Pacific 10 Football : Oregon State Coach Tries to Make the Most of It

Times Staff Writer

Craig Fertig can laugh now, recalling how careers were altered when he was chosen instead of Terry Donahue to become Oregon State’s football coach in 1976.

“I’ve since told Terry that I wish he had done better on his interview,” joked Fertig, who is now an assistant athletic director at USC.

What was a disappointment to Donahue at the time turned out to be his biggest break.


Donahue, an assistant coach at UCLA, soon became head coach when Dick Vermeil resigned to coach the Philadelphia Eagles. Donahue has gone on to become one of the most successful coaches in the country.

“Not getting the Oregon State job was one of the best things that ever happened to Terry,” Fertig said.

As for Fertig, he struggled to revive a losing Oregon State program for four years until he was fired. His overall record was 9-35-1.

Fertig’s replacement, Joe Avezzano, coached in Corvallis from 1980 through 1984. His record was worse than Fertig’s. He won only six games in five seasons before being released.

Now another coach, Dave Kragthorpe, in his third year, is trying to bring respectability to Oregon State--and it isn’t easy.

He has had consecutive 3-8 seasons, which isn’t all bad when you consider that an Oregon State coach hasn’t won more than three games in a season since Dee Andros had a 5-6 record in 1971.

Oregon State (1-2) will play USC (2-1) Saturday night at the Coliseum, and the Beavers are hardly on a roll.

They’re still wincing from a 61-16 loss to Texas last Saturday. They managed to end San Jose State’s 11-game winning streak Sept. 19 but were routed by Georgia, 41-7, in their opener.

A former offensive coordinator at Brigham Young, Kragthorpe was asked if the Oregon State job has turned out to be a tougher task than he anticipated.

“Yes, it has been tougher than I thought it would be,” he said. “I don’t think I could have imagined that. There is not very good balance in the Pac-10. By that I mean there is a definite upper and lower echelon, and it’s tougher to get in that upper group when you’re not there.

“There are always five or six teams that are really good. Also, we have to play tough nonconference teams for money. That makes it doubly hard.

“I do see the light at the end of the tunnel, except after the Texas game, when there was no light anyplace because of the way we played. Of course, that’s a temporary setback. The best thing we can do about the Texas game is forget it.

“All in all, the program has gotten a little better each year, but it’s going to take a lot of time.”

Recruiting is a problem for Oregon and Oregon State in a state with a population base of about 2 million.

“In this past recruiting year, the top three or four players left the state, so neither Oregon nor ourselves got them,” Kragthorpe said. “That’s really a difficult situation. The first thing we have to do is keep the best players in the state because there aren’t that many of them, due to the (lack of) population.”

Fertig empathizes with Kragthorpe. He said that when he was Oregon State’s coach, the school was obliged to play demanding intersectional opponents such as LSU and Tennessee to get big paydays.

“Then, we’d come home to meet USC, UCLA and Washington, and we didn’t have enough people,” he said. “We were all beat up.”

Oregon State’s future schedule isn’t as demanding, though. The Beavers’ nonconference opponents include such schools as Fresno State, San Jose State and Boise State, although Nebraska is on the schedule in 1989 and 1990.

That won’t be a picnic because even the strong schools in the Pac-10, such as UCLA and Arizona State, can’t beat Nebraska.

Fertig says he has many friends in Corvallis and he wants the Beavers to prosper. He said there are some signs that things are on the upswing there.

“One of the big reasons is the change in the presidency from Robert MacVicar to John Byrne,” he said. “I think Byrne is an athletics-oriented man. They tell me they’re going to dome their football stadium. They’ve expanded Gill Coliseum (used for basketball) and refurbished it.

“Their facilities were lousy when I got there, as far as recruiting goes. I didn’t even have a weight room. I spent a lot of my time raising money to get better facilities instead of coaching the fullbacks. I even had my players paint the stadium one summer.

“They used to think the magic wand would be waved by the coach that came in. A coach can only do so much. Eventually, you have to play.”

Fertig said he realized he was in a no-win situation in his second season after meeting with Tommy Prothro, a former successful coach at Oregon State and UCLA.

“Tommy told me, ‘Craig, you’re not going to win here,’ ” Fertig said. “He said times had changed and that I wasn’t going to get the kind of players that he got out of California. He was right.”

Not only has Nebraska beaten UCLA and Arizona State, regarded as the Pac-10’s best teams, some of the Cornhuskers dismissed the entire conference as being inferior to the Big Eight.

“I don’t think the Pac-10 is what it used to be,” Nebraska quarterback Steve Taylor said after his team beat Arizona State, 35-28. “It’s not as physical as the Big Eight, not as strong.”

Another Cornhusker, split end Rod Smith, dismissed the Pac-10 as “a finesse league,” resorting more to trickery than hard-hitting football.

Donahue wouldn’t comment on such slights, saying only, “Winners talk, losers walk.”

He wondered, however, how Taylor was qualified to know how the Pac-10 used to be.

USC Coach Larry Smith said the Pac-10 has proven over the years that it is a quality conference.

“People talk down to the Pac-10, but when it comes to the 10th, 11th and 12th games of the season, I don’t think you’ll find four or five teams in the country in one conference that are any better, and it has been proven in bowl games,” Smith said. “Our conference is so important because of the Rose Bowl that the best football is played in the last three or four weeks.”

Nebraska and Oklahoma are among the dominant teams in the country. As for the Big Eight, Oregon State probably would thrive if Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State were on the conference schedule.

Pac-10 Notes It’s only early October, but some Pacific 10 teams are already experiencing quarterback problems. Arizona has lost Bobby Watters with a broken thumb. Washington’s Chris Chandler is playing with a deep chest bruise. The Arizona State coaching staff has criticized Daniel Ford for throwing two late interceptions against Nebraska and has hinted that red-shirt freshman Paul Justin will get more playing time. Even Stanford, which is renowned for its outstanding starting quarterbacks, is contemplating a change from senior Greg Ennis to sophomore Scott Stark. . . . An early assessment of the Pac-10: Oregon, at 2-1, is the surprise team. Stanford (0-3) has been the most disappointing. Washington, despite its 3-1 record, is not playing up to preseason expectations. It’s wait and see on the others. . . . Paul Williams, an assistant trainer at USC for 18 years, will be working his last game Saturday night. He’s leaving USC to enter private practice.