Proud Ducks now tarnished by ugly post-game incident in Boise
LaGarrette Blount's meltdown in Boise as ugly as any incident in recent memory
Coach Chip Kelly had no other option but to suspend Blount for rest of the season
On the field and off, the Ducks are in disarray after Thursday's disappointing loss
EUGENE, Ore. -- Chip Kelly had no other option. When he finally saw the video evidence everyone has been watching -- LeGarrette Blount's sucker-punching meltdown, an ugly, scary sequence that became an instant YouTube classic -- there was no question.
"I knew right away," Kelly said.
And Oregon's rookie head coach came up with the only right answer to his first crisis.
Kelly suspended Blount for the remainder of the season Friday, less than 24 hours after Blount punched a Boise State player, then a teammate, and then had to be restrained from fighting Bronco fans. The decision effectively ends the senior running back's career, at least at Oregon.
In the immediate aftermath of Boise State's 19-8 win Thursday night in Boise, Idaho, Kelly told reporters he hadn't seen what transpired between Blount and Boise State's Byron Hout, or any of the rest of the running back's rampage. After returning to Eugene, Kelly watched the, uh, highlights -- and cringed at the horrid sequence of a player raging out of control.
"That's not what we're all about," Kelly said. "It's not what we coach. It's not what we stand for. And it's unacceptable."
It's also unrepairable, maybe in more ways than one. Assuming Blount stays at Oregon -- Kelly said he wants Blount to remain in school, practice with the team and take advantage of the educational opportunity -- his college football career is over. His status in the eyes of the NFL, which he was clearly eyeing, is probably also severely damaged.
"LeGarrette is a good person," Kelly said. "He made a mistake. Unfortunately for him, he paid dearly for that mistake."
But Oregon might pay dearly, as well. The program has built a national brand in the last few years, becoming known for potent offenses and yeah, those multiple uniform combinations. Now, the image has been tarnished.
After Thursday night, the Ducks are known for Blount's Ron Artest moment, as ugly a scene as any in recent memory. Can you recall a worse moment for a program?
The game was bad, too -- but we'll get to the Ducks' actual football performance a little later.
All day, as the video circulated on the Web and played on endless SportsCenter loops, feedback from outraged and embarrassed Oregon fans poured into the athletic department. Oregon athletic director Mike Bellotti said he received e-mails from fans to the effect that Blount's actions had undone "20 years of good faith and good work."
If only for damage control, Kelly could not have done anything but get rid of Blount. He had no choice. Bellotti -- until last March, the Ducks' head coach -- said it was Kelly's call. But coach and A.D. huddled Friday morning, and met with the school president, and talked by telephone with Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott (who along with Bellotti, watched Blount's rampage from the visiting athletic director's suite at Bronco Stadium).
"I was horrified by what I saw," Scott said.
And there was no doubt that, had Kelly failed to act, or Oregon, the Pac-10 was prepared to step in. Kelly said there was no need, and that it didn't have anything to do with the publicity.
"It's the incident," he said. "You can't hit somebody in society. Whether they call you a name, or whatever transpires."
So Kelly came up with the correct solution to the crisis, which brings us to another, lesser problem.
Where Blount's departure leaves Oregon is uncertain. Let's start by recalling what happened on the blue turf before the game was over. The Ducks' highly touted offense was impotent: A total of 152 yards was their lowest mark in 15 years.
Blount finished with minus-5 yards on eight carries (which means, by the way, that he dropped off the list of Oregon's 1,000-yard rushers; he had 1,002 yards in 2008, his only other season with the Ducks).
Kelly said LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner -- smaller players who were being used at the hybrid "Tazer" position -- will join backup Andre Crenshaw at running back.
But Xs and Os might not be the biggest issue. Kelly called the players' mood "somber" when they were informed of Blount's suspension. Mostly, you have to figure it was because of the postgame melee. But some of it certainly was because of their embarrassing on-field flop.
The Ducks went into the season opener spoiling for revenge, and not afraid to say so, after Boise State's win last year in Eugene. They also took high hopes for the season into Boise, thinking the momentum built while winning their last four games in 2008 would carry over.
Instead, they were completely embarrassed. Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli -- star of one of SI's four regional covers for the college football preview issue -- saw his long shot Heisman hopes dashed; afterward, reporters were asking Kelly if he'd considered trying backup Nate Costa.
On the field and off, the Ducks are in disarray. What now?
"Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond," Kelly said. "We'll continue to go to work."
But tangibly and otherwise, it felt like Oregon's chances of success took a serious hit Thursday. Pun intended.
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