Oregon suspends ex-USF strength coach after players are hospitalized

Defensive tackle Todd Chandler shakes the water from his hair during practice at the USF Morsani Football Practice Complex on USF campus Monday August 4, 2014. This was the first USF football team preseason practice and was open for the public.
Defensive tackle Todd Chandler shakes the water from his hair during practice at the USF Morsani Football Practice Complex on USF campus Monday August 4, 2014. This was the first USF football team preseason practice and was open for the public.
Published Jan. 18, 2017

TAMPA — A day after reports surfaced that three Oregon football players had been hospitalized following an intense offseason workout, the school suspended new strength and conditioning coach Irele Oderinde — who followed coach Willie Taggart there from USF — for a month without pay Tuesday.

Three time zones to the southeast, several of Oderinde's old pupils — former USF players — expressed support for the barrel-chested former collegiate defensive tackle they called "Coach O."

"When I actually sat around and thought about it, talked to a couple of my teammates … what it all boils down to is a lack of preparation," former USF nose tackle Todd Chandler said earlier Tuesday. "(The hospitalized kids) weren't prepared for the workout."

Oregon said Oderinde henceforth will report to its director of performance and sports science, and not Taggart.

Taggart, who left USF for Oregon last month, apologized in a statement.

"As the head football coach, I hold myself responsible for all of our football-related activities, and the safety of our students must come first," he said. "I have addressed the issue with our strength and conditioning staff, and I fully support the actions taken today by the university."

Oderinde, who played at Western Kentucky when Taggart was a Hilltoppers assistant, arrived at USF in 2014 and was among the handful of Bulls staffers Taggart took with him to Oregon.

Dozens of Bulls alumni endured presumably the same conditioning regimen that now has sparked national controversy.

The (Portland) Oregonian, which broke the news of the player hospitalizations, reported that the Ducks' workouts were described "as akin to military basic training, with one said to include up to an hour of continuous push-ups and up-downs."

The newspaper also reported that one of the hospitalized players, offensive lineman Sam Poutasi, had been diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a syndrome of major muscle breakdown that could lead to kidney damage, and death in extreme cases.

All three players remained hospitalized, the Oregonian reported.

The former USF players reached Tuesday said no Oderinde workout ever resulted in a Bulls player being hospitalized.

"Of course not," Chandler said.

They agreed the drills were excruciating and demanded precision. Rest and proper hydration beforehand were prerequisites.

The news from Oregon "sounds really, really bad, but at the end of the day (Oderinde's) not going to make you do something that's not reasonable," said former Bulls right tackle Mak Djulbegovic, a Carrollwood Day alumnus whose playing career ended in 2015.

"Sure, it'll be very difficult, but if you don't take the right steps to be ready for these things, you might wind up in the hospital, as these kids found out. Hopefully they learned their lesson."

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Chandler, who finished his career in 2014, said an exorbitant amount of push-ups or up-downs occasionally was required, but only because they weren't done correctly the first time. "I remember one day we actually did almost 200 up-downs, but all that does is just instill discipline," said Chandler, now employed at an alternative school in Seffner. "That gets everybody on one accord. That makes it a team atmosphere where everybody trusts the next man that he's going to do his job."

Former Bulls walk-on quarterback/receiver Tommy Eveld said Oderinde's attention to detail was a direct reflection of Taggart.

"If he made (the Oregon players) do up-downs for an hour straight, it might have had something to do with somebody wasn't doing them the way he expected and he just made them keep going until the whole team was doing them right together," said Eveld, who spent 2013 and '14 in the football program before opting for a baseball career.

Moreover, ample rest periods and water were afforded participants during the workouts, the former Bulls said.

"Absolutely," Djulbegovic said.

Eveld recalled some workouts consisting of "stations" featuring five to 10 minutes of a demanding exercise. More than one group usually was assigned to one station, he said, allowing players to rest or grab water while waiting for another group to finish.

And anyone who did lag was likely to be sent home by Oderinde well before requiring hospitalization, Chandler said.

"Coach O is a good dude, too," Eveld said. "He wouldn't run you into the ground and put you in the hospital."