Judging from the reviews, Willie Lyles just might be the worst person in the world.
He has been called an imbecile, a sellout, an attention whore, a snitch, and a lowlife by one national columnist.
He has been called a slimeball and scum by another.
He has been called, presumably, worse things by Oregon fans as he threatens to topple the little football fiefdom the Ducks have constructed.
Now, all of this might well be accurate.
Lyles, a Texas-based “street agent,” certainly comes across as a rather despicable figure.
Here is a grown man, after all, who made it his business to attach himself to high school athletes, which means that “parasite” might be a more apt description than imbecile or slimeball.
He attached himself so firmly, in fact, that the University of Oregon paid him $25,000 for recruiting evaluations, which Lyles now says was really payment to steer certain players to Eugene.
But the problem with attaching so many pejoratives to Lyles is that it taints Oregon by association. And that is where the problem comes in for the Ducks.
If Lyles really is a parasite, then what does that say about Chip Kelly’s judgment?
About Kelly’s character?
About Oregon’s recruiting practices?
If Lyles really is a rat, then why were the Ducks wallowing in the gutter with him?
Those are the real questions for Oregon fans. You can denigrate Lyles all you want, but such name-calling fails to address the question of why the Ducks were cavorting with such a person.
Lyles exemplifies the type of unwashed hanger-on who is all too typical in the recruiting game, and yet Oregon chose to associate with him. Doesn’t say much for the Ducks.
Yes, you can question Lyles’ motives for attempting to bring shame to the university with his endless media crusade. And you can question the purity of his motives when he was “helping” high school players choose a college — wink-wink, nudge-nudge.
But it is difficult to envision how Oregon comes out of this looking good. And it is difficult to ignore the culture that allowed this problem to fester.
In 2007, Oregon saw fit to allow a booster — Pat Kilkenny — to buy out the previous athletic director’s contract and then take his job. Kilkenny got a basketball arena built, so what’s a little lack of experience with intercollegiate athletics?
A few years later, Oregon saw fit to promote Mike Bellotti from football coach to A.D., although it never bothered to give him a contract. Bellotti made room for Kelly to become the head coach, so what’s a little lack of administrative experience?
Oregon, for several years, had nobody in place to serve as the conscience of the athletic department. It had nobody to say, “Wait a minute, tell me again why we’re paying Willie Lyles.”
Oregon, over the past two decades, has pulled off a remarkable ascension in the world of college athletics. The Ducks dared to dream big, to believe they could be a power, to act with hubris.
But that hubris has contributed to the current mess, and believe me, it is a mess.
Lyles might an impeachable source, but there’s no question that Oregon paid him $25,000 and has been scrambling for months to explain that payment. The university didn’t help itself when it released “scouting reports” from Lyles that weren’t worth 25 cents, let alone $25,000.
As Rick Neuheisel and Jim Tressel can attest, the cover-up is worse than the transgression. And no amount of venom directed at Willie Lyles is going to change that.
Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at greg.jaynecolumbian.com. To “like” his Facebook page, search for “Greg Jayne — The Columbian”