Oregon St. Athletic Director Bob De Carolis spoke to the media Wednesday for the first time since the conclusion of the football season, the second in a row in which the Beavers have failed to reach a bowl game, and talked about his concern level with the football program.
"I think anytime you only win three games, there's concern. But there's lot of ways to put it in perspective,'' said De Carolis. "You are a couple significant injuries, a couple bad calls, a couple bad bounces, a couple bad recruiting seasons, from being mediocre, or less than mediocre. And that was probably the case this year."
De Carolis met with Riley after the season concluded, and encouraged Riley to go through a thorough review of his program, and to find ways to improve. Coaching, recruiting, and conditioning were all to be examined. De Carolis said he wants a better way of evaluating the coaching staff to see if they are producing, though he doesn't anticipate telling Riley he must change coaches, something an increasing number of fans are calling for.
"My philosophy is not to tell coaches what to do with their staff," De Carolis explained. "I've never done that. I don't think that's my prerogative, or my position because I'm not in the trenches every day. If I'm going to tell a coach who to hire and what they should do, I might as well be the head coach myself.''
De Carolis acknowledged that he has heard from disgruntled fans, and said he responded to (some of) those who are season ticket holders. (Presumably ones with the largest mandatory contribution levels.)
"There's frustration out there, but I tell them what I'm telling you," De Carolis said. "We are not where we want to be, and we are trying to try fix it. Lets face it, we need the football program to do well."
De Carolis said the school hasn't felt a huge financial impact yet as a result of the continued falloff of the football team's production in recent seasons on the field. Ticket revenue hit the budget projections this year, and the attendance was one of the highest ever in years with the Civil War not played in Corvallis. Overall enrollment was an all time high this fall as well. However, most tickets were bought before the season, as were enrollments, and De Carolis admits that the backlash could be felt next year if the team doesn't start winning.
Student attendance did begin to drop at the last 2 games, despite them being Homecoming and Dad's Day, and in games that featured Stanford, and Heisman Trophy finalist Andrew Luck, and then the rival Washington Huskies, usually one of the most attended (as well as most lucrative, due to premium ticket prices) games.
This does underscore the issue Buildingthedam regular contributor "Fanoverboard" recently raised in conjunction with UCLA fans' threats to cancel season tickets over dis-satisfaction with the state of their football program, which happens to be bowl bound and coming off a better season than Oregon St. Usually the only way to convey the seriousness of concerns to the Athletic Department and University management is to actually withhold dollars, not just threaten to do so.
The fact that ticket sales and enrollment have remained strong apparently has blunted the significance of the situation, though De Carolis did admit that the "12,000 Donors by 2012" program is lagging behind hoped for levels, with the donor count around 7,500.
"This year, I was certainly disappointed,'' De Carolis said. "Concerned? Yes. Am I ready to panic? No. As far as Mike Riley and the staff, they didn't get stupid overnight. They didn't forget how to coach."
De Carolis seems to be missing the point that the problems haven't even been a one or two season issue, never mind overnight; there has been significant falloff in production in each of the last 3 seasons, and 4 of the last 5, despite the Beavers having played for a berth in the Rose Bowl in both 2008 and 2009.
Further, 9 of the other 11 members of the conference have revamped coaching in the last 4 years, and there are several major stadium projects in that same time. The opposition isn't standing still, it is moving forward in leaps and bounds.
De Carolis stopped short of saying Riley is on the hot seat for next season, but admitted the athletic program can't survive without a successful football team long term. He did say he believes in continuity, not quick fixes.
"Any time you have change, there's disruption in recruiting, and getting new guys in," De Carolis said. "Kids know the system. There is a history of coaches coming in and making an immediate impact. But maybe they are not doing it within the rules. Mike Riley is respected and has a good reputation."
De Carolis didn't say that Riley must win next season or be out, and with 8 years left on his contract, extended after the scare prior to USC's hiring Lane Kiffen before to the 2010 season, when there was talk of the Trojans wanting to hire Riley. The fiscal impact of buying out Riley would strain even the infusion of dollars from the Pac-12 TV & Network deal. This despite the fact that at $1.3 million per year, Riley is one of the lowest paid coaches in the conference.
"Progress would be a great place to start," De Carolis said. "For me, we are focused on taking a breath, and figuring out if we need to do anything differently. If we can get that right, hopefully that will lead to something on the field. I don't want to put a number (of wins) on it and say we want to be there."
But when asked specifically if Riley will have 2 or 3 more years to figure things out, De Carolis paused before answering.
"I would like to say they have as much time as they need to fix this thing, but in this business, change can happen rapidly," De Carolis said. "Let's not look at that at this time; let's see how we can get better. And we'll look at that next year."
There's no word yet on the situation with the coaching search at Hawaii, where defensive coordinator Mark Banker has been mentioned as a candidate. A development that would alter both the evaluation process, as well as the makeup of the staff.