Jonathan Smith is a feel-good story for an Oregon State team that really needs one.
The former Beavers quarterback filled the head-coaching vacancy left by Gary Andersen, who abruptly parted ways with the program last October after a 1-5 start. Cornerbacks coach Cory Hall served as interim head coach for the rest of the season, and the Beavers finished 1-11. Oregon State won just seven games during Andersen’s 2½-season stint.
It was a markedly different Oregon State team from the last one Smith played for.
Originally a walk-on, Smith was a four-year starter and helped lead the Beavers to a Fiesta Bowl victory following the 2000 season under coach Dennis Erickson. Smith was MVP of the bowl.
He returns to Corvallis after a stint at Washington, where he was an assistant to head coach Chris Petersen. He followed Petersen to the Huskies from Boise State.
“I kind of came in with all eyes wide open,” Smith said about his first head-coaching gig. “Not doing it before, I knew I was going to learn a ton and experience it. So (I was) expecting the unexpected.”
One of the first things he’s been tasked with is helping the team forget the disappointment and upheaval of last season. Oregon State’s last game was a 69-10 loss to Oregon in the Civil War.
He said he hasn’t dwelled too much on the bad parts.
“I wanted to come in with a message of, ‘I’ve experienced it here. I’ve sat in those seats. I’ve gone through a coaching change when I was a player,’” he said. “It’s been done before. We can do it again. So trying to be authentic that I’ve lived it, and I want to help them do the same.”
Other things to know as Oregon State prepares to begin the 2018 season:
Looking to Luton
Oregon State had high hopes last season for quarterback Jake Luton, a junior college transfer, but his time as starter lasted just four games after he sustained a thoracic spine fracture in a 52-23 loss at Washington State. He finished the season with 853 passing yards with four TDs and four interceptions.
Darell Garretson stepped in and took over, throwing for 1,465 yards with six touchdowns and eight interceptions. He’s since graduated.
Luton is back this year and ready to pick the reins up again. He is being challenged in fall camp by Conor Blount, while Jack Colletto and Nick Moore push for playing time, but the job is Luton’s to lose.
Oregon State’s running game is in rough shape with the departures of Thomas Tyner, Trevorris Johnson and Ryan Nall, who left school early and is now with the Chicago Bears. The top returner is Artavis Pierce, who ranked second on the team behind Nall with 323 yards rushing and one touchdown. Calvin Tyler is the only other rusher with experience. Freshman Jermar Jefferson impressed during a fall camp scrimmage.
Much like Smith, the old Benny Beaver is making his return, too. Oregon State will revive the mascot with special homecoming uniforms on Oct. 20 against Cal. Benny, who wore a jaunty orange OSU hat, was on the team’s helmets back in 1973 and was part of the school’s identity from 1951-98.
Life of Riley
Longtime coach Mike Riley was set to come back to Corvallis as Smith’s assistant, but another job came calling this summer: a head coach post with San Antonio of the new Alliance of American Football league, set to start play next February. Riley has vowed to stay connected with the Beavers, however, and will serve as a consultant to Smith.
It’s not good. Oregon State was picked to finish at the bottom of the Pac-12 North. The Beavers’ schedule features five teams expected to be ranked in the Top 25.
It all starts with the opener: Oregon State is on the road to face Ohio State on Sept. 1. The Buckeyes are experiencing turbulence at the moment, but don’t expect it to have much of an impact on the outcome of this game — the Beavers are 35-point underdogs. The team’s other nonconference games are against Southern Utah and Nevada.