Few coaches have been more familiar with Oregon’s defensive philosophy than Don Pellum, who has accumulated 32 seasons with his alma mater as a player, administrator and assistant coach, which contributed to him being elevated to defensive coordinator in January 2014.
Pellum, who begins his 23rd year as the Ducks’ full-time assistant, has spent time overseeing almost all phases of the program’s defenders, tutoring its linebacker for 17 years (2000-present; 1997-98), as well as its outside linebackers (1993-95), safeties (1996) and defensive line (1999).
And if his first year overseeing Oregon’s defense is any indication, his troops will only get better as time wears on.
While the Ducks ranked 30th in the country in scoring defense a year ago (23.6), they allowed more than 20 points in only one of the last six contests prior to their CFP National Championshp setback to Ohio State.
In addition, Pellum has continued the program’s emphasis on making “big plays” as the Ducks led the country in turnover margin in 2014 (+23).
Yet just as important has been his success developing talent as he continually has provided a steadying influence on a program spanning four head coaching tenures.
That point could not have been more apparent than two years ago. Charged with replacing the Ducks’ top two tacklers from the previous season, Pellum utilized a cast possessing of only two career starting assignments. Highlighting the transition was Derrick Malone, whose team-high 105 tackles in 2013 was surpassed only once over the previous six years after he had accumulated 56 tackles over the course of his previous two campaigns.
Possessing 35 years of expertise in the realm of collegiate athletics, he completed his playing career with the Ducks in 1984. The former starting linebacker continued his association with his alma mater as a graduate assistant coach the following year and has remained at Oregon ever since, with the exception of a one-year stint as defensive line coach, strength coach and academic coordinator at Willamette University (1987), as well as three years coordinating the recruiting efforts and serving as assistant athletic director for student services at the University of California (1990-92).
The lure of responsibilities on the field became too much to resist and Oregon couldn’t be happier. No team was better against the run in conference games during the Ducks’ 2009 Rose Bowl run, thanks in part to a group of linebackers. Pac-10 foes averaged only 118.6 rushing yards per contest in addition to Oregon’s league-best total defense in Pac-10 play (316.0 avg.).
His pupils have been instrumental in the program’s recent post-season success as witnessed by former linebackers Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay voted as the games’ defensive MVP’s in the 2012 Rose and 2013 Fiesta bowls, respectively. In addition, no fewer than six of his players over the past five seasons were expected to be in NFL camps when practice opened this summer.
Linebackers have finished the year leading Oregon in tackles three times in the last five seasons. His group was instrumental in Oregon ranking 12th in the country in scoring defense (18.69 avg.) during its BCS National Championship Game run encompassing the 2010 season, as well as 13th nationally (20.5) in 2013.
In 2012, Clay and Alonso ranked as the team’s top two tacklers as well as earned second-team all-conference plaudits. Clay was named co-recipient of the team’s Most Outstanding Player award and Alonso led the Ducks in tackles-for-loss (12) while tying for team-high honors in interceptions (4) and fumble recoveries (2).
Clay finished 2011 second in the Pac-12 in tackles (9.3 avg.), and again paced the team in stops in 2012.
Pellum has developed a knack for bringing out the best from his players while concerning himself with their development aside from the playing field as well. His players have led Oregon’s defense in quarterback sacks eight times, including 26 of the Ducks’ 38 sacks in 1999 by the defensive front four.
Yet few of his accomplishments could be any more rewarding than in 2005 when he transformed a unit which included only one returnee with any significant line-of-scrimmage experience at the major college level. What resulted was a group that helped Oregon lead the Pac-10 Conference in total defense and pass defense, in addition to finishing third in scoring defense. While his trio of 2005 starters began the season accumulating only 89 tackles during their Oregon careers, they tallied 207 among them that year alone.
Included was second-team all-conference outside linebacker Anthony Trucks, who led the team with 99 tackles en route to pacing the Pac-10 in quarterback sacks (11, tied for 8th in the nation), tackles for loss (15.5) and forced fumbles (5, tied for 7th nationally). In all, Pellum has been credited with much of the development for 27 Pac-10 all-league honorees in the last 20 seasons.
One of Oregon’s most popular former players, Pellum returned to coaching on a full-time basis in 1993 following six years as a recruiting coordinator in the Pac-10.
Pellum was responsible for assembling outstanding recruiting classes with Oregon and California, and has been credited with directing some of the Ducks’ best recruiting efforts in school history since his return. His recruiting efforts helped land him on the list among the nation’s top 25 recruiters by Rivals.com after Oregon’s 2007 recruiting class was ranked 11th in the country.
The 53-year-old Banning, Calif., native was a graduate assistant at Oregon for two years while completing an advanced degree in telecommunications and film, coaching the tight ends, and assembling the scout teams. He also has completed work toward his Ph.D.