Despite his lower-level football history, no one should count out Mike Yurcich

Some of college football's best coaches have come from programs lower than Division I.
by Berry Tramel Published: July 7, 2013
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photo - OKLAHOMA STATE UNIVERSITY / OSU / COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich talks with the media prior to an OSU spring football practice in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, March 13, 2013. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman
OKLAHOMA STATE UNIVERSITY / OSU / COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich talks with the media prior to an OSU spring football practice in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, March 13, 2013. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

When Mike Gundy hired Mike Yurcich of Division II Shippensburg to be OSU's offensive coordinator, most of us — OK, all of us — had two questions.

“Who?” and “Where?”

Mike Bellotti knows the routine. In 2007, the Oregon head coach turned his offense over to a no-name who had spent the previous eight years as the coordinator at Division I-A New Hampshire. Now Chip Kelly is head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.

But Bellotti was like Gundy. Both had built up enough cachet to fend off scrutiny. Too much success, too many quality hires to question too much a guy just because he came from an outpost.

Bellotti had hired Jeff Tedford, Gary Crowton and Dirk Koetter. Gundy had hired Larry Fedora, Dana Holgorsen and Todd Monken. Both Mikes had earned the trust of their constituents.

Unlike when Bellotti came to Oregon. When Rich Brooks hired Bellotti to run the Duck offense in 1989, Bellotti remembers the first column from one of the Oregon papers: “Who is this guy? What makes him capable of doing this job?”

Bellotti had been head coach at Division II Chico State for five years. So he comes by it honest, this idea of looking at a lower-division to fill such a vital staff role.

“I think I had developed enough credibility with the administration, the boosters, they trusted who I hired,” Bellotti said.

“Certainly, Chip was an untested commodity in some people's mind, but not in my mind. He really understood the offense I wanted to run.”

Sounds like the Gundy/Yurcich story.

Shippensburg — or Edinboro, Yurcich's previous stop — is no small-college power, and neither was New Hampshire. Kelly coached 13 straight years at New Hampshire, the final eight as offensive coordinator. The Wildcats were 53-42 in those eight seasons.

But the Gundy/Bellotti comparison is different in this way. Gundy discovered Yurcich. Kelly sought out Bellotti.

Bellotti said that when Oregon was transitioning to the spread offense in 2005, Kelly called and asked if he could come out and spend a week observing.

Bellotti was a fan of the lower levels. He coached 16 years in Division II. He hired a variety of D-II assistants, including Chris Petersen to coach Oregon wide receivers in 2000. A year later, Peterson was Boise State's offensive coordinator and rest is Cinderella history.

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by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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