Oregon head football coach Chip Kelly gives you the sense that he wants to do right by his players. He relishes the challenge of molding these young men into respectable students and athletes.
During his sometimes turbulent two-year tenure, the occasional Duck has impinged upon his good-faith efforts.
First, it was Jeremiah Masoli, convicted of robbing a fraternity house and undone by a traffic stop in which marijuana was found inside the vehicle.
Now, it’s Kiko Alonso.
The junior middle linebacker from Los Gatos, Calif., was arrested Sunday for burglary, criminal mischief and criminal trespass. The arrest is his second in 15 months, after a citation for driving under the influence of intoxicants on Feb. 20, 2010.
The citation earned Alonso a one-year suspension, because it came in the midst of a string of off-field incidents that garnered national headlines and questions of Kelly’s ability to control the program. Furthermore, Alonso was busted hours after Kelly addressed those questions with assembled media, prompting a punishment seen as more harsh than usually warranted.
Timing does not appear to be Alonso’s strong suit.
He was not 24 hours removed from impressing 43,468 Duck fans in the Oregon spring game, capping a transformational set of spring practices.
The 6-foot-4, 237-pound Alonso endured not only the embarrassment of his continued punishment but the tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Alonso had been allowed to practice with the Ducks but was reduced to a rehabilitation schedule and fading memories of the football field.
Last season’s starting middle linebacker and unquestioned team leader Casey Matthews is now a Philadelphia Eagle. Alonso and senior Dewitt Stuckey were the top two candidates to replace him.
The competition was among the most-followed of the spring, and both players showed promise in practice. Consensus soon emerged that Alonso, whose last game as a Duck was the 2010 Rose Bowl, topped the depth chart with his punishing hits and good instincts.
Everyone loves a story of redemption. That’s why this would be comical, if it weren’t so tragic.
In an April 22 column in The Register-Guard, George Schroeder quoted Alonso as saying of the 2010 DUII, “It was a mistake. I’m definitely smarter now.” Apparently not.
Kelly faces what will surely be a hard decision for him — “He made a mistake, he paid a price and he learned from it,” Kelly told Schroeder — but the outcome is clear.
Alonso must be kicked off the team. To do otherwise would yet again dent Kelly’s credibility as a disciplinarian and program leader.
On the field, this will be a tough loss. Oregon had to replace two of its three starting linebackers but showed outstanding depth at the position in the high-quality play of Alonso and Stuckey. The defense as a whole stepped up greatly this spring amid questions of how losing six starters and several valuable backups would affect it.
Off the field, Kelly has been somewhat unlucky. Last offseason’s spate of arrests and his handling of the LeGarrette Blount fiasco damaged his reputation. This offseason’s reports regarding Willie Lyles and recruiting services have painted the entire Oregon athletic department with a broad brush as unwilling to follow the rules.
One of Kelly’s favorite metaphors pertaining to rules involves the speed limit. He doesn’t necessarily like it, but as the letter of the law, he must follow it to be compliant.
Kelly cannot possibly endorse burglary, criminal mischief and criminal trespass under any circumstances, let alone for an individual classified as a repeat offender. Alonso’s on-field talent is compromised by his off-field actions. He must go.
Stuckey is not well-known to many Duck fans, but he has always contributed, primarily on special teams. The Stockton, Calif., native is thickly built at 5-foot-11 and 221 pounds and grew into the communication role necessary for the middle linebacker spot during spring practices.
Stuckey has never had more than three tackles in a game in his career. He does have a prior arrest record, having been jailed for beating up a man as a high school senior. But Stuckey has stayed out of trouble as a collegian, and right now he is the best man for the job.
Dewitt, go make your coach proud.