today: the transformation of college programs into essentially a farm system for the pros. On NBA draft night this year, the University of Kentucky had five players taken in the first round, including No. 1 overall pick John Wall. UK coach John Calipari proclaimed the draft, and not any the school’s seven national championships, as “the biggest day in the history of Kentucky’s program”—an incredibly revealing remark about Calipari’s priorities, as well as those of big-money college sports in general. Calipari himself is coming off his first year at Kentucky, leaving Memphis to sign an eight-year, $31 million contract.

The other major coaching story of 2010 has been Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin, who skipped town after the first year of a six-year deal to accept a coaching position at USC. Kiffin replaced Pete Carroll, who left town the subject of numerous recruiting ethics complaints. These accusations didn’t prevent Carroll from accepting a job in the NFL (coaching the Seahawks); meanwhile, Kiffin will enter as head coach facing a two-year ban from bowl games and four years’ probation, all because of violations that took place while the team was under Carroll’s control.

It is this lack of accountability that keeps coaches giving under-the-table gifts to potential recruits, and leaving town when any kind of controversy starts. Kiffin himself has come under fire in recent weeks for not following protocol when hiring a Tennessee Titans running backs coach as his offensive coordinator at USC. What’s to stop him from leaving Southern California next year if another, higher-paying job opens up because some other coach leaves amid a cloud of complaints and sanctions? Hell, if he gets in trouble for something like this while at USC, he can leave and have no trouble getting a job somewhere else, while his replacement would be stuck with whatever sanctions are imposed on the school by the NCAA for his actions.

George Horton is ours, for now. But the fact that I saw that as an unfounded rumor and took it seriously speaks volumes about the corruption present at many levels of modern college sports. Nobody has to take responsibility for their actions, and upstart programs like Oregon’s baseball team are always in danger of having their coaches and recruits spirited away by bigger names.

Oregon Ducks climb to No. 17 in college baseball polls

Baseball America loves the Oregon Ducks baseball team, and for good reason. After breaking into the polls for the first time in 30+ years at No. 18 last week, they’ve pushed up the Ducks another spot to No. 17.

Here’s what Aaron Fitt of BA had to say:

17. OREGON
Last Week: 4-1. Overall: 27-13, 8-7 in Pac-10 (6-4 vs. Top 25). Weekend Series: 6-3.

Oregon won its third straight weekend series and moved into a three-way tie for third place in the Pac-10. So. SS K.C. Serna (3-for-5, 2B, 4 RBI) led a 13-hit attack Friday in support of So. LHP Tyler Anderson (6.2 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 10 K). Sr. RHP Justin La Tempa (6 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K) was strong in a no-decision Saturday, but USC won a back-and-forth affair with a run in the 10th against Oregon closer Drew Gagnier. Oregon took the lead for good on Fr. 3B J.J. Altobelli’s third-inning grand slam Sunday. It was Oregon’s first grand slam since the program was reinstated, and it was Altobelli’s first career homer.

Fans are quickly adjusting their expectations accordingly (whether or not they deserve to is an entirely different question). People were legitimately disappointed when Oregon lost on Saturday.

They may be in the cellar this year, but USC is still a baseball powerhouse, and last time I checked, Oregon was the new kid.

I like the attitude, though. It’s clear George Horton has this team confident and more than just “happy to be here”. This team is headed for big things — sooner than anyone expected.

Here are some pics from the Saturday game by the new official UOSportsDude.com photographer, Geoffrey Hale.

Starter Justin LaTempa was in line for the win after tossing six innings of one-run baseball, allowing six hits while fanning six, and leaving the game with a narrow 2-1 lead.

Sophomore KC Serna is blossoming into the star we thought he could be, leading the team in total bases and steals.

Friend of the photographer and USC left fielder Matt Foat, receives the standard Trojan mid-game prostate exam from the trainer. Look ma, no gloves!

Oregon plays Oregon State in the only baseball Civil War home game of the year, this Tuesday night at 6 pm. You better be there!

Hey Oregon State: anything you can do, we can do better!

After 28 years since their last game, and 55 since their last College World Series appearance, the Oregon Ducks baseball team took the field February 20, 2009 at St. Mary’s in Moraga, Calif., marking the renaissance of the program.

Don't forget, this Friday night is Elvis Night against USC. Come dressed as Elvis and get free admission to the game. Seriously.

Despite stealing  away George Horton, one of the top coaches in the country, from Cal-State Fullerton, building a state of the art baseball stadium, reeling in the No. 2 recruiting class in the country, designing stylish new jerseys with the fight song stitched into the pinstripes (seriously), and oh yea, an endless supply of Phil Knight’s money, expectations were low.

And deservedly so.

It takes several seasons to build a competitive baseball team from scratch, especially in a conference that boasts at least five perennial national powers every year.

But Oregon isn’t your typical New To Division-1 Baseball program. When the Ducks do something, they like to do it big. You can call it grandiose, extravagance and even excessiveness, but whatever you want to call it, you have to admit that it works.

(The Ducks are forced to do something different – read: spend gobs of money –  to create a comparative advantage –  to the outrage of blue collar Beaver fans –  in a sport that’s meant to be played in the California or Florida sunshine.)

Predictably, Oregon faced a difficult first season. After a walk-off season-opening victory over defending champs Fresno State, the team fell a part. Inexperienced, overwhelmed and outmanned, the Ducks fell victim to Pac-10 play, finishing an unsightly 14-42.

Fortunately, Horton and the youngsters took every loss as a learning experience, and look where the Ducks are now.

