An hour before he was about to address the media for the first time in San Antonio, defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti had a big announcement to make.
The man who was been with the program for 24 years and held the position as defensive coordinator for 17, revealed that the Valero Alamo Bowl would be his last game as a coach.
Although he made clear during the defensive press conference right after the news broke that the focus should be on his players and their upcoming opponent, the attention could not be diverted from the coach who led Oregon’s defense to numerous successful seasons.
Under Aliotti, the Ducks led the conference in pass defense three times and in 2012 his squad led the nation in interceptions with 26.
This past season, Aliotti commanded the defense that topped the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense and ranked fourth in total defense for the conference. With experience and talent, the Ducks’ secondary was noted as one of the best in the country, as the Ducks rank 13th in scoring defense this season.
Emotions were high from both coaches and players in the final days leading up to kick off, especially from senior and fellow Pittsburgh native Avery Patterson, who won the defensive MVP for the Ducks’ 30-7 victory over the Texas Longhorns.
“We wanted to do it for him. We wanted to send him out the right way,” Patterson said after the game. “He has done so much for this team and this program.”
The players seemed to accomplish just that, as Aliotti said after the game that his journey ended better than any dream he could have had.
Just as Aliotti said, the Alamo Bowl was his last rodeo, and the Ducks will once again go through a coaching change.
Although the final decision has not been made, head coach Mark Helfrich stated in San Antonio that the choice will be whatever is best for the program and that there is no timeline.
“His (Aliotti) contributions on and off the field have been immeasurable,” Helfrich said during an Alamo Bowl press conference.
However, Aliotti stated earlier this week on radio to 750AM that he hopes they hire within the program.
From the outside looking in, it would appear that secondary coach John Neal is in the running for the position of defensive coordinator, along with linebacker coach Don Pellum. But it’s been made clear by Athletic Director Rob Mullens that the final decision lies in the hands of Helfrich.
When Aliotti announced his retirement, Pellum stated, “I was surprised. I think we were all surprised,” after an Oregon practice in San Antonio.
Once again the team will have to go through a coaching change, just like they did this year with the departure of Chip Kelly to the NFL.
Junior linebacker Derrick Malone said that he wasn’t going to think about the coaching change till after the Alamo Bowl, but it will be a new experience for him, one that the Oregon offense went through this season.
“No matter what happens, who’s leaving, who’s staying between players or coaches, we have one common goal,” Malone said in a press conference before the Alamo Bowl.
One thing certain about Aliotti is that he had the players’ respect. Defensive lineman Taylor Hart referred to him as a father figure and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu said his relentless passion is what makes him so effective.
Even though some fans might consider an Alamo Bowl trip a failure, the Ducks still snagged an 11-win season and with Marcus Mariota back, the future looks bright.
Although replacing Aliotti is not a simple switch. You couldn’t ignore the man’s personality, hunger to compete, and brutal honesty. It’s certain that the program is losing one big personality, along with a talented coach.
Follow Beth Maiman on Twitter @bethamaiman