EUGENE - The University of Oregon finally has a new defensive leader. Former linebackers coach Don Pellum will replace Nick Aliotti as defensive coordinator, the school announced Tuesday.
Pellum has truly been a lifer with the program, having been with the Ducks in some coaching capacity for 23 years, and having played for the Ducks in the early 80s.
"You can work at an institution for 30 years and never get the opportunity to be a defensive coordinator, let alone at a top-tier institution like Oregon, so I'm truly blessed," Pellum said at press conference Tuesday.
The promotion has drawn some criticism due to Pellum's lack of coordinating experience. Pellum has seemingly fit in in every other role while at Oregon, but has never been a defensive coordinator.
"I know coach Helfrich sees the right characteristics, and the right integrity and the right things in me. This is not some gimme gift thing, this is 'You can do it'. They don't make those types of mistakes at this level. It just doesn't happen." he said.
Despite that, Pellum says the position has always been a goal.
"I've always wanted to be a defensive coordinator" he said. "As you go through the fork in the road you make a decision early on whether you take off an chase that dream, and you go a lot of different places, or do you love the place that you are currently at.
"I was blessed because I was here at Oregon, and I've worked with tremendous people, and we've had tremendous leadership. If I lived here, stayed here and finished my career as a career assistant, I'd be happy, because it's just that good of a place. So I'm blessed that being here as long as I have has translated to the people around me feeling good enough and feeling I deserved a shot to do it."
Pellum doesn't believe schematic changes to Aliotti's defense are necessary, but believes a simplification of some aspects might help players to think and react quicker.
"I think we have an excellent defense. We have more weapons than we can use," Pellum said. "I think where we can be better is targeting the right weapons… and hone things down to get our kids better prepared and more focused…"
He'll still favor a 3-4 front, citing its versatility.
Still, much is left undecided. Most critically, who will replace him and how will his prior responsibilities be redistributed. Pellum had been the team's recruiting coordinator, but says he doesn't not foresee that being a possibility in coming years.
Pellum deferred to head coach Mark Helfrich on future hires. Helfrich has yet to meet with the media to discuss them.
More of the defensive staff might still be in flux, with news breaking Tuesday that defensive backs coach John Neal will be interviewing for the UAB head coaching job.
"I can't address that, because that's the first I've heard of that," he said, when asked about the importance of retaining Neal. "That's new to me."
Pellum described the interview process with Helfrich as "very casual".
"The nice thing about an interview with you head coach… is that you don't have to go in and sell yourself. If you're selling yourself in that interview, then I don't think you have a shot at the job, because that person knows you and knows what you're capable of.
"It was more like a talk at lunch. Obviously I had an outline of what I would do with the next six months if I was the coordinator, so he could see step-by-step what I am thinking. A lot of the other information were things that happen everyday."