Few jobs in all of college football are as difficult as being the man in charge of the defense at the University of Oregon. Oregon Ducks defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti is one of the most underrated minds in the game today.
Aliotti is entering his 15th season at the helm of the Oregon defense, currently in his third stint with the team.
Aliotti played his prep football in Walnut Creek, Calif, graduating from Pittsburg High School. From there he signed on to play at UC Davis where he played four seasons as running back from 1972-76. One of his many accomplishments include being named the MVP of the ’72 freshman team.
After his playing days, Aliotti stepped away from the game for one year before returning in 1978 as a graduate assistant at the University of Oregon. He was hired by then Ducks head coach Rich Brooks. Aliotti was with the Ducks for two years in ’78 and ’79 before going up North to Corvallis to be the Beavers’ running backs coach from 1980-83. Following his time with OSU, Aliotti served as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach from 1984-87 at Chico State.
In 1988, Aliotti returned to Eugene and was reunited with Coach Brooks. From ’88-92, Aliotti coached the linebacking corp. For the 1993 and 1994 seasons, Aliotti took over as defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach. Oregon’s 1994 defense earned the nickname of “Gang Green” for their fierce play.
Oregon reached the Rose Bowl that 1994 season, and Coach Brooks took an opportunity to become the head coach of the St Louis Rams. Aliotti followed Brooks to the Rams, coaching special teams from 1995-97. Aliotti then coached one season in 1998 as defensive coordinator for the UCLA Bruins before returning to his old job with the Ducks in 1999. Aliotti has been defensive coordinator ever since. He was hired on by Mike Bellotti, who was the offensive coordinator when Aliotti was defensive coordinator under Brooks.
There have been a plethora of talented defenders over the past decade and a half to play for Aliotti. Some of the famous names include Peter Sirmon, Wesly Mallard, Junior Siavii, Igor Olshansky, Haloti Ngata, Jairus Byrd, Pat Chung, Casey Matthews and most recently Dion Jordan who will likely hear his name called within the first five picks of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Due to Oregon’s incredibly efficient offense, the Ducks are forced defensively to play more downs and minutes game-in and game-out than any other team in the country. The defensive players have little time to rest before being thrust back on the field. With this has come the need for adaption. That’s where Aliotti’s brilliance has truly shown.
While the Ducks hold their own on defense statistically, they do give up a large number of points. Case-in-point is the USC game from last season when the Ducks gave up 51 points to the Trojans in a shootout. Oregon has taken on a “bend but don’t break” mentality that is a huge reason why the team has competed in four consecutive BCS Bowls.
Aliotti realizes that with the defense being on the field so much, they’re bound to give up a large number of points. That’s just the reality of the situation. In response to that, Oregon has recruited ball-hawking cornerbacks to force turnovers. The Ducks led the nation in interceptions last season with 26 in 13 games.
The key to beating Oregon is to avoid turnovers. Giving the Ducks’ lethal offense any extra possessions, especially with good field position, is a recipe for disaster. Aliotti and the other Oregon coaches know this.
In recent years, Aliotti has seen some national attention for his great coaching abilities. He was a finalist for the 2010 Broyles Award given to the nation’s top assistant coach and has had his named floated around for other openings including rumors of a potential move to LA to head the USC Trojans’ defense.
Oregon will be stacked yet again in 2013. The Ducks do have to replace three linebackers in Jordan, Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso, but the rest of the defense stays mostly intact. Upperclassmen Boseko Lokombo (MLB), Terrance Mitchell (CB), Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (CB) and Avery Patterson (SS) will be the focal points of the defense in 2013.