Willie Taggart gave an interview to Fox Sports’s Stewart Mandel for a piece that published Monday. It’s the type of piece every head coach taking over a fallen power does in his first months on the job — Taggart couldn’t believe how good Oregon’s facilities are or how bad its roster is — but the interview did touch on one news-worthy topic: those workouts.
For those who don’t remember, three players were hospitalized after the very first workout under Taggart’s new strength staff with rhabdo, a rare syndrome in which overworked muscles break down and enter the bloodstream.
Each of three players has since been released, but the effect of that incident was lasting. Head strength coach Irele Oderinde was suspended for a month, the strength program was restructured to give Oderinde less unchecked oversight and Taggart apologized to the players’ families and publicly.
“I have visited with the three young men involved in the incidents in the past few days and I have been in constant contact with their families, offering my sincere apologies,” Taggart said in a statement. “As the head football coach, I hold myself responsible for all of our football-related activities and the safety of our students must come first. I have addressed the issue with our strength and conditioning staff, and I fully support the actions taken today by the university. I want to thank our medical staff and doctors for caring for all of our young men, and I want to apologize to the university, our students, alumni and fans.”
The reporting of the controversial workout led to a controversy of its own when Taggart stopped speaking to Oregonian beat writer Andrew Greif, whose reporting broke the story.
The two have since made up (or at least resumed their professional relationship) and the Ducks put the evens of January behind them. Until Monday.
Here’s what Taggart had to say to Mandel:
“We know we didn’t do anything to try to hurt our kids. We’d done [the same program] everywhere we’ve been and never had a problem,” Taggart said. “I think our guys just overworked themselves and didn’t hydrate. … They were trying to impress the new coaches.”
He maintains that media accounts at the time mischaracterized the nature of the workouts and believes neither he nor Oderinde acted improperly.
No one has ever accused Oregon’s strength staff of intentionally trying to hurt the Ducks’ players, but this answer leads only to more questions. Is Oderinde acted properly, why did he give “full support” to his 1-month suspension, especially at such a critical juncture of his first off-season? Why did Taggart apologize he and his staff did nothing wrong?
Taggart’s April explanation is starkly different from his January apology, morphing from “the safety of our students must come first” sounds awfully different than “the players should have drank more water.”