When Mike Bellotti was elevated to head football coach at the University of Oregon on Feb. 13, 1995, few people could have envisioned the impact the former UC Davis honors student would have on a university, as well as a community, which was coming off its first conference championship in 37 years. In the 14 seasons that followed, all he accomplished would be the navigation of a program through its most successful era in school history.
The Ducks’ winningest football coach of all time, Bellotti has guided Oregon to the No. 2 ranking in the country and a Fiesta Bowl win following the 2001 season, led the school to 12 bowl appearances in his 14 years at the helm, tallied eight or more wins in a single season nine times, accumulated the second-most victories (116) of any program in the Pac-10 during his tenure and has overseen a team that has finished among the nation’s Top-25 six times in the past 10 seasons.
None of his 29 Oregon predecessors can match his timetable for success as well as few in the Pacific-10 Conference. The “Dean of the Pac- 10” is third all time in conference wins (72-43) while only four former league mentors (John Robinson, Don James, Terry Donahue and Larry Smith) were able to post more conference triumphs than Bellotti in their first 10 years in the Pac-10. His 116-55 ledger as the Ducks’ head coach (137-80-2 overall) makes him the sixth coach in conference history to win 100 games at one school, while his winning percentage of 67.8 percent trails only Hugo Bezdek (72.7%—1906, 1913-17) among Oregon’s all-time mentors who coached the Ducks a minimum of three seasons.
The Northern California native has played a vital role in assembling more than 27 percent (155 wins) of the University’s all-time triumphs (556) since assuming the role as the school’s offensive coordinator prior to the 1989 season. In addition, only five active Division I coaches in the country have guided their current schools to more postseason appearances than Bellotti has at Oregon while he ranks among the Top 15 on the list of winningest active Division I-A coaches in the country.
Bellotti's most recent charges put together the third 10-win season in school history, capping a successful 2008 campaign with a Holiday Bowl victory over favored Oklahoma State to finish 10-3 and ranked No. 9 in the USA Today (coaches) Poll and 10th in the AP Top 25. His Ducks shattered school marks for rushing yardage (3,641), total offense (6,303) and scoring (545), and topped 60 points three times and 50 points five times. The nation's second-ranked rushing offense produced two 1,000-yard rushers for the second time in school history and placed three runners among the top 10 in the Pac-10. Making the national finish more remarkable was the fact that Oregon lost its starting quarterback for the second straight season - this time in the final days of fall camp - and went with four different signal callers before settling on true sophomore and first-year Duck Jeremiah Masoli.
Bellotti’s Ducks soared as high as No. 2 for only the second time in school history during the 2007 campaign, but the loss of seven starters and the top three quarterbacks to season-ending injuries ended Oregon’s title hopes after an 8-1 start. Incredibly, his team was able to regroup after a three-game slide and demolished another former No. 2 in South Florida, 56-21, at the Brut Sun Bowl, setting the record for scoring in college football’s second-oldest bowl game. The Ducks ended the season ranked No. 23 and set UO marks for scoring (496 points) and yards rushing (3,272) while leading the Pac-10 in both. Oregon also led the conference in total offense and turnover margin, and ranked first among all Division I programs in tackles for loss.
In 2001, Bellotti coached the Ducks to their first-ever 11-win season as Oregon crushed Colorado, 38-16, in the Fiesta Bowl to finish with an all-time high national ranking of second in the Associated Press and USA Today/ESPN Coaches polls. For his efforts, Bellotti was one of seven finalists for the Paul “Bear” Bryant College Football Coach of the Year Award. Victories in the Fiesta Bowl, Holiday Bowl, Sun Bowl and Las Vegas Bowl have established him as the school’s only mentor to coach the Ducks to four postseason wins. Oregon’s 10-2 mark in 2000 gave the University its first 10-win season in its history, and seventh- and ninth-place rankings in the year-end AP and USA Today/ESPN Coaches polls. The 10 wins from 2005 matched the program’s second-best ledger ever and its greatest single-season turnaround in 77 years.
The former California State Chico head coach wasted little time leaving his mark on an Oregon program which snapped a 25-year postseason drought in his first season as an assistant in Eugene, with the Ducks surpassing all previous team scoring records in 1989. But not even his initial six-year association with the university, which resulted in the establishment or equivalency of no less than 40 team and individual single-game and season UO records, could prepare Oregon for what was to follow.
Assuming control over a program which had just won its first undisputed Pacific-10 Conference title in school history and received its first Rose Bowl invitation in four decades, it would have been easier to take a moment to reflect on past accomplishments while breaking in a pair of coordinators new to the program. What resulted was a second-consecutive New Year’s Day appearance for the first time in school history as the Ducks equaled the previous season’s effort with a nine-win season in 1995. Simply put, no first-year coach in the history of Oregon football had ever won as many games (9-3). No other Oregon coach has equalled the number of single-season school-record victories (9) and then raised the bar to 10 and 11 wins. No other football coach has ever posted winning records in his first nine years of his Oregon tenure. It’s obvious that Robert Michael Bellotti has Oregon football well in hand.
