Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum moves from the sideline to the booth

An article written for the Daily Emerald about Oregon football’s defensive coordinator Don Pellum moving from the field up into the booth during games.


Defensive coordinator Don Pellum walks into the locker room. The No. 12 Oregon Ducks play the Georgia State Panthers in Eugene Oregon on September 19, 2015. (Cole Elsasser/Emerald)

Oregon football fans may have noticed someone missing from the sidelines this season, a man who not only runs the Ducks’ defense, but also has been labeled one of the best-dressed coordinators in the nation.

Don Pellum, a veteran of the program and entering his second season as defensive coordinator, is coaching from the booth instead of the sidelines.

“I decided to go up there and operate from a different perspective,” Pellum said after the season opener against Eastern Washington.

The biggest benefit to moving up to the booth is it removes the distractions of the game that prevent level-headed decisions. Football is an emotional sport, where impulsive reactions can spell disaster in a game that often comes down to inches. According to Oregon linebackers coach Erik Chinander, being up in the booth removes the excess noise and, most importantly, allows for a more analytical approach.

“I like it because it slows the game down, like watching tape,” Chinander said. “[It] takes the emotion out of the game so you make decisions on what you planned and prepared for and not what you feel.”

Chinander made the opposite move this season. Previously he had been up in the booth for 12 years. But, with Pellum leaving the sideline, coaches like Chinander, John Neal (defensive backs) and Ron Aiken (defensive line) have stepped up to fill the void by communicating with players directly.

That is the biggest issue with being in the booth, because it can sometimes become a sterile environment. You are unable to communicate directly with the players.

“The nice thing is when you are down on the field, you can get closer to players,” Pellum said. “I can talk to you, see where you are.”

Players can feed off the energy from a coach like Pellum. He is detail oriented, demanding the best from his athletes with high standards and expectations. Everybody knows their assignment and plays with the correct techniques.

“This year, it is kind of weird not having him on the sidelines,” Oregon senior defensive lineman DeForest Buckner said. “Especially when we get off the field after a drive and the whole defense gets together to talk about what’s wrong and what happened.”

Communication amongst the coaches is the way to keep things running smoothly. Now, it is Pellum relaying down to the field what he wants to see happen. Before the change, it was the assistants making slight adjustments. This poses a bigger issue if things aren’t relayed correctly.

“I think there is always an adjustment period no matter how many times you practice,” Chinander said. “Doesn’t matter if I’m up there or he is. There is always going to be some communication issues.”

Three games into the season, nothing disastrous has occurred so far. As the year progresses, the kinks will continue to be worked out. As for the players missing their coach on the sidelines during the game, he’s only a phone call away.

“He said if we ever need to talk with him, just pick up the red phone,” Buckner said.