A year ago this month, everyone thought—in fact, everyone knew—that Oregon State football coach Joe Avezzano would be fired. After all, his four-year record was 4-38-2, worst in the nation among big football schools, unless you consider Eastern Michigan (3-39-1) a biggie. It took three coaches to make a mess in Ypsilanti; Avezzano had done it all by himself in Corvallis.
Even Avezzano felt he was heading for the dumper. But despite the athletic board voting 11-5 for Joe to go and athletic director Dee (The Great Pumpkin) Andros telling friends that Avezzano would soon be seeing Corvallis in a rear-view mirror, Avezzano kept his job. "I guess if you judge by the record, I should be fired," he said. "When I compare this record with my ability, it's ridiculous to say I'm not embarrassed. But you tell a team they're expected to produce, you tell them what to do—and then they either do or don't."
In 1984 the Beavers, again, didn't. With a 31-6 loss to Oregon last Saturday, Oregon State finished the year at 2-9. That means that Avezzano and OSU now have the worst five-year record in America (6-47-2).
It appears that Avezzano will get no chance to amass the worst six-year record in America. At press time his firing appeared imminent. Oregon State has a new president, John Byrne, and he has made it clear that he intends to straighten out the football situation pronto so he can concentrate on bigger things—like running the university.
Certainly, Beaver fans have had it with Avezzano. "No other university in the country would put up with this," grouses former Oregon State all-conference center Greg Krpalek. Professor Pete Fuller-ton, president of the faculty senate, says of Avezzano's won-lost record, "It's just plain unacceptable."
So why did Avezzano get to hang around for 1984? On the surface, it appears the reason is that Robert Mac Vicar, Byrne's predecessor, had a splendid attitude about the place of football in higher education. "If winning means everything in college football, how can we claim it's educational?" MacVicar said in August. "What we say is that if you lose, you haven't learned anything. And the fact is, you often learn more by things you do wrong than by things you do right."
It should also be pointed out that Mac-Vicar was getting no help from Andros, who should have been his No. 1 adviser on deciding Avezzano's fate. The wishy-washy Andros even showed up at one key meeting with MacVicar with two recommendations in his pocket—one supporting Avezzano, the other recommending he be fired. Ultimately, Andros sensed what MacVicar wanted and pulled out the recommendation favoring retention.
Alas, when MacVicar tried to justify his last-minute decision to keep Avezzano, he fumbled. First, MacVicar said that he could not fire anyone "without adequate cause." By any standards, 4-38-2 was adequate cause. Then he pointed to the fact that "everyone agrees there has been improvement." Wrong again. For example, the Beavers' average margin of defeat in 1980 was 25.27 points; last year it was nearly a point higher. "We have made progress," says Avezzano, "but it's hard to show." Then MacVicar said the football players were doing better in class. Wrong again. In the 1980-81 winter semester, 34% of Oregon State's players were academically deficient; in the same semester in 1983-84, that figure had risen to 50%. Finally, MacVicar expressed the logical, albeit quaint notion, that the school should fulfill the final year of Avezzano's contract. Given the way contracts are dishonored these days, everyone smiled at that one.
What really happened last November was that MacVicar was dissuaded from firing Avezzano by the coach's high-rolling friends. One of them, Frank Ramsey of Corvallis, who has the Coca-Cola franchise from Sacramento to Roseburg, Ore., pushed MacVicar hard to keep Avezzano. "He's a tough s.o.b. to convince," says Ramsey. Jon Walker of Albany, Ore., insists, "The message we gave MacVicar was that we preferred Avezzano be kept, but no matter what the decision, we would remain OSU supporters. We didn't apply pressure."
Because Avezzano stayed, the Beavers' program deteriorated even further. Season-ticket sales declined from 5,500 a year ago to 5,000. Recruiting remained poor, especially in Oregon. For instance, last year two star prospects who grew up in the shadow of Parker Stadium, defensive tackle Mike Zandofsky of Corvallis and linebacker Bo Yates of nearby Lebanon, both went north to Washington.
Some Oregon State players do seem to have their flaws. On the Friday night before the UCLA game in Los Angeles (a 26-17 loss), six team members were caught boozing and carrying on in a room at the Pasadena Holiday Inn. Among the revellers were starting quarterback Ricky Greene and his backup, Steve Steenwyk.
So it somehow seemed fitting in Saturday's rain and fog and gloom in Corvallis that the Beavers put on their worst performance of the year. Individual Beavers repeatedly lined up incorrectly on offense, which contributed to the fact that Oregon State averaged only 2.2 yards per play, while Oregon averaged 5.95. The Beavers' punting game was in total disarray; following an injury to Oregon State's punter, Chip Stempeck, several weeks ago, a desperate Avezzano pleaded in the school newspaper for any student who would like to punt to come do it. One did, Dave Brundage, a centerfielder for the Beaver baseball team. Brundage proved to be a good sport but a terrible punter. He was involved in several debacles Saturday, including dropping a snap while trying to punt from the end zone; Oregon, which ended the year at a much improved 6-5, promptly scored.
Later, in the dressing room, a crushed Avezzano admitted he figured the worst his team would do in '84 was 4-7. A well-wisher stuck his head in the door and said, "Win some and lose some."
"Yes, indeed," said Avezzano.
"Can't cry over spilled milk."
"You're right again," said Avezzano.
Then he gathered himself together and walked out into the gloom, saying, "Nothing is as bad as it seems, or as good as it seems."