The Ducks have averaged better than 400 yards of total offense in 11 of the past 14 seasons. In addition, Bellotti’s teams have ranked in the top 25 in the country in three major offensive categories on a near annual basis, including his first six years ranked among the nation’s top-25 in passing offense (15th in 1995; 12th in ’96; 20th in ’97; 11th in ’98; 19th in ’99; 25th in ’00). Oregon also finished seventh in the country in scoring offense (39.1 ppg) and 10th in total offense (478.2 avg.) in 1998. The Ducks ranked 11th in scoring (35.1 avg.) in ’99, 19th in ’01 (34.0) and 23rd in ’02 (32.1), and were eighth in the nation in passing (304.5 avg.) and 12th in scoring (34.5 avg.) in '05. The 2007 edition was sixth in rushing (251.7 avg.), 10th in total offense (467.5) and 12th in scoring (38.2), and the '08 squad was second in rushing (280.1), seventh in total offense (484.85) and seventh in scoring (41.9).
Oregon has scored 30 or more points 127 times during Bellotti’s tenure (11 of 13 games in 2008) and his offenses have accumulated more than 95,000 yards (96,784)—the most productive period of its length in school history. Bellotti’s teams also have averaged 426.8 yards (5,121) and 29.5 points (354) during their last 12 bowl appearances. In addition, only 12 quarterbacks have thrown for more than 8,000 yards and pitched for more than 60 touchdowns in Pacific-10 Conference history. Bellotti has coached two of them.
Bellotti’s contingents also have gained the reputation for getting better as the season wears on, with the school accumulating a record of 30-17 in regular-season games after Oct. 31.
Yet throughout all the winning and record-setting, the one quality which remains constant for the 58-year-old offensive architect is poise. As a result of the infectious composure filtering down from the top, the Ducks have prevailed in 47 of the 59 games decided by a touchdown or less in Bellotti’s first 170 Oregon head coaching assignments.
Serving on the Board of Trustees for the American Football Coaches Association, his passions run much deeper than just the game of football. He has sponsored an annual charity golf tournament since 1995—the Mike Bellotti Golf Classic—which raised in excess of $100,000 in 2008 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
In addition, he has personally donated more than $50,000 to the university’s library system since the establishment of the Bellotti Family Library Endowment Fund in 2002.
He carries with him experience as a head coach in one of the nation’s most difficult situations -- a Division II football program that granted no scholarships. In five years at Chico State, the Wildcats finished second in the Northern California Conference four straight years, competing against the tradition-steeped national power UC Davis. That was a task made no easier by the fact that he played for the Aggies and is a graduate of the school.
The opportunity to be judged in the Pacific-10 Conference has showcased his coaching ability. In the 1995 Rose Bowl with more people watching the Ducks than at any time in the school’s heritage, Oregon gained more yards than the highly publicized offense of Penn State that had emphatically led the nation in total offense in 1994 and boasted three first-round NFL draft selections. Oregon, led by the game’s co-MVP Danny O’Neil, set or tied 15 Rose Bowl records and the Ducks finished the day with 501 yards in total offense. Its sophisticated game plan kept the unbeaten Nittany Lions off balance all afternoon.
Born in Sacramento, Calif., he became the eighth head coach at Oregon since World War II almost six years to the day after assuming the role as the university’s offensive coordinator in 1989. The Ducks gained more than 4,000 yards in total offense three times in Bellotti’s tenure as coordinator, averaging 4,044 yards per year and posting a 39-32-0 record during his six-year assistant coaching stint.
During his Oregon tenure, Bellotti has been influential in the development of five Pacific-10 all-conference quarterbacks—Bill Musgrave in 1990, O’Neil in 1994 (who completed his career as the Rose Bowl co-MVP), Akili Smith in 1998 (Oregon’s first Pac-10 offensive player of the year in league history), Joey Harrington in 2001 (Pac-10 offensive player of the year and a Heisman Trophy finalist) and Dennis Dixon (Pac-10 offensive player of the year, Maxwell Award finalist). In addition, his system has been conducive to two quarterbacks each passing for over 1,000 yards in the same season on three separate occasions (1996, 1997 and 1999) — a feat that had never been accomplished in school history prior to Bellotti’s arrival.
While the faces have changed, Bellotti’s system has been responsible for Oregon ranking among the nation’s top-20 in passing offense seven of the last 15 years under several different quarterbacks as well as five different coordinators. Oregon led the Pacific-10 Conference in scoring his initial year as offensive coordinator in 1989 as well as atop the league in passing in his first year as head coach.
Following Oregon’s 1989 Independence Bowl trip, Bellotti coached the North offense in the Blue-Gray all-star classic in Montgomery, Ala., on Christmas Day. It was an honor that was duplicated in December 1996 when he was chosen to head the North’s defense. He was an assistant coach in the East-West Shine Game in January 1999 and head coach of the West squad for the 2002 game. He also was selected as head coach of the West squad in the 2005 Hula Bowl.
Bellotti’s indoctrination as a head coach took place in five seasons at Chico State (1984-88), where he posted a 21-25-2 overall record and a 15-9-2 mark in the Northern California Athletic Conference. He was selected as the league’s coach of the year in 1986 when the Wildcats ranked nationally in total offense and finished 7-3-0 with a No. 10 national rating.
A native of Concord, Calif., Bellotti was a 1973 graduate of UC Davis as an honors student majoring in physical education with a combined minor in math and chemistry. He was a second-team all-Far West Conference tight end as a junior and at wide receiver as a senior. He also began his coaching career at Davis as head coach of the JV and receivers coach in addition to coaching the JV baseball squad.
After four years, he moved to Cal State-Hayward as offensive coordinator for two seasons before a one-year stint in the same capacity at Weber State. He returned to Hayward the next year and obtained his master’s degree in physical education during a four-year stay before being selected head coach at Chico State in 1984.
Mike (12-21-50) and Colleen Bellotti have three children; Luke (3-16-85), Keri (10-29-86) and Sean (3-31-94).