Merely a month into his new position as coach of the Oregon Ducks, former USF coach Willie Taggart already has the first controversy on his hands in Eugene.
According to a report by The Oregonian on Monday, three Ducks players were hospitalized due to soreness from overexertion during the initial workouts after returning to campus from winter break.
The report also stated that one of those three players, offensive lineman Sam Poutasi, was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a condition in which muscle tissue breaks down into the blood stream after someone has been exposed to intense workouts. The condition can lead to long-term kidney damage.
Oregon responded swiftly by suspending strength and conditioning coach Irele Oderinde, who recently joined Taggart in the switch from USF to Oregon, for a month without pay. Oderinde also must now report to the director of performance and sports science, Andrew Murray rather than Taggart, the school announced in a press release.
The immediate reaction on social media saw people calling for Oderinde’s job and for the NCAA to step in. However, Oderinde’s players from both Oregon and USF felt the need to voice their support despite the claims against the strength coach.
“It really irks me that people are blaming him for this,” former USF quarterback Steven Bench said. “If you think about it, the reports before were the guys at Oregon didn’t work hard enough and were cutting corners in the weight room. That was the report before they hired coach O and then this happens.
“And it’s unfortunate and it’s not a joke and I’m not blowing off what has happened. But, Oregon went 4-8, they haven’t played a game or done anything active since the end of November, maybe the first week of December. Now, we’re in the third week of January and they have to start workouts. Think about it, they haven’t done anything for almost two months.”
Former USF defensive tackle Todd Chandler also said he also believes some Oregon players weren’t ready for the intensity of Oderinde’s typical workouts after some time off.
Both Bench and Chandler said they never witnessed a player pass out or have to be taken to the hospital in two years under Oderinde’s training.
“I thought (the report) was a joke at first to be honest,” Chandler said. “A lot of college players after a hard work out will say they have to go to the hospital. I thought it was a joke, especially because Oregon is a top program.
When I saw it wasn’t a joke, I never thought, ‘What did coach O have them doing?’ because I’ve been under coach O. It was, ‘What were those players doing the weeks before. You can’t half-ass coach O’s workouts, you have to get the proper rest and hydration.”
The workouts, which The Oregonian described as “grueling and akin to basic military training” and included up to an hour of continuous up-downs and push-ups, were nothing out of the norm when Oderinde was at USF, Bench said.
“All of us did (those workouts), absolutely,” Bench said. “Were they easy? Hell no. Look, what I’ve read, it sounds like they went through the first day of coach O’s workout and they have a warm-up to do. In that warm-up, if you do it wrong, you start over.”
“The problem is, you could start over for the whole time. Literally just over and over again the entire period you’re supposed to be lifting. So your lift could go from an hour-long lift including warm-up to two or three hours because you can’t get the form right. We all did it at USF. Whoever you talk to will tell you the same. Whenever we first started or got back from break, we always started every new period like that. It’s just something he does and it didn’t put any of our players in the hospital.”
Several Ducks players wrote their support for their strength coach on Twitter, even going as far as to call out teammates for being out of shape.
Oregon junior receiver Darren Carrington II wrote, “How do you suspend a man for three players being out of shape? All I can say is wow!”
Some Ducks players took exception with how the workouts were being classified, saying they were being exaggerated, leading to several players from both Oregon and USF to start the hashtag “#FreeCoachO.”
Though Chandler said the workouts were physically demanding, he never witnessed Oderinde push a player past his limits.
“It was never like he wanted to run you into the ground,” Chandler said. “His workouts aren’t for punishment. My freshmen year when I was under that strength coach, his workouts were for punishment. He would run us into the ground and have players pulling hamstrings. Coach O is more about taking care of your body and doing it the right way.”