HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Building a team culture can be difficult. Building a culture that has to be torn down and rebuilt three times in as many years can be especially difficult.
Oregon seniors Troy Dye and Justin Herbert each had their opportunity to walk away from the program and pursue NFL careers following their 7-6 win over Michigan State in the RedBox Bowl.
Instead, Dye and Herbert for the first time in their respective Oregon football careers will have the same head coach in Mario Cristobal for the second consecutive season. They both are back not only to pursue a national championship, but build on a culture that has expanded far beyond just Oregon football.
“I think the sports culture at Oregon is tremendous,” Dye said. “It’s cool to know that you have support from all the other sports.”
Since 2016, a lot of things have changed and coaches have come and gone. For Herbert, he is finally gaining some stability and returning to his head coach, as well as his offensive coordinator. The coaching carousel seems to have stopped for the time being, and it has given Cristobal time to establish a culture within the program.
“We were a bunch of individuals in 2016,” Herbert said. “Now we’re a team huddled together.
“I think going into a new year with new offensive stuff you have to get everyone dialed up and everyone up to speed. This year we are able to teach those younger guys the way we do things, and it’s not a whole lot of time spent learning a new offensive, it’s teaching instead.”
Herbert and Dye were not the only ones that had to experience the dramatic changes. Herbert acknowledges those that came before him and began laying the foundation for this new culture.
“I think we had a bunch of older guys last year like Ugo [Amadi], Justin Hollins, Jalen [Jelks], some guys that stepped up and showed us the way,” Herbert said. “I think Troy and I have done a good job of kind of taking that and moving on with it.”
For Dye, now on his third defense coach in four years with the hiring of new defensive coordinator Andy Avalos, he knew 2019 was going to be a special year for the program following the win in the bowl game. Dye, who thought it was going to be the last time he was on the podium representing Oregon following the win, felt there was more on the table for him.
“I know a lot of people who left early and they always say ‘Oh, in the long run, I wish I would have went back for that last season,’” Dye said. “I’d rather just stay, finish it out, have no regrets about not coming back and have a good time with my brother and a good time with my friends. I'd rather enjoy my last senior season and go out the right way.”
Herbert faced a grueling choice of his own at the end of last year. The Eugene native decided not to miss the chance to play for a team that finally has consistency.
“That was an interesting time. It was a tough decision for sure to be put in that position at such a young age. Fortunately, I had such a great support system around me that I was able to make the decision and I truly believe I made the right decision,” he said.
Now with Cristobal signed as the Ducks head coach until January 2024, he will have a chance to establish consistency and a culture beyond the years of Herbert and Dye.
“We brought over a blueprint that’s pretty demanding now,” Cristobal said. “You wondered how that was going to be accepted, whether it was going to be taken in or whatnot, because culture is a word that’s overused. Everybody is culture, culture, culture. We really like to think within the walls of our place it means the world and that there has to be an intolerance for anything that doesn’t support or uphold the culture.”
Follow Gabriel on Twitter @gabe_ornelas