It was fight or flight for new Beavers coach Trent Bray, whose sense of loyalty kept him at Oregon State
Well, dear Prizzy, the plane’s on the runway, the engines are humming and there’s a window seat with your name on it. Destination: East Lansing, Michigan. It will look great in green.
You might imagine that Jonathan Smith’s Saturday morning show went something like this. Or maybe not. But either way, when Smith tried to take his star defensive coordinator with him to Michigan State, Trent Bray felt a pull in the opposite direction.
It was, quite literally, fight or flight.
“There was a commitment,” Bray told me Wednesday. “To these players, to this university, to the place I care so deeply about.”
So let’s say on the first day of Bray’s tenure as Oregon State’s 32nd head football coach, while Smith was looking for a safe haven against the Beavers separated from their historic conference affiliation, Bray redoubled his efforts.
In his hour of need at his alma mater, Bray faced fire.
Did Smith disappear?
“I didn’t quite like it, which is why I wasn’t in a rush to get on the plane,” Bray said in his introductory press conference.
This will galvanize a fan base that feels abandoned by Smith’s exit. This would attract cheers from players who felt Smith had not lived up to his demand of them: that they commit to the season and prevent outside pressures and distractions.
While Smith was introduced to great fanfare on Tuesday, with a live band salute, Bray’s introduction carried decidedly fewer frills. It was held in the Beavers’ traditional press conference room. The clappers and brass section were absent. His parents sat in the front row.
the message? No time for balloons and punch. Beavers have work to do.
When Bray and I spoke in the Valley Football Center lobby, he wanted to clarify his remark that “sitting wasn’t good.”
“For me, it was about leaving at that time, not Coach Smith,” he said. It was more that he wasn’t sitting properly I Leave at this time.”
Perhaps this makes the quote somewhat less interesting. Less than a shot across the bow over its predecessor. But that doesn’t change the message Bray is sending to his players, boosters or fanbase.
He can sell them all when he rises to the challenge. In terms of the sense of duty he felt towards his alma mater.
It’s a message that will resonate with the beleaguered Beavers and their fans, some of whom will find in Bray.
Like Smith, Bray is a Beavers football legend.
Smith was the Fiesta Bowl MVP in 2001. Bray won the defensive honor in the 2004 Insight Bowl. Both, funny enough, earned the hardware with their win over Notre Dame.
Bray still ranks sixth in Oregon in tackles.
But he’d never had to wrap his arms around something as massive as this job at this moment.
He will have to replace a lot of the previous coaching staff. Players will have the opportunity to follow Smith out the door and move on.
“I’m always ready to take on a new challenge,” Bray said. “This was a great opportunity to take on a new challenge in a familiar place with people I care about surrounding me, so I thought it was a great situation.”
When asked last year about pursuing head coaching jobs, Bray made it clear he didn’t think it was for him. On Wednesday, he modified his words to say he was only interested in being a head coach at Oregon State.
A pay increase to $2 million per year doesn’t hurt either.
But after Smith met with the team the next morning after the Ducks beat them, 31-7, Oregon State athletic director Scott Barnes pulled Bray aside.
“He told me to look at this thing and sit down and think about it,” Bray said.
The Beavers’ defensive coordinator was in demand. In fact, there was a plane waiting for him and a seat for him. It probably would have looked good in green. And if it weren’t for Michigan State, Bray would have other Power Five suitors. The USC buzz was rampant.
But Bray spent the day thinking about his future. For what he wanted in his career. En route, the reorganization had eliminated the college scene and removed Oregon State and Washington State, one his alma mater and the other his hometown university.
“As an alumnus, but also as someone who has been attending this conference for a long time, it was sad to see it destroyed the way it was destroyed by corporations and greed,” Bray said.
He asked himself: Did he want to accept the challenge?
“The more I talked to (Barnes), the more I looked at the plan for the future, the more comfortable I felt about continuing this here,” Bray said.
We’ll need to see that plan soon.
The Beavers plan to have five Power Five opponents next season, and a slew of Mountain West opponents to fill out the schedule. Both Bray and Barnes described a future in which Oregon State has a clearer path than ever to the College Football Playoff.
When it expands to 12 teams next season, that will likely be true.
But by investing in Oregon, Bray has a chance to become the folk hero that Beavers fans wanted Smith to be.
The wounds are fresh since Smith’s departure. His remark upon landing in East Lansing on that empty plane from Bray about knowing “for a long time” that Michigan State was the right place for him was ill-advised, to put it mildly.
“He’s trying to do his best for Michigan State and get them excited about him, which they should be,” Bray told me.
But there’s excitement again in Oregon, too. That’s something that couldn’t have happened just days ago, when the plane carrying Smith disappeared into the sky over Corvallis, with at least one seat empty.
-Bill Oram reported from Corvallis.
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