Oregon Ducks Head Coach – In Post-Willie Taggart Era, Mario Cristobal Is The Man

I must admit something. It’s something I’m not proud of.

When Willie Taggart made it official he was spurning the Oregon Ducks for the Florida State Seminoles, I was excited for change. Not because I didn’t like Taggart—he was someone who pumped the life back into a swagless program and put together the best recruiting class the team had ever seen.

I was excited because change is…fun. Nobody wanted to see the Portland Trail Blazers lose four starters in the course of a single offseason, but watching Damian Lillard take over a young roster became refreshing almost as quickly as it became depressing.

Nobody likes being dumped, but once you realize how many fish there are in the sea, the world becomes your oyster.

This is why when Oregon suddenly found itself without a head coach, names like Lane Kiffin got me giddy. I’ve never been a fan of Mike Leach, but his bizarre antics and high-octane offense were almost appealing. Kevin Sumlin isn’t necessarily a sexy hire, but again, the relative-unknown can be exciting.

It’s the same reason why when Chip Kelly left, as much as I wanted to retain his culture and his offense, names like John Gruden and Tony Dungy were drool-worthy when they popped up in rumors.

But something has happened in the last 24 hours. I’ve realized that small change can be just as thrilling when it’s the right change.

If the Ducks are smart, they’ll turn to someone currently on the payroll for their head coaching position. Phil Knight doesn’t need to do what he did in a post-Ernie Kent era by contacting every big-name coach, both on and off the market.

Mario Cristobal is the man in every sense of the word.

In the basic sense, he’s the team’s interim head coach for the Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State. In the more impactful meaning, he’s the one who can keep this team on track.

If Cristobal gets the gig, the Ducks not only get someone who studied under Nick Saban, but they get someone who has been involved in the recruiting process this past season. That’s huge considering one of Taggart’s biggest selling points was his ability to recruit top-tier players, and it’s even more important when you recognize Oregon’s upcoming recruiting class has already taken a hit in the recent fallout.

The other reason you look at Cristobal as your guy, if you’re Oregon Athletic Director Rob Mullens, is because he knows the offense. This Oregon team isn’t ready for a seismic Leach-like shift in the attack that’s going to all-but eliminate the run game.

The Ducks love their quarterbacks, but the Ducks really love their running backs.

But what this really comes down is motivation. If you don’t think the eight-point spread the Ducks have entering the Las Vegas Bowl will look foolish once Oregon wins by 20, you’re kidding yourself. Ignore the fact that Boise State is just 2-6 against the spread in its last eight games versus the Pac-12. And forget that the Broncos are 4-11 ATS in their last 15 against opponents with winning records.  

This is about how motivated Cristobal is to earn himself a head coaching job. This is about how the incumbent group of players are ready to show Taggart what he’s leaving behind.

As The Oregonian’s Ken Goe stated: “‘Most’ Oregon players line up behind the candidacy of interim coach Mario Cristobal.”

As The Oregonian’s John Canzano put it: “I see why Oregon put @coach_cristobal in charge. Don’t know him well. But I know his work well. The guy is all in. He has a shot at this job.”

Oregon’s former head coach shouldn’t be blamed for taking his dream job—that’s his prerogative, and most understand that. But the way he handled himself behind the scenes—breaking promises to players and their families— is what has players ready to prove him wrong.

Taggart left, and there’s nothing the Ducks can do about that. Except they can go out and prove that it’s not greener pastures he should’ve been thinking about—it’s the green and yellow ones he left behind for Cristobal to eventually make his own.