Q&A with former Oregon coach and ESPN analyst Mike Bellotti

By Chadd Cripe
ccripe@idahostatesman.com
© 2012 Idaho Statesman

Former Oregon football coach Mike Bellotti is in his third year as a college football analyst for ESPN and will work the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Saturday at Bronco Stadium. He also is Boise State coach Chris Petersen’s former boss with Oregon — the last place Petersen worked before he moved to Boise in 2001. We caught up with Bellotti this week to talk about the Potato Bowl, MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, Petersen and the challenges facing college coaches.

What do you think of the Utah State-Toledo matchup? “I think it’s a good matchup. I had this game last year and it came down to the last play of the game. And Utah State, they were on the wrong end of it. Both of those teams have great quarterbacks who are mobile quarterbacks, they have a running back who is a threat to go (the distance). Utah State certainly has the advantage defensively. But Toledo has Bernard Reedy on the outside. I’ve had Utah State and Toledo in games the past couple years and they’ve played right down to the wire against better opponents. Toledo losing right down to the wire to Arizona. Utah State taking Auburn down to the wire. They’re well coached, they have a lot of fight in them and I’m looking forward to a great game.”

What do you like about these two up-and-coming coaches? “I said earlier this year that I thought Gary Andersen probably should be in line for a lot of head coaching opportunities. He’s done a tremendous job there. There’s no question about his ability. What he’s done there at Utah State is just short of amazing. He’s really a winner, he does it the right way, they play great defense. He’s had a couple different offensive coordinators and he keeps the ball rolling. Matt Campbell is one of the youngest coaches in the country but seems to have just a magic touch. He won the bowl game last year. He has this team 9-3 and playing in a bowl game again.”

Not sure if you’ve looked at it, but what do you think of Boise State-Washington? “I’m a Chris Petersen fan. I think he’s done a tremendous job. They’re not as explosive an offensive team this year. They’re still developing a young quarterback to a degree. They’ve been spoiled by the guy they had before. They’re playing great defense and they’re finding ways to win. Washington is an interesting team in that they’re very inconsistent. They can beat anybody when they’re playing well. I won’t say they can lose to anybody but they lost the Apple Cup to a Washington State team that probably doesn’t match up very well. It probably depends on which Washington team shows up. … I think Boise should be favored and probably will win because they play more consistent football.”

I know you were high on Petersen when he got the job, but are you surprised by the degree of his success? “Yes and no. No, because Boise’s always been successful. It seems like when you look back, the coaches I’ve known there, whether it’s been (Dan) Hawkins or (Dirk) Koetter or Petersen or Houston Nutt, they’ve done very well. Something about the Boise situation lends itself to that success. But at the same time you can’t assume that’s going to happen. Pete has done such a tremendous job. His winning percentage, it’s out there. It’s outside this galaxy. The reality is he’s done such a great job. The real test of a great coach is when you lose some of your very good assistants. He’s lost offensive coordinators and a defensive coordinator now and he continues to win. That, to me, is the mark of a great coach.”

Do you think Petersen leaves eventually? “I think right now he’s happy and Pete’s a guy who really is honest in his feelings about what he wants to do and what he wants to accomplish. In football, it is a very tenuous existence. For him things are going well and they have been and he’s very comfortable. At some point that might change. I think Pete is very honest saying he’s comfortable in Boise and can see himself in Boise for his entire career. At the same time, he will get offers every single year because of what he’s accomplished. At some point, there may be something that fits what he wants.”

When you look at some of the young head coaches, the money coaches make and the media scrutiny out there, do you think coaching careers are going to get shorter? “Absolutely. No question. Coaching careers will be shorter — one, because you make more money so you can retire earlier, and two, because coaching salaries have gone up the patience and tolerance level of boosters and administrative people have gone down. They just flat out can’t afford to have multiple losing seasons. Or the perception that instead of a program being on the rise it’s on the decline. … Coaches never made a lot of money so they had to coach forever because they didn’t get rich that way. Now, you can get wealthy coaching college football if you get in the right situation.”

How is the broadcasting gig going? “Great. I actually worked a deal with ESPN this year that I didn’t do Saturday games. My youngest son is playing college football (at Cal Lutheran) and I had a chance to watch him play twice in high school. … I do studio work in Charlotte three days a week with ESPNU and I’m loving it, other than the travel. It keeps me involved with college football. It gives me chance to talk about the game without worrying about winning and losing.”

And you were able to see your son play? “I saw every game.”

Any chance you coach again? “You never say never. As a coach, you’re always a coach. You always have the itch to do it. You recognize once you’re out of coaching what kind of drain that is on your life in terms of, it’s beyond 24/7 365 if you can imagine that. With the social media and everything now it’s hard to have any kind of a life or family life or whatever — and the coaches who do that and balance and manage it, I give them great credit because it was difficult for me in the 36 years I coached and the 40-some years I was involved in college football to really find that balance.”

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Hard to believe....

Mike isnt a part of Ore football. Great guy and probably only person from "outside" BSU football program I would enjoy being our head coach.

I liked Bellotti but UO is not a place to return to...

He will coach if he wants to someday, on his own terms and to his own happiness.

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