They Said It: Everything Oregon HC Dan Lanning said in his first offseason press conference
As he was walking off the field at Lucas Oil Stadium Monday evening, Dan Lanning took off the metaphorical Georgia Bulldogs hat and put on the Oregon one for good. Time for a recruiting phone call. The new Ducks head coach, fresh off helping Georgia to its first national title in more than 40 years, is no longer splitting duties. He’s all-in on building the Oregon program as he sees it.
Lanning laid out that vision in more detail Thursday as he met with local Oregon reporters. Here’s the full transcript of everything he said.
“I hope everybody’s doing great. Excited to get started. Excited to be wearing one uniform from here on out. Certainly pumped up to be here today and the last few days here on Oregon’s campus. Exciting for me. Our staff just got done doing a campus tour and I just continue to be impressed with the innovation on this campus—got to see our academic center and our whole coaching staff got to spend some time over there in the Jaqua Center, see the track facility, find out that we’re the No. 1 sports business school in the nation. Some of these things just continue to impress me with where we’re heading and the direction and the excitement around our program and this university is thrilling.
“Obviously, this past week, past month for me and our staff has been a roller coaster, a lot of fun. I wouldn’t change a minute of it. It’s been such a rewarding experience getting to go compete with the guys that I’ve coached for such a long time and finish it on a high note with winning the national championship. With that being said, we’ll go ahead and open this up for questions.”
On the running back position going forward, Travis Dye and CJ Verdell’s NFL decisions, Sean Dollars’ return, and Trey Benson’s status:
“Ultimately, I think each one of those conversations is a personal conversation with those players and it doesn’t necessarily have to be on here. But a lot of that again is just conversation. It’s that. It’s being able to have a conversation, and when you’re in a different part of the world, you can’t have those, so when you get back here to home base and you’re able to sit down, I think there’s a lot that can be accomplished when that happens.
“Some of these guys are still going through the process of making some of those decisions. And I don’t want to necessarily put a timeline on each person’s situation because each situation is different. I’ll say this, I’m excited about the group of backs we have. We’ll continue to be aggressive and finding guys that can enhance our program to make us better. But I think that a lot of those guys will be a part of what we’re doing moving forward.”
On the significance of getting so much of the o-line back:
“I’m excited about this team. For the players we have, the caliber of men we have on this team that are excited to compete, I think they share a vision that I share of what we can be here and what this program can become. And I think they recognize what we’re putting together, it’s really special. I want the guys that want to be here. You know, I told our players the very first time I met them the reality is we’re going to win with the players that are here, the players that are on this team right now. We’re going to continue to focus on the guys that are on this team right now, building our success moving forward with those players, and then again, looking for opportunities to enhance it because there are some places that we can grow and places we can get better along the road.”
On what he looks for in a quarterback and why Bo Nix fit that vision, and whether there will be an open competition through camp for the starting QB job:
“Competition breeds excellence. We’re gonna have competition at every position across the board, quarterback included.
“What I know about Bo, he’s an ultimate competitor. I know how hard he works. Obviously, coach (Kenny) Dillingham had personal experience getting an opportunity to coach Bo in the past. We were really clear with Bo, ‘Hey, you come in here, there’s certainly an opportunity to compete, but we’re really excited about the guys we have on our roster as well and excited to see those guys come in and compete and go to work.’ That for me is exciting.
“What am I looking for? Leadership, work ethic, you don’t get to just be a quarterback on the field. Right? That has to leave the field. It has to be exuded in the classroom, on campus, the way you operate day in and day out. And I think we’ve got a group of guys that do that.”
On when he switched gears from focusing on Georgia to full-time focusing on Oregon:
“Walking off the field in the tunnel, right after winning the national championship, I was on FaceTime with a guy that can enhance our program and make us better. That moment I was a Duck.
“You enjoy it, you get to coach your entire career and don’t always get an opportunity to win a championship but I’ve been fortunate enough to watch other people do that and juggle that in my time. I got to watch coach (Kirby) Smart do that firsthand in his time going from Alabama to Georgia and luckily enough that’s somebody I can lean on during that process. But, it’s full-steam ahead at Oregon, everything Oregon, and it was the minute I left that field and got to hug on the necks of the players that I love there. That gave me an opportunity to move forward.
“I’ll say this, a lot of the players that I got to visit with here in Oregon were appreciative of the commitment that I was able to make to the guys that we had there. It meant so much to me to be able to finish that season in a certain way. And I think they were grateful and recognize, ‘Okay, wow, you know, Coach Lanning says what he’s about.’ Actions are so much louder than words, and getting to go back there and finish that the right way I think spoke volumes to what I hope we can do here at Oregon and recreate.”
