Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens wasted little time in naming a new head football coach to replace Willie Taggart. Offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal is the 34th head coach of the Ducks and represents a continuation of the program’s transformation that began one year before.
At that press conference Mullens introduced Taggart as Mark Helfrich’s replacement in a clear break from what had been a tried and true blueprint the football program had been operating under for decades.
Taggart brought a renewed sense of enthusiasm that was welcomed by fan and player alike and paid off right from the start with a remarkable job by the new staff of assembling a talented first class of recruits on short notice.
In the months that followed, Taggart’s outgoing personality enticed what was seen as one of the nation’s highest ranked incoming class of recruits for 2017 to verbally commit to the Ducks.
On the field Oregon’s fortunes followed those of their quarterback Justin Herbert but throughout Taggart’s team held together and found something to call progress despite slipping from 4-1 to 4-4 in a heartbeat.
A 41-20 win over Utah was one of those wins that will help a team in many games to follow. A stellar defensive effort and a relentless running game offered a blue print and concrete proof their progress would pay rewards.
Without Herbert beating the Huskies in Seattle was a bridge too far but with a bye week to follow, the stage was set for his return against Arizona and for the lessons learned in the Utah game to crystallize.
Arizona and the Beavers never had a chance. When a team can respond to that type of season in that type of fashion there is no one else to credit but the coaching staff and Taggart deserves high marks.
His lasting epitaph however may be the staff he brought to Eugene that now with Cristobal at the helm seems likely to remain remarkably intact, an immediate credit to Cristobal and the respect he holds among those who joined him just one year ago.
Certainly his resume is sparkling; Cristobal has won national championships as a player and as a coach, and was recognized as the nation’s best recruiter in 2015.
The unanimous support of his players as expressed in signed petitions and online campaigns appeared to be both spontaneous and genuine.
Given the above, it’s not hard to see how Mullens would quickly conclude his best option was the one closest at hand.
On several fronts the transition should be seamless. The bowl week preparations will be routine, the recruiting cycle that was at risk in the turmoil appears to be salvageable, perhaps among the best ever assembled at Oregon, and then on to the 2018 season.
In his remarks Cristobal frequently mentioned how quickly he and his family felt comfortable in Eugene and to his hope to be here so long “they have to drag me out kicking and screaming.” That’s sure to be music to the ears of many In light of the sudden turn of events over the last 10 days, no one wants to go through anything like this again anytime soon.
The proof will be on the field but given the Rubik’s Cube twists and turns of a coaching change this one seems to have lined up rather nicely.
~ Rick Morgan