Dan Lanning built his Oregon staff with recruiting the West Coast in mind. Including the head man himself, eight of the 11 on-the-field Ducks coaches have prior Pac-12 experience.
But there's an unmistakable Southern flavor at the top of the staff. Lanning himself, of course, came from Georgia, where he was the defensive coordinator. Defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi is a California native who coached previously at Cal and Washington, but spent his last five seasons in the college game at Alabama. And offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham is a Phoenix native that began his career at Arizona State, but later branched out to the South at Memphis, Auburn and Florida State.
When Dillingham got off the plane in Eugene, he saw a town that resembled what he'd just left behind.
“This place cares about football. I say this is the only place west of Texas that has a mindset of the South when it comes to football,” Dillingham told Yahoo. “This is a southern school. When it comes to football and when it comes to sports, it’s a true college town that can win championships. And if you’re out west, this is the only real college town that can win championships. It’s pretty cool.”
If you want to parse his words, Dillingham did specify that Eugene is the only college town that can win championships.
Los Angeles is a lot of things, but a college town is not one of them. Neither is Seattle. Or Tempe.
Located 110 miles south of Portland, Eugene is right in that sweet spot territory -- not too big, not too small -- with an estimated population of 168,000. Athens, Ga., is 125,000, Tuscaloosa is right at 100,000. Lincoln, Neb., is at the high end with 283,000. (For the record, Salt Lake City is right within the College Town Sweet Spot with an estimated 198,000 living within city limits, but it's hard to argue you're a college town when you share space with an NBA team.)
That's not to say Eugene is the Pac-12's only college town. Far from it. Boulder is at or near the top of any college town list. Pullman and Corvallis are college towns. Berkeley and Palo Alto are, too, in their own way. Tucson is similar to Austin and Columbus, large metro areas (Tucson is north of 500k) with no Big 3 pro sports franchise in town.
But we all know Dillingham wasn't talking about the Buffaloes, or the Beavers, or the Wildcats. Oregon doesn't hit the recruiting trail looking to swipe players from Colorado, or Oregon State, or Arizona. Out west, Oregon recruits against USC, along with the national powers out East that pilfer California and Arizona each year.
In one quote, Dillingham offers Oregon's recruiting strategy to all three constituencies Lanning's staff is likely to recruit:
-- To West Coast recruits considering USC and Oregon: "You don't have to go to LA, with all that entails, to play big-time football. At USC you'll big a small fish in a big pond. Here, you'll be the only fish in the pond."
-- To West Coast recruits considering the SEC or the Big Ten: "You don't have to travel across the country for an SEC or Big Ten atmosphere."
-- To recruits within the SEC footprint: "Alabama or Georgia didn't offer you? Come out here and you'll feel at home."
Lanning's transition class of 2022 consisted of just 15 players, and all but two from the West Coast. The 2023 class is, so far, one player, a defensive back from the Phoenix area.
It will be interesting to see if and how Oregon's recruiting strategy develops as Lanning's staff gets settled into their Southern town in the Pacific Northwest.