There have been times when Oregon’s defense may have been underestimated but thanks to the Ducks’ veteran defensive coordinator and his staff, 2012 isn’t expected to be one of those years.
Now in his third stint with the Ducks, Nick Aliotti is coming off a trio of seasons that many of the experts rate among his best.
Last season may not have been as statistically imposing as previous campaigns but Oregon’s defenders rose to the challenge when needed. They relinquished only eight offensive touchdowns in the fourth quarter in 14 games.
Utilizing a philosophy of pressuring opposing offenses into making mistakes, the Ducks ranked fifth in the country in quarterback sacks (3.21 avg.) and tied for 19th nationally in turnovers gained (29).
Without generating the euphoria of the 1994 “Gang Green” defense that led Oregon to a Rose Bowl appearance, it was responsible for providing the spark early in the 2010 season before the offense gained momentum. Yet the only thing absent from that BCS Championship Game run may have been a catchy slogan.
Never has an Oregon defense allowed fewer points (243) during a 13-game season and you would have to go back to 1992 to uncover a defensive scoring average lower than that year’s 18.7 points per game.
Coordinating a scheme which ranked seventh in the country in pass efficiency defense while yielding only 15 touchdown passes compared with 21 interceptions in 2010, the Ducks’ defenders ranked seventh nationally in tackles for loss (7.5 avg.) and 12th in scoring defense (18.7 avg.). They also stood second in the country in turnovers gained (37).
For his efforts Aliotti was nominated for the Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top collegiate assistant coach.
His 2009 defense stood among the top two teams in the conference in 10 major defensive categories in Pac-10 play, in addition to being ranked 14th in the country in sacks per game (2.77) and 25th in passing efficiency defense (112.30). UO was the Pac-10’s best team in rushing defense (118.6 avg.), passing defense (197.4 avg.) and total defense (316.0 avg.) in league games, while allowing the fewest opponent touchdowns (23). The Ducks also allowed an average of only 11.6 points per game in their first five league appearances.
Continuing to mentor the Oregon defense with his familiar aggressive and innovative flair, the 36-year coaching veteran is one of the school’s most popular assistants in recent memory. Returning to the position prior to the 1999 season where he enjoyed his greatest success, the energetic Aliotti has completed 20 overall campaigns with the Ducks (not including two years as a graduate assistant).
In addition to continuing to coordinate the program’s defensive efforts, Aliotti added the responsibility of overseeing the program’s strong side linebackers in 2009.
While he’ll always be credited as a major contributor to the ‘94 conference championship campaign, his recent coaching efforts have been among his best despite an era that emphasizes offensive productivity.
Oregon produced its best regular-season stand against the run in seven years in 2010 with numbers that ranked tops in the Pac-10 (117.6 avg.) while also pacing the league in fewest third and fourth-down conversions.
In 2007, Oregon led the nation in tackles for loss (9.38 avg.) in addition to ranking third in red zone defense and tied for 15th in sacks (3.0 avg.) while leading the Pac-10 in turnover margin (18th nationally). His defenders led the conference in pass defense (20th in the country) in 2006 for the third time in seven seasons, and in total defense (357.7 avg.) in 2005 for the first time since 1958. The Ducks also gave up their fewest yards of total defense (322.1 avg.) in 11 years in 2006, allowed their fewest points per game (23.2 avg.) in four years in 2005 and ranked 10th in the country in turnover margin, thanks in part to 23 interceptions (Oregon’s best since 1968) -- the second-most in the country in 2005.
Employing a philosophy of focusing on opponents’ running game, he helped Oregon rank 16th nationally against the run (107.1 avg.) in 2003. During the Ducks’ Fiesta Bowl season of 2001, Oregon limited teams to 115.3 avg. on the ground -- its best since its 1994 Rose Bowl run -- while ranking second in the league. For his efforts that season, Aliotti was rewarded by being an AFLAC National Assistant Coach of the Year recipient.
Under his guidance, Oregon’s defense has held at least five of its opponents at 100 yards or less per game rushing in seven of the last 12 years, including six foes below the century mark in 2008. However, few performances may have been more impressive than limiting No. 3 Michigan to a paltry -3 rushing yards in the 31-27 upset of the Wolverines in 2003. Another equally impressive performance included limiting the ground attack of Colorado to just 49 yards in the 2002 Fiesta Bowl triumph. In 2004, the Ducks’ defense stood tall against Stanford, holding the Cardinal to -8 yards rushing in a 16-13 Oregon victory in Palo Alto, Calif.
The 58-year-old’s additional career highlights include taking a unit ranked eighth in the Pac-10 in defense in the first year of his previous Oregon tenure in 1993 and molding it into one that ranked among the nation’s top-20 defending the run (12th, 112.4 avg.), pass (14th) and in scoring defense (20th, 17.7 avg.). He also helped design defenses which finished among the top 20 nationally in one of four major defensive categories on 10 occasions.
During his Oregon tenure, he has mentored 29 defensive players selected in the NFL draft, including 2005 first-round pick Haloti Ngata.
After his departure following the school’s first outright Pac-10 title ever and its first Rose Bowl appearance in 37 years, the Northern California native served as a defensive assistant and special teams coach with the St. Louis Rams from1995-97.
Aliotti broke into the coaching ranks as running backs coach at his alma mater, UC Davis (1976), before beginning a two-year stint as a graduate assistant at Oregon (1978). His coaching tenure includes stops at Oregon State (1980-83) and Chico State (1984-87) before returning to Oregon as outside linebackers coach in 1988.
Following three years in the NFL, he returned to the collegiate ranks in 1998 as defensive coordinor at UCLA before returning to Eugene in 1999.
As a player, he was a three-year letterman as a running back at UC Davis, earning freshman team MVP honors in 1972 and Far Western Conference accolades his senior season.
Aliotti and his wife, Kathryn, are parents of one son, Michael, and one daughter, Nicole.