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In a high-pressure environment, Dan Lanning emerges as a natural-born leader

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Often times in college football, the sporting world at large will look at a new head coach and recite the idiom that there isn’t too much pressure in the first season because they simply need to show that they can be competent at first, and lay the groundwork for a successful tenure.

That’s not the case for Dan Lanning.

He comes to Eugene as the youngest head coach in Oregon Ducks history, having never been a head coach before. Sure, he was the defensive coordinator for the defending champion Georgia Bulldogs, but even then, his focus was able to be put squarely on one side of the ball, doing everything he could to tune up what was one of the most talented units in recent college football history.


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In Eugene, though, there are high expectations to hold.

Now he has to expand that role, and widen his scope of concerns. Beyond the simple X’s and O’s, Lanning is now a CEO in charge of personnel, recruiting, scheming, game-planning, and a whole number of things that fans never think about. On top of that, during his first offseason, Lanning was dealt an increased load of NIL muddying the transfer portal waters, a changing college landscape through conference realignment, and the tragic death of one of his players.

Through it all, he has taken everything on the chin and become a better coach, and a better person.

I asked several of the players at Oregon’s 2022 Media Day about Dan, and how they felt about him after watching him work for the past several months. One word came up often — leadership. Whether it was through organized team activities, daily practices, or the things he does to steer the program in the right direction off of the field, there’s a clear consensus that Lanning is a person worthy of following.


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“I would have never guessed this is his first time being a head coach,” QB Ty Thompson said. “He’s an outstanding coach and it just comes naturally to him like in front of team meetings. He’s just a natural leader, a natural head coach.”

Of course, I asked Lanning about how he felt he was stepping into this new role, and if preparing for this year was far and away different from years past. To nobody’s surprise, he quickly turned the conversation to those around him, and how much they have helped him during the process.

“By no means do I have an ego to the standpoint of where I don’t want to hear outside input,” Lanning said. “Really from our coaching staff, I went and hired the absolute best of the best because I value their opinion, and I think they can do a really good job. So I’ve been fortunate to be and have guys on our staff that are willing to bring innovative ideas and make sure that we’re hitting everything that has to be hit.”


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One of the biggest areas where that coaching staff is going to help Lanning is during his first season on the field as he works to transition from strictly a defensive coach to more of a CEO-type figure. That entails knowing the ins and outs of the offense, the special teams, the blocking schemes, and of course, his bread and butter in the front seven.

To help grow his knowledge of all of those aspects, Lanning can commonly be found in the back of offensive position group meetings as if he were another player on the depth chart.

“He’s answering questions in the back, and he’s volunteering himself to learn stuff on the offense,” Thompson said. “He’s done a really good job of holding himself accountable to learn more and more things because he’s got to be a well-rounded head coach.”

If you’re thinking that there’s no way a head coach can simply have his hand in every pot of a successful organization, I don’t blame you. I wondered the same thing.

“I’ll say this, I probably wake up in the middle of the night a little more often now than I have in the past,” Lanning said. “And you gotta lean over on your bed and write down a note or a thought for the next day. You just want to make sure you cross all your T’s and dot all your I’s.


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“When you look at it from a big picture lens as a head coach, there are a lot more pieces that I’m really focused on,” Lanning continued. “I think you got to be the leader at the job that you’re in. And my job right now involves seeing all facets. And I probably can’t have my hand as far in the defense as I want to, or as I have in the past because that allows me to make sure I’m in offensive meetings and seeing what we’re doing on that side of the ball or special teams. And to be honest, it’s really fun.”

To be honest, it seems so far like he’s really good at it.

“It all comes so naturally to him,” Thompson said.

Thus far during his tenure at Oregon, the measure of success has been pretty low. In the offseason, a team works in the dark and tries to grow behind closed doors. Spring ball went off without a hitch, and a successful recruiting cycle is off and running, already with the highest-rated QB commit in school history.

Pretty soon, though, the outside world is going to get a crack at evaluating Lanning as a head coach. From there, we’re going to get a good look at the groundwork he’s laid during his seven months with the Ducks and determine whether or not it’s sturdy enough to build a program that meets the standards of the masses.

The pressure will be incredibly high, and it’s hard to find bigger stakes than a season-opener against the defending champions, not to mention Lanning’s former team. Oregon fans can be nervous about that matchup, but throughout talking to all of the players on Wednesday, there’s a sense of calm confidence that can be felt throughout the team.

They’re following Dan Lanning into the fire. He’s a natural.


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Story originally appeared on Ducks Wire