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Bellotti Rejects Move to USC

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

For the second time in as many days, USC fell short in its bid to hire a high-profile coach to take the place of the fired Paul Hackett.

Oregon’s Mike Bellotti, the most recent focus of the Trojan search, announced Sunday that he intends to sign a seven-year contract to remain in Eugene.

Speaking by telephone from his office, Bellotti said he made up his mind Sunday morning and called the decision “very difficult, the most difficult of my life.”

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“The most important factor for me was my family,” he said. “I live three miles from my job. My kids and my wife can come over or ride their bikes over every day to watch practice.”

The news broke a little more than 24 hours after another prospect from the Pacific Northwest, Dennis Erickson, announced he was staying at Oregon State.

It now becomes unclear where USC will turn.

Though the university has expressed a willingness to pay $1 million or more a year, many top names in the college game--including Dennis Franchione of Alabama and Randy Walker of Northwestern--have taken new jobs or signed extensions.

A number of NFL coaches have been mentioned by the media, including Mike Riley of the San Diego Chargers, Norv Turner of the Washington Redskins and former Jet and Patriot coach Pete Carroll, whose daughter, Jaime, plays on the USC women’s volleyball team.

Other prospects include Turner’s brother Ron, who coaches at Illinois, and Bruce Snyder, recently fired from Arizona State.

USC Athletic Director Mike Garrett ruled out few possibilities when speaking to reporters after Hackett’s firing last Monday, but stated a preference for a coach with a successful college record.

Bellotti fit the bill, stringing together six winning seasons and five postseason appearances at Oregon.

His 9-2 Ducks are headed for the Holiday Bowl later this month.

The Trojans were reportedly prepared to pay him more than $1 million a year.

Bellotti remained vague about details, saying only that USC was among several schools with which he had discussions.

“I feel like it is a great job,” he said. “I’m feeling complimented that they would be interested in me.”

But his affinity for living in Eugene was well known and it appears that he will accept less money to remain there.

Though his extension is not finalized, Oregon officials estimated it will raise his base salary from $400,000 to $600,000 a year. Incentives could push that total close to $1 million.

More important, Bellotti said much of the money is guaranteed and there is an increased buyout should he be fired--a measure of job security he wanted after what he characterized as the “sobering” ousters of Snyder and Dick Tomey at Arizona.

Oregon officials have pledged to provide extensions for Bellotti’s staff too, another matter of concern for the coach.

“No one can tell you what to do,” Bellotti said. “It comes down to what you think is best for you and your family.”

At Oregon State, Erickson was said to be similarly concerned about quality of life.

On Sunday, as his players celebrated their invitation to the Fiesta Bowl, Erickson offered another reason for staying put.

The coach talked about his history of leaving previous jobs to jump to higher-profile schools.

“I didn’t feel very good about myself doing it,” he told the Associated Press. “I left Washington State after two years, I left Wyoming after a year . . . I could not get myself to do it again, to do it to this university and to do it to those players.”

Oregon State signed Erickson to the equivalent of a four-year extension that runs through 2007 and could pay him nearly $7 million over the life of the contract.

At Oregon, Bellotti has said he does not expect to sign his extension until after a recruiting trip that will keep him out of town through Friday. Asked if he was keeping his options open until then, he replied, “I’m not.”

“I have a good job,” he said. “I have a good situation here.”

Though USC went 0 for 2 with the Oregon coaches this weekend--just as the team did against the Ducks and the Beavers this season--Bellotti believes the Trojans will find another candidate.

“I think it’s a certainly a great opportunity for somebody,” he said.

“It has a capacity to be as good a job as there is.”


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