On finding balance between college guys and NFL guys when building out a coaching staff:
“We’re looking for two things: relationships and development. We didn’t want to sacrifice on either end there. I think that’s really, really important as we were piecing this staff together. Fortunately here at Oregon we have the ability to be competitive and we have the ability to go get the best of the absolute best. So, whether the best be in the NFL or the best be in other college programs, that’s what we targeted. We went through a hard search and looked really in-depth at a lot of different positions.
“I’m ecstatic about the group that we have put together. Some of these guys have NFL experience, obviously that’s a big piece. Some of these guys have been at the highest level of college and some of them haven’t but just happened to be some of the best coaches I’ve ever been around or seen firsthand. What exists in front of us here is opportunity. We’ve got an opportunity here for this staff to be really, really, really special. And I know we got great men of character, great coaches, and teachers that are going to be around our players, and I couldn’t be more thrilled about the group we put together.”
On the message he’s had for players who have ultimately decided to remain at Oregon after talking with him about their future:
“I think every message is different and unique. Every player is in a different situation, so I don’t know if there’s an end-all, be-all with each message. Ultimately, I think if you build your program on honesty and you’re honest with your players, they recognize that. There is what’s in the best interest of Oregon and then there’s what’s in the best interest of the player and when those things align and I think really unique, special things can happen. I think a lot of these guys have recognized that.”
On whether he felt there was ground made up by defenses this season against a growing offensive explosion in college football:
“I think it’s exciting how football is an ever-changing game. It continues to adapt. It’s an amoeba. It doesn’t stay the same. It’s innovative. And that’s what’s exciting to me because what was best in college football this year will be different next year. What’s best for the game this year will be different next year. And the staff and the group of players that handle that the best is the group that’s going to be successful at the end of the year.
“We’re going to do a hard quality-control analysis of where we were at Georgia. Coming here to Oregon, we’re going to do that same thing to really evaluate what made us successful and realize that there’s a difference in what we’re playing with, who we’re playing against here, what we have to do to be successful. I think that’s part of just the environment that I’ve grown up in as a coach. A lot of people say, ‘Well, the standard has changed, you can’t play defense like you used to play,’ and ultimately for me, I’m going to say, ‘Why not?’ Why can we not adapt? Why can’t we recreate? If you have a group of men that believe in that then great things can be accomplished.”
On what he thought of the Pac-12 as he was considering the Oregon job:
“I think it’s a unique opportunity. I think everyone that’s sitting on the outside looking in right now can look at this league and say, ‘OK, there’s a commitment to excellence.’ There’s obviously a lot of pieces and moving parts in this league right now and a lot of opportunities for schools to advance.
“I came here because I’m excited about the competition like our first game next year is against an SEC opponent that I happen to know pretty well. I think they got a pretty good team down there. But that excites me about coming. Obviously, Oregon and getting to play in the Pac-12 is really, really exciting as well.”
On the value he placed on recruiting when he was looking to fill out his coaching staff:
“I don’t think it matters how good a coach you are if you’re not able to have great players. I agree with Coach Smart very much so from that standpoint: I’ve always been the best coach when I had great players. But like I said, I think great people that have great relationships are great recruiters. When you hire people that are genuine and have great relationships, are good communicators, and are good teachers, they generally are also successful at recruiting. Ultimately what I looked for and all that was guys that are good at everything they do. I don’t feel like you have to settle and have one or the other. But we have to have great players here at Oregon to be great.”
On how they’re going about evaluating the talent they have on the roster right now, be it film or notes:
“It’s still late nights and early mornings for us. We’re sitting watching film of our current players. I think everyone thinks for us right now, that we’re evaluating all these players that are outside in the portal or this high school recruit here, this recruit there. I’m spending time last night watching film of our current players and our current guys.
“I want to be able to form my own opinion. I told our team yesterday that when there’s transition and when there’s a new (staff), it’s an opportunity for you to be the absolute best version of yourself. I don’t have to be the Dan Lanning I was at Georgia, I can be the Dan Lanning I’ve ever been, right? And the same thing for our players. Whatever the staff was before and their opinion of you, that’s great, but the reality is that person’s not here. I’m here now. Be the best version of you. Recreate yourself. This is your chance to do that. And when change happens, I think there’s new life. There’s new opportunity.
“I know this was a successful program. We’re taking over a really good situation here. But I want to be able to form opinions on our players. I don’t want to come in with preconceived notions about who’s who and who’s what. That being said, I know what’s on our roster right now. I know we have some great talent at positions. If we continue to do a great job of acquiring more talent, I think we’ll continue to be in the driver’s seat.”
On any advice he’s gotten from Kirby Smart:
“I’d say my biggest ally with Coach Smart was more observation in the last month, in the last four years, my time with him in Alabama. More than anything, rather than asking a question, I’d just watch how he operated day in and day out.
