by Rob Moseley
SAN ANTONIO, Texas — In order to accommodate a weight workout beforehand, the Oregon football team arrived Friday at Alamo Heights High nearly two hours before the formal start to practice for Monday's Alamo Bowl.
Knowing what the next few hours would hold — Nick Aliotti intended to tell the Ducks he was retiring after the bowl game — the longtime UO defensive coordinator couldn't sit still. Thus, he was the first coach to hit the practice field, some 90 minutes early, proceeding to walk laps for about the next half hour.
By early afternoon, Aliotti was also the last coach off the practice field, lingering a last few moments with two fellow natives of Pittsburg, Calif., defensive backs Avery Patterson and Erick Dargan. Aliotti had told the entire team minutes earlier that the Alamo Bowl would be his final game as a coach.
"There's never a great time or a right time to say this," Aliotti told the team. "I'm going to retire at the end of the season.
"I'm not resigning; I'm not going somewhere else. I'm a Duck."
Thus will end Monday one of the longest coaching tenures in Oregon's history. Aliotti will have spent 24 seasons on the UO staff, tied with Joe Schaffeld (1974-97) for the fourth-longest stay with the Ducks, behind current running backs coach Gary Campbell (31 years), offensive line coach Steve Greatwood (27 years) and Neal Zoumboukos (1980-2006).
Aliotti's departure was confirmed by the university minutes after his brief announcement to the players after practice Friday.
"I'm surprised he didn't cry," said Patterson, a senior starting safety. "I know it's one of the toughest decisions he's ever had to make. But you've got to walk away someday. At some point, he was going to leave somebody behind that he loves."
That nearly happened a year ago, Aliotti said later Friday at a press conference to preview Monday's Alamo Bowl against Texas (3:45 p.m. PT, ESPN). The coach tried to keep the focus on his players and the game, but he also addressed his retirement and said he initially intended to do so following the Fiesta Bowl in January.
Aliotti kept a piece of turf from that game, thinking it would be his last, and still carries it in his briefcase. But after Chip Kelly left the program and Mark Helfrich took over, Aliotti opted to return for one more year, to keep the Ducks' recruiting class intact and help Helfrich's transition.
"I believe in and love Oregon," Aliotti said. "I wanted to go a good job by Mark. I wanted to do a good job by these kids. …
"The beauty of this right now is that I'm getting to retire because I want to retire. Not many assistants get to go out on their own terms."
Aliotti can retire knowing his defenses were key to many of the greatest seasons in recent UO history. The famed "Gang Green" unit allowed just 19.2 points per game and helped Oregon reach the Rose Bowl after the 1994 season. That was the last time the Ducks kept opponents under 20 points per game until 2010, when they allowed 18.7 as Oregon reached the BCS championship game.
Aliotti acknowledged Friday it might have been nice to take on a head coaching job at some point, and he leaves after a rocky finish to the 2013 regular season in which the Ducks allowed Stanford and Arizona to control games with the run. But Oregon also enters the Alamo Bowl having allowed 4.69 yards per play this season, fewest in the Pac-12.
"What really makes him a good coach is, he won't let up on you," Patterson said. "He told me from day one, I'm not going to be easy on you, and to this day he pushes me to perfection. He's a winner. He wants the best out of every single player."
That relentless tone starts with Aliotti himself. He's well known for keeping long hours in the Oregon football offices, which he breaks up with regular walks through the new Hatfield-Dowlin Complex. His goal is to walk 10,000 steps per day; Aliotti's laps around the field Friday morning put him at 5,732 already, and he had surpassed 10,000 by the end of practice.
"Nothing has changed," he said of Oregon's Alamo Bowl preparations in the wake of his announcement. "Nothing will change. We'll do everything as we always do, 'til the final gun."
At Friday's press conference, Aliotti faced questions about those issues with run defense in November, as the Ducks anticipate a Texas team built for power rushing. He noted Oregon's history of success in such situations; the Ducks held Colorado to 49 rushing yards in the 2002 Fiesta Bowl, Adrian Peterson and Oklahoma to 132 in the 2005 Holiday Bowl, and Terrelle Pryor and Ohio State to 153 yards in the 2010 Rose Bowl.
"Right now, he wants us to focus on this football game," safety Brian Jackson said. "That's what we've been doing this whole time. We came here almost like it was a work visit."
Patterson, though, allowed that "I just want to go out there and win this final game for him."
In keeping the focus as best he could on the Alamo Bowl, Aliotti offered only a few hints at what his foray into retirement will hold. He definitely intends to live in Eugene, and like former UO coach Mike Bellotti has some interest in possible television work.
Aliotti has planned a hunting trip with his father and three brothers in early January, and another to Argentina. He will vacation in Hawaii with his wife, Kathryn, and talked of taking her to Italy at some point, as well.
Now that Friday's retirement announcement has been made, even more plans can be made.
"It came down to family and lifestyle," Aliotti said. "I've always been a family guy, so that won out."