EUGENE — Nick Aliotti has finally stopped to smell the roses.
And reflect on the Rose Bowls.
While the Ducks grind their way through long August practices, meetings and film sessions, Oregon’s former defensive coordinator is savoring retirement.
Aliotti, 60, isn’t sweating through a fall training camp as a player or coach for the first time in 48 years.
“I’m really happy,” Aliotti said. “It’s amazing how busy you are.”
Since Aliotti’s storied career at Oregon ended with his defense smothering Texas in an Alamo Bowl victory, he has gone on a hunting trip to Argentina, spent 10 days in Maui with his wife, Kathy, vacationed in Palm Springs and made his annual golfing date with his brothers in Lake Tahoe.
Technically, Aliotti will still be working in the conference, although he considers his new position as an analyst for the Pac-12 Networks as more of a hobby. Doing television in the fall will still allow him to spend quality time with his family.
The blunt Aliotti breaking down Mike Leach’s offense against Don Pellum’s defense? That will be must-see TV for college football fans.
“Am I a natural? I don’t know. I hope I am natural. I want to be me, I don’t want to be phony,” Aliotti said. “I’m a coach, so I want to be truthful, but I want to be careful on how I state things. There will probably be a time where I step on some coaches’ toes. I don’t want to be that guy, but I do want to be truthful and true to myself and be myself.”
Aliotti believes Pellum, his longtime linebackers coach, will thrive as the program’s defensive coordinator.
“I think he’ll do great. It’s like the old Kung fu movies, he has snatched the pebble,” Aliotti said. “Grasshopper has snatched the pebble and now it’s his turn.”
Players have talked about Pellum’s discipline and rigorous attention to detail since he took charge of the defense. When announcing the hire, Mark Helfrich cited the example of how all of the linebackers lined their backpacks up outside of Pellum’s office and filed orderly in and out of the position meetings as a detail that had stuck with him.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that they love and will love playing for that guy,” Helfrich said after Tuesday’s practice. “Again, that’s not saying anything about who was here before, as is always the conclusion.”
Aliotti understands how these transitions work. He watched Chip Kelly replace Mike Bellotti and Helfrich replace Kelly.
“You have to remove yourself and be smart enough to know that certain things have to be said whenever there’s a change. Like, what do I hear all the time now? They’re more detail-oriented,” Aliotti said. “I love it. DP is putting a stamp on it. But as far as being detailed, I was detailed. On that field, we were detailed. I wasn’t as stringent with some of those other things off the field.”
The fact that the Ducks hired Pellum instead of bringing in a coordinator from outside the program is a popular move in the locker room. But fall camp isn’t the same without Aliotti’s gravely voice echoing throughout the practice fields.
“I love Coach Al. I think we’re all going to miss him,” outside linebacker Tyson Coleman said. “He’s a great personality. He would always have us laughing in our meeting room. I think he can tone it down and he will be good for the Pac-12 Network.”
Aliotti said he will miss three specific things about coaching.
“Being around the kids, because they’re still kids to me. Being around my defensive staff, because that was always fun in our own little fiefdom, our own little world,” Aliotti said. “And there’s no drug or high better than a win. Nothing. I love winning, I hate losing. If my mom was coming around third base with the winning run, I’d trip her.”
One thing Aliotti won’t miss: The pressure.
“The X’s and the O’s and the strategy of the game, I really liked that part of it. But that can be very stressful, too,” Aliotti said. “Sundays and Mondays, I didn’t sleep very well because there’s a lot going on there.”
Pellum is going to be burning the midnight oil preparing for Connor Halliday, Brett Hundley, Kevin Hogan and Sean Mannion this season. The Pac-12 is loaded at quarterback and offensive coaching savants like Leach, Rich Rodriguez and Chris Petersen.
“It would be tough to be a defensive coach this year,” Aliotti said. “Good luck to them.”