“After the game was over, he sent me a text message, ‘Hey, love you Dan, got to remove you from the staff thread, appreciate you, coach.’ Now we’re on the other end of things. I’ll be forever grateful for what Coach has done for me and my development as a coach and I will certainly lean on him. I’ve got a feeling in between now and Game 1, we probably won’t talk as much as we might after we complete that game. But I know he will always be a resource there for me as I can hopefully be for him at some point if there’s ever some way I can help him.”
On identifying leaders on the Oregon roster:
“Time will tell. It’s going be more about what we do and not what we say, but you have to create environments where these guys have an opportunity to be able to be vocal, speak in front of the team, speak in front of each other. You have to understand what makes a person operate and what makes them tick and why they go. And you can’t do that without time.
“The unfortunate part for us right now is I haven’t been able to go on the road once as a coach for Oregon and recruit, but tomorrow we get that opportunity, so we have to take advantage of that for our program. But that means I’m not going to be here with our players. You still have to operate the phone. You still have to be able to work through that. You still have to lean on people that are here in the building that aren’t on the road recruiting. It’s going to take some time to identify those leaders. I know they exist, you just got to give them the opportunity for them to come out.”
On whether DJ Johnson and Karsten Battles are still with the team, and the status of Jared Greenfield and Lance Wilhoite:
“A lot of questions there. I won’t get into specifics on every single guy within our program. We’re going to war with the guys that are here. That’s what I’m going to really focus on. Our numbers, we’re not going to necessarily be able to bring in an entire class. We’re focused on the guys that are—like I said—here. Our No. 1 job here is still retention of the guys that we have. But we are in the field of acquisition as well. So we’ll look at the portal. We’ll look at opportunities for high school players and junior college players that can enhance our program as we move forward. But as far as specific numbers, I’m not going to get into that on here.”
On what the process was like recruiting and getting commitments from guys for Oregon while still coaching at Georgia:
“I think you’re able to lean on relationships of guys that you’ve brought on staff, and then be able to get into conversations. The great thing is technology allows us to evaluate film, Zoom, phone calls, FaceTimes from long distances away and you can build connections quickly. We’ve leaned a lot, more than anything, on experience on our staff with people in-conference and across the nation, lean on what we know about players personally, and then able to do some deep-dives and research in a way guys can enhance us and help us become better.”
On the strength staff he has at Oregon and the decision to keep Shaud Williams:
“I’m so excited about Shaud. Shaud is a guy—I don’t know how open I can be about this—but he’s a guy that I tried to work with before. I tried to bring him aboard before and join a program for me that wasn’t here. I just am impressed with his ability to develop relationships with players. I think really highly of Shaud. Oregon was so special to Shaud that Shaud decided to stay here so I told him, ‘Hey, if you wouldn’t come to me I had to come to you.’ And it worked out that we get to coach together and I’m thrilled about him.
“Wilson (Love) and I, we have a history together. We worked together in Alabama at the same time. I’m excited to see how much he has grown in the profession. The one word I would use to describe him is passion. This guy operates every single day with a unique passion. I think I was in the office yesterday a little bit before 6 a.m. and said, ‘Hey Wilson, let me know when you get in today.’ He goes, ‘Coach I’ve been here since 4 (a.m.).’ He’s wired different, he’s special. He’s really taken a deep-dive into the relationships with our players, so I’m excited to see that firsthand. And those are two guys that I’m thrilled. You know, we’re also going to be able to keep Coach (Mark) Davis here. The staff in the strength room is something I’m really excited about. So we have a great, great base there and we’re able to bring a couple more guys that’ll be great additions that we will be able to announce shortly to help us in that room as well.”
On adding portal players so far and where he hopes to strengthen the team between now and National Signing Day:
“I think you have to look at being in a place where you’re going to bring guys that can make an immediate impact or create healthy depth within your program. There’s some positions that there are specific needs, but I think one thing that our roster has right now is it also has some position versatility. You talk about a guy like DJ (Johnson) who played tight end and outside linebacker this year. Talk about (Jackson Powers-Johnson) who played on the d-line and the offensive line. I just think you can go down the board. There are several guys on our roster who have done multiple things, so I think we’ll have flexibility moving forward.
“Talking about Sam (Taimani) and Christian (Gonzalez) specifically, you know, we have guys that we brought onto our staffs that knew those guys personally. (They) were able to speak to the character, the work ethic, the way they operate day in and day out. And I think that was an important piece as we were looking to see would this be a great fit? I think both these guys also recognize the opportunity that sat in front of them here at Oregon. These guys grew up big fans of Oregon so being able to be a part of what we’re doing moving forward was exciting for them and obviously us.”