Dan Lanning With An Impressive 2023 Season, What Now?


Contributor, 750 The Game

Kellen Clemens is the first Oregon quarterback I remember watching as a kid as my attachment to the Ducks began to form. I remember the 2007 season with Dennis Dixon’s knee injury derailing what could have been a national championship season. The Ducks won the Sun Bowl against South Florida and ended the season 9-4.

For the next several years, I didn’t fully realize as a kid how somewhat spoiled I was as a fan of the Ducks. Oregon went on to win 10+ games in each of the next 7 seasons before things took a downturn (and they won 9 in 2015, which would have been 10+ again if Vernon Adams had stayed healthy). That run of success propelled Oregon into the national conversation annually and has reset the expectations for the program.

Dan Lanning just wrapped up year two in Eugene with a 12-win campaign and a dominant Fiesta Bowl win over Liberty. It’s just the 6th time in the history of Oregon football that there’s been a season ending with 12 or more wins. The first season came in Chip Kelly’s second year in 2010, culminating in a gut-wrenching loss in the National Championship to Auburn. It’s been a great run of football for the Ducks, so much so that a 12-win season leaves many fans wanting more.

I don’t think Lanning’s accomplishment this year should be overlooked despite a pair of 3-point shortcomings against Washington. It’s fair to be disappointed in those outcomes, I know I certainly am. It stings even more because it’s…Washington–but the Huskies are making it clear right now they’re very good. They’ll take on Michigan in the National Championship on Monday night after outplaying Texas for 3.9 quarters (what happened in the final minute? I’m still not sure). 

It’s easy to forget that Dan Lanning just finished his second year EVER as a head coach. It’s obviously different from being a coordinator, and that learning curve has been on display over the last two years. Oregon was better in 2023 than 2022, and I think that’s at least in part to Lanning’s growth as a head coach. Kalen DeBoer is very, very good–which doesn’t make Oregon fans happy who might have preferred that Jimmy Lake never threw a punch at his own player’s helmet in 2021. 

Think about it like this: Oregon’s 2nd-year, first-time head coach lost a pair of 3 point games (neither at home) to a guy who’s career head coaching record averages over 10 wins for every 1 loss. He’s also been a head coach for over 115 career games, Lanning has coached 27. That experience gap was on display in the 3-point nail biters this year between the Ducks and the Huskies.

Beating the Huskies is the next step for Dan Lanning. He’s shown he can recruit at a high level, effectively run a program, and put Oregon into the CFP discussion. Washington is going with Oregon to the Big 10, and the “Border War” will now be played during rivalry week in a reshaped world of college football. It’s not hard to see that Washington is the Ducks’ most important game next year given how this season played out. DeBoer isn’t going anywhere, but neither is Lanning.

The evidence we have so far suggests Lanning will continue to improve, but remember he’s already at a pretty high level. This is a guy who went 2-0 against Kyle Whittingham, has beaten multiple ranked teams by double digits, and has yet to lose a game to an unranked foe.

It’s easy to think about this season as “the one where Washington got in the way” for Oregon fans. I get that. The positives are more plentiful than the negatives for Dan Lanning as he looks to 2024 with Dillon Gabriel set to take over at quarterback, and Lanning’s work with his staff on the recruiting/portal fronts should give Duck fans plenty of hope going forward.

Spencer McLaughlin is an Oregon Ducks football contributor to 750 The Game. He also hosts the “Locked On Oregon Ducks” and “Locked On Pac-12” podcasts and has work featured throughout the season here.