Duck on the water: Being 'where it matters' is key to Oregon assistant Mike Mennenga's longevity
As Oregon's sideline has become a bit of a revolving door, longtime assistant Mike Mennenga has never been happier in Eugene.
EUGENE — Ask Oregon men’s basketball assistant coach Mike Mennenga what the driving force behind his career is, and he’ll deliver a surprisingly straightforward reply.
He has always wanted to be somewhere where it “mattered.”
Nestled into an armchair inside a glass-enclosed meeting room just off the main court in Eugene’s Matthew Knight Arena — one of several structures that define a campus more in debt to the sporting world than perhaps any other nation-wide — it’s easy to appreciate his mentation.
In this case, the “it” is hoops. Athletics at large, really. And it’s one of his first ever memories of Eugene, and the university that calls it home, which backs up the notion. Hired in August of 2014, Mennenga spent one of his first weekends in the city holed up in Skybox, an apartment building on Villard, some few hundred feet from Matthew Knight.
ESPN College Gameday was in town as No. 3 Oregon hosted No. 7 Michigan State on the football field. The Ducks scored 28 unanswered that Saturday, burying the Spartans 46-27, and igniting a run to the National Championship.
The program was rolling, head coach Mark Helfrich was at the top of his game, and it all seemed as if it’d last forever. That’s how Mennenga remembers it, anyway.
It only took two years for it all to crumble.
“This is where we're at,” said Mennenga. “The standard is set high. Anytime you coach in a space like this, there's an expectation. At the end of the day though, that's what I wanted.
“At Oregon, it clearly matters.”
And it’s a big reason why Mennenga has become somewhat of an anomaly around these parts. A program defined by personnel turnover has suddenly become a revolving door of coaching turnover, as well. This offseason was the third in a row that Altman’s had to replace at least one departing assistant.
But this afternoon Mennenga will start the season on the sidelines for the 10th time for the Ducks when Oregon faces Georgia at 1:30 p.m., and there are plenty of factors keeping the program’s second-longest1 tenured staff member in the fold.
Start with his growing love of the outdoors.
Location doesn’t hurt, in this instance. With rivers like the Willamette and McKenzie at his doorstep, Mennenga fashions himself a bit of an adventurer these days. His preferred transportation method? Kayak.
“I grew up in Illinois,” he said. “My first college coaching gig was at Maine. My second college coaching gig was at Buffalo. Then after that, I was on the East Coast/Midwest. So coming to Eugene was like the tropics for me.
“People complain about the rain, but I’m in the gym all the time. (It) beats snow and ice.”