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So long, Len

Oregon editors say

Sports legend Len Casanova was the living symbol of U of O athletics

The (Eugene) Register-Guard

The University of Oregon has more than its share of sports icons, including such legendary figures as Bill Bowerman and Steve Prefontaine. But none is more prominent or revered in this state than Len Casanova.

Until his death on Monday at the venerable age of 97, the former coach and athletic director was the living symbol of Oregon athletics. He was a hard-nosed, resilient and humble leader whose overachieving teams prevailed against long odds and who inspired not only success, but also honor and loyalty from those who took the field under his guidance.

Cas, as he was lovingly known to his vast UO family, coached the Ducks from 1951-1966, compiling an 82-73-8 record, the second most wins in school history. His most memorable game was a loss ' after their 1957 season the Ducks went to the 1958 Rose Bowl, in which Casanova led an upstart Oregon team to a near upset of powerhouse Ohio State.

But bowl appearances and victories were only part of what Casanova brought to Oregon. Just as impressive were Casanova's charisma, his leadership, his willingness to sacrifice, his impeccable ethics, his high standards and, as every last one of his former players will attest, his unabashed love for his former players.

In a column last year, The Register-Guard's Ron Bellamy recounted a story by the late Oregon assistant coach John McKay about how Casanova routinely made his coaches wait when he was in meetings with players about their personal problems. McKay jokingly ' and ever-so-affectionately ' tagged the old coach with the nickname Dear Abby.

Casanova coached two future Hall of Famers at Oregon ' Mel Renfro and Dave Wilcox ' and helped assistants McKay, George Seifert and John Robinson start their own remarkable coaching careers. After coaching 16 years for the Ducks, Casanova served as UO athletic director for four years, and then as the Ducks' athletic director emeritus, a position that melded the roles of adviser, fund-raiser and father figure.

The athletic center at Autzen Stadium is named after Casanova, and for good reason. Bill Moos, the current athletic director, didn't exaggerate one bit when he said, after learning of Casanova's passing, Everything that Oregon athletics is today, it owes to Len Casanova. He has been the pillar, the strength and the inspiration for our program for over 50 years.

Such high praise might have embarrassed Casanova, who appreciated the affection of his former players and Oregon fans, but was never quite at ease being in the public spotlight.

I just did my job, the best I could, he once said.

So he did. And that's exactly what made Len Casanova so exceptional ' and beloved.