Mighty Weekly: Nate Costa’s Triumphant Return to Oregon Football

This week in Oregon football consists of an ode to backup quarterbacks as Nate Costa is back, and why it would be okay if Rob Mullens decided to leave for the SEC.

The Footbridge Focus

Chip Kelly made a fantastic decision by hiring Nate Costa at UCLA and has made yet another career misstep by letting him slip away.

Former UCLA Analyst and the greatest PAT holder in the history of college football, Nate Costa, is officially heading back to Eugene. Per Bruce Feldman of The Athletic, “Nate the Great” will be stepping in as an offensive analyst for the Ducks. And he’ll be bringing much more to the table than just his clutch field goal holding genes.

Costa’s career as a Duck quarterback is one of legend and heartbreak. He suffered three separate knee injuries, one of those coming two weeks before the 2008 season (where he was named the starter).

Injuries—as well as the ascensions of Masoli and Darron Thomas—pushed Costa down the depth chart, but he was always the ultimate teammate. During the 2009 and 2010 seasons, Costa stepped up multiple times in his own renditions of “Graziani Games” against “lesser” Pac-10 competition in order to give Masoli and Thomas time to recover from their respective minor injuries.

For the uninitiated, I am morally (and probably legally) obligated to emphasize just how important Nate Costa was to the 2010 Rose Bowl team. He is the only reason the Ducks were able to survive the eventual double overtime death match against Arizona in Tucson. “Nate the Natural” recovered an awful snap and managed to hold it just right for a game-tying Morgan Flint PAT. Of all the magical things that happened in that game, and in that season, only “The Nate Gatsby” could make a hold the most iconic of them all.

Costa helped coach offense during the Helfrich regime, and then became the Offensive Coordinator & QB Coach at IMG Academy before joining Chip at UCLA. There’s no doubt that Nate’s leadership qualities, as well as his time spent in close proximity to Chip Kelly’s brain, makes him the perfect wartime consigliere to spice up Arroyo’s offense and mentor Herbie.

Sun and/or Shadow of the Week

James Crepea of the Oregonian reported that UO “Athletic Director” Rob Mullens may be a top candidate for Texas A&M’s newly open AD position, and the thought of Mullens shipping off to the SEC comes with its own set of pros and cons.

On one hand, he managed to hire coaches like Kelly Graves and Matt Ulmer. And he helped to guide the building and immediate expansion of Jane Sanders Stadium. And he also extended Dana Altman for the rest of his life, so that’s pretty cool too.

Mullens has a financial background, and there is no doubt that he has showed an incredible ability to make the Athletic Department money. In his decade-long tenure, he also poured that money into projects like the Jaqua Center, the Hatfield-Dowling Football Complex, Pape’ Field, and the aforementioned Jane.

The Oregon brand has grown immensely over the last decade, and I won’t ignore the fact that Rob Mullens has been an integral leader of that growth. But at what cost?

On the other, sleazier, hand, Mullens hired the clearly loyal—and not at all without a track record of abandoning programs—Willie Taggart. He even searched for Taggart without returning any of then-Head Coach Mark Helfrich’s phone calls. He allowed Helf to field post-game interviews without giving him the courtesy of telling him his job status.

Hindsight aside, Mullens swept into Eugene and shoved Helfrich—along with three decades of Oregon Football family on his staff—out the door in the most shameful, sleazeball fashion. Mullens’ firing style put a black mark on the program in the eyes of alumni, especially ones that played for storied assistants like Gary Campbell and Steve Greatwood, that is only now beginning to be repaired.

Mullens also failed to retain Softball Head Coach Mike White by refusing to pay him what he clearly deserved. White lead the Ducks to the Women’s College World Series in five of eight seasons, but when the University of Texas at Austin offered him more money, and Rob wouldn’t match that offer, White skipped town and took most of his elite players along with him.

Alright. I think I’m pretty much done with hating on Rob Mullens. For now.

Along with his AD position, Mullens serves as the head of the College Football Playoff selection committee. Even with the petty and serious issues I have with the guy, I can absolutely admit that he did a great job last season as the public spokesperson for the committee.

Not only was he the only reason the Ducks were ever mentioned in the CFP conversation, but he was also incredibly transparent when fielding questions about each selection decision. I don’t even blame him for the fact that Notre Dame made the Playoff despite clearly not belonging since we all know that decision came from a much Higher Power.

In the end, I personally don’t even think Mullens will end up going to Texas A&M. TAMU could offer him a lot more than what he’s getting paid at Oregon right now, but the SEC community and Jimbo Fisher provide very little margin for error.

I honestly wouldn’t mind keeping Mullens around, he has mostly shown that he can get the job done.

UPDATE: Since writing this piece, Austin Meek of the Register-Guard reported that he was told Mullens will not pursue the AD job at Texas A&M at this time. That’s not to say that the SEC or some other big money gig won’t come calling somewhere down the line, but as of right now, Robby is still a Duck. I am indifferent to this news.

Backup QB of the Week

In honor of Costa’s return and Tony Graziani’s second-ever mention in this column, I wanted to continue to give some of the great Duck backups their day in the sun. Justin Roper might not have closed out the tough 2007 Civil War, but he did throw Jeff Maehl his first career touchdown that day.

Dennis Dixon went down in the middle of his Heisman campaign that year, and the Ducks seriously faltered (read: got destroyed) for the next two games. But Roper delivered a highly competitive performance in that double overtime heartbreaker against the Beavs, and went on to set a Brut Sun Bowl record with four touchdowns against Jim Leavitt’s South Florida Bulls.

That was Roper’s redshirt freshman season, and he never did much more for the Ducks before he transferred to Montana in 2009. But to me, Roper will always be remembered as a bright light at the end of a soul-crushing season.

Final Whistle’s Call

This week was just a long-winded double Costa/Mullens rant, but we’re charging into the pit of offseason despair together, and that’s all that matters.

Go Ducks!

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