As of this writing, Willie Taggart is still the head coach of the Oregon Ducks. At one point, George Wrighster III called his move to Florida State a done deal, but The Oregonian’s Andrew Grief disputed that in what would be Monday night’s final official update.
All that said, we’re reading the tea leaves here and they’re saying in all caps, bold, underlined, Comic Sans font: HE GONE.
Assuming Taggart does in fact take his dream job and spurns Oregon, the Ducks will want to fill the vacancy fast. The Las Vegas Bowl, where they’ll face Boise State, is on Dec. 16, and the early signing period, which will take well over half of the nation’s recruits off the market, begins on Dec. 20.
As far as the candidates go, there are plenty of options. According to The Oregonian’s John Canzano, Oregon hasn’t contacted Mike Leach, but multiple athletic directors from Power Five programs think the Washington State coach would be an “interesting fit.”
There’s no doubt that “interesting” is an accurate word for just about everything Leach does. Did you catch his breakdown of the College Football Playoffs? His pass-first offense could be a bit of a culture shock in Eugene after watching his Cougars rank 129th in rushing, but his point-loving approach to the game makes him an easy candidate.
Another “interesting” option? Lane Kiffin. Oregon would almost certainly be a social media laughing stock considering his overall reputation, but he turned FAU into a 10-win team after it went just 3-9 a year ago. The Ducks saw a revitalization under Taggart, which only makes Kiffin’s life easier considering the “Make Oregon Great Again” project already has plenty of momentum.
Also on Oregon’s radar should be Kevin Sumlin, Mike Norvell and Bryan Harsin. Sumlin is an excellent recruiter (something the Ducks will need to replace with Taggart gone) and went 51-26 at Texas A&M. Norvell is known for his high-octane offense, and Harsin, along with all his coaching qualities, would allow Oregon to stick it to Boise State before their showdown in Sin City. (Maybe that last point is a bit petty…)
But while there are plenty of candidates to consider outside the program, the athletic department may already have its man on payroll. Before the Taggart hire a year ago, the Ducks had made a tradition of internal hires, and they could easily return to that approach with either Jim Leavitt or Mario Cristobal.
Leavitt has past head coaching experience. He went 95-57 in 13 years at South Florida, and his defensive mindset would be highly appreciated in Eugene.
His passion for Ducks culture would also be appreciated, but the question is (assuming he doesn’t leave along with Taggart): Do you want to potentially dilute his defensive aptitude by making him run the whole program?
Cristobal is next on the list, but if Canzano is correct, he may ultimately be first. His 24-47 head coaching record won’t excite anyone, but the fact that he has experience under Nick Saban and could help keep Oregon’s recruiting class somewhat intact (per Canzano) are good enough to outweigh his previous struggles.
The good news for Oregon is that whoever it selects should have it relatively easy in Year 1. It’s painfully obvious that the program’s No. 1 nationally ranked recruiting class is going to unravel, (at least a little bit) with Taggart’s departure, but it should still impress, and the team should push 10 wins with a cake schedule.
But regardless of who it is, expect a hire soon. Taggart seemed to let this thing play out longer than it needed to, but the Ducks will #DoSomething fast to officially move forward.