They beat then-ranked No. 1 ranked Arizona State two weeks ago, were a 2-1 loss away from sweeping Stanford at Sunken Diamond, and again took two of three from No. 1 UCLA at Jackie Robinson Stadium this weekend.

Wow.

For those of you counting at home, that’s a 3-3 record against No. 1 ranked teams, two straight Pac-10 series victories, after not having won one for, oh, 30 years, and most importantly, are now ranked No. 18 in the country (according to Baseball America), and ahead of rival Oregon State, who dropped out of the poll after getting swept at home by Stanford.

SAY WHAT??

If I had told a Beaver fan in 2008 that the Ducks would be ahead of OSU in the polls after just one and half seasons of D-1 baseball, they would have been more incredulous than when the Ducks rolled into Reser Stadium in and won 65-38, crushing their Rose Bowl hopes in the process (sorry, this never  gets old).

Read more about the "Nike-ized" uni's here: http://bit.ly/bFE6lA

Yes, we are now better at the one thing you pride yourselves at being better than us at. At least for now. (Well, except studying gay sheep. I think you’ll always have the edge there.)

So what’s the difference to this year’s 23-12 record?

Another year under George Horton.

“I think last season, Coach Horton had a unique group, and he wasn’t real sure how to get on us. If he would get vocal and yell, some guys on the team would go into a shell. Then he would be a little too nice,” Oregon pitcher Tyler Anderson said to Rivals. “This year, it doesn’t really matter to anyone if someone goes into a shell. They’re going to let us know when we’re not doing things right. As a result, I think the team has responded in a big way so far this season.”

Uh, ya think?

Last season, the Ducks finished with a .227 batting average and a 5.07 ERA. This year? So far, a .276 team batting average and a 2.92 ERA, good for third in the country, ranking behind only UCLA and Texas.

So considering how this is only Year Two, how bright is Oregon’s future?

“We absolutely have an Omaha type of pitching staff [this year]. I’m not even sure I’ve ever been around a staff this deep in quality pitchers,” Horton said.

With that being said, Oregon, ranked in the top 20, is a prime contender for an NCAA regional.

Even if the Ducks stumble down the stretch, they will have accomplished more this year than anyone could have ever imagined. And they’ll only be deeper next year.

Which just goes to show how buying a top coach, state of the art facilities and cool jerseys can go a long way on the recruiting trail, and eventually, in the wins column.

I think Pat Kilkenny has taken notes, and is trying to employ this strategy with the basketball team. As it embarrassing as the situation may seem now, if he gets the right guy, things can turn around quickly.

And I think he will.

The opportunity to build a national power can be enticing. Just ask George Horton.

Oregon Baseball: Horton’s Ducks Mean Business, Knock off No. 4 Cal State Fullerton

Despite the abnormally Eugene-like weather in Southern California last night, the Oregon Ducks baseball season couldn’t have gotten off to a better start.

Horton brings out his wild side celebrating his 2004 national title with Cal State Fullerton. Let's hope he can do it again, but this time in an Oregon uniform.

Feeling right at home in the mid-50 degree temperature and buckets of rain that delayed the finish of the game until almost midnight, the Ducks marched right into Goodwin Field and stole a 7-3 victory from No. 4 Cal State Fullerton.

Even if you aren’t a diehard college baseball fan yet, you might recognize Fullerton as the former team that our manager, George Horton, skippered for 11 seasons – leading the Titans to six College World Series’, including the 2004 national title. (If you’re an A’s fan like me, you might recognize the names Kurt Suzuki and Jason Windsor from that team, among other current big leaguers.)

Oregon had a predictably rocky inaugural year, in which the Ducks lost 44 of their 56 games, but Horton made the most of his return home, grabbing a tough win and lifting his team’s expectations and confidence for another long season.

After winning both their home and road openers last season, including a thrilling extra-inning walk-off against defending champion Fresno State to christen PK Park, the first-year squad learned the hard way how long and demanding the college baseball season is.

Luckily, “veteran” sophomore second baseman, Danny Pulfer, has taken an early leadership role on the team. His first item of business: move on.

“Everyone has totally forgotten about last year,” Pulfer said to Jeff Smith of the Oregonian. “This isn’t the ’09 Ducks anymore. It’s a whole new year, a whole new decade.”

I couldn’t be more excited.

With football season only four months out of the school year and basketball more frustrating than entertaining, this is the perfect opportunity for the baseball team to captivate Duck fans.

Even if you’re like me and couldn’t name more than 10 players if someone had a gun to my head.

College baseball is a completely different animal from the pros, but even though it might not have recognizable names or 40,000 seat stadiums, the college game definitely has its advantages.

The players are inundated with youthful exuberance, always standing on the top step cheering each on. There are no steroids scandals to worry about (well maybe just for the light-hitting Ducks), and come on, you just have to love the ping of the metal bat.

Plus, when was the last time you heard a professional team collectively yell “back!” each time the opposing pitcher attempts a pick-off throw? Alex Rodriguez is too busy kissing himself in the mirror.

You can tell these guys are still in it solely for the love of the game.

And heck, if we’re going to go sit outside in the cold and rain to support them, I think we are too.

I’m ready to dive fully into baseball season, and I know our team is going to do everything they possibly can to keep up interested.

Plus, with Erin Andrews as the “sideline” reporter in the College World Series, these guys are plenty motivated already.

Go Ducks!

PS: Take a look at the latest Nike baseball bats and equipment available. Baseball enthusiasts are choosing Nike gear over brands for their light weight and durability.