Mixing hard work and perfect timing, Oregon coach Dan Lanning’s humble beginnings aided his quick rise

RICHMOND, Mo. — Out in the front yard, a dog named “Bear” is watching over the house in which Dan Lanning grew up. Actually, “watching over” is a stretch. Bear is 16. These days, it’s more accurate to say he looks up lazily at visitors.

“He’s a good dog, I know, but you get attached, and it’s a difficult decision,” said Don Lanning before what might soon be Bear’s last visit to the veterinarian.

Not much has changed on this stretch of Vandiver Road, an unpaved rural stretch in Ray County, Missouri, 27 miles east of Kansas City. Not much except time.

There is a lot of that to be dissected in the hometown of Oregon’s new coach. Start with the fact that Dan Lanning, 36, is starting his head coaching career as the youngest among the 65 Power Five program leaders.

Then try to connect the reasons he has the job at such a young age. It is a desire that compelled him, on a whim 11 years ago, to take his mother’s car and drive 13 hours to the University of Pittsburgh for a speculative job interview.

“‘Does that sound desperate, daddy?‘” Don recalls his son asking.

No,” dad told son, “it sounds determined.”

Don concluded: “You know the rest of the story.”

Well, part of it at least.

In 2011, a 24-year-old Dan Lanning did indeed land a graduate assistant job with Todd Graham’s staff. You know the tale: sleeping frequently at the office, earning next to nothing.

Two years later, he was Graham’s recruiting coordinator at Arizona State. Two years after that, in 2015, he took a step down to spend one year getting touched by Nick Saban’s magic wand as an Alabama grad assistant, earning a national championship ring in the process. 

Having met him at Alabama, then-defensive coordinator Kirby Smart hired Lanning, at the time a linebackers coach…


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