The days of long, methodical rebuilds are over. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for underperforming coaches to get the ax early on in their tenures, even if they show subtle signs of progress.
Obviously that won’t be the case for Oregon’s Mario Cristobal. After winning the Pac-12 in just his second season, it’s safe to say that Cristobal’s job is secure. But has he done enough already to merit a contract extension from Athletic Director Rob Mullens? To answer that question, we need to consider all of the elements that make up a great head coach and determine whether Cristobal has demonstrated these qualities thus far.
Different Types of Coaches
In order to recognize a great coach, we need to differentiate the good from the bad. Let’s separate the different types of coaches into four categories:
A. Coaches that are good at developing players but not good at recruiting*.
B. Coaches that are good at recruiting but not good at developing players.
C. Coaches that are good at developing players and good at recruiting.
D. Coaches that are not good at developing players and not good at recruiting.
(*When I say “good at recruiting,” I mean good relative to the school the coach is recruiting for. For example, recruiting at USC is far easier than recruiting at Colorado. USC is located in a hotbed of high school talent, whereas the Colorado University is isolated in a small town next to the Rocky Mountains. If a coach can manage to land good recruits at Colorado, that means he’s a good recruiter.)
In the world of college football, every coach falls into one of the aforementioned categories. And all four of these types of coaches can be found in the Pac-12. For example, Kyle Whittingham and Mike Leach fall into category “A” (good at developing but not good at recruiting), Chris Petersen is in category “C” (good at developing and recruiting), and Kevin Sumlin at Arizona is in category “D” (not good at either). Some might even straddle a couple of categories.
So, which category does Cristobal coach fit into?
Cristobal clearly fits into category “B” (good at recruiting but not developing). Some might argue this assertion, but the lack of development of offensive players like QB Justin Herbert and the running backs is a blatant example of his inability to develop players.
Qualities of a Great Coach
But just because Cristobal isn’t in category “C,” it doesn’t mean he isn’t or can’t be a great coach. It takes more than good player development and recruiting to be a successful coach. Here are some additional qualities that are necessary: Being a good decision maker, being knowledgeable, being honest, being a clear communicator, having the ability to work under pressure, being a positive thinker, being a visionary, being a motivator, being a good teacher, being fair to all, being a builder and having a “buck-stops-here” attitude.
The list goes on and on. These are but just a few of the many characteristics that great coaches possess. There’s no correct mix of these qualities, as nobody possesses all of them. But the best coaches have — at the very least — a large dose of each of them.
So, once again, how does Cristobal stack up according to this criteria?
Cristobal clearly scores highly; he has many of the characteristics listed. What’s more, the culture he’s creating at Oregon encourages the players to exhibit these traits, as well.
But the list gets even more in depth. Let’s consider a few more areas that the best coaches excel at: Recruiting, hiring and training quality assistants, earning and maintaining the respect of players, player development, preparing for opponents and in-game management.
These are a few of the items coaches have to manage almost daily. While previous successes can be indicators of future success, it’s important that coaches are proficient in these particular areas, as they generally lead to wins in the long run.
In the list of these daily duties, how does Cristobal measure up?
As far as recruiting goes, Cristobal is among the best in the business. He gets an A for that item.
The jury is still out on whether he can hire and develop elite assistants, but it seems to this point that he hit a home run by hiring defensive coordinator Andy Avalos, while offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo underwhelmed. Arroyo has been the most talked-about coach on staff this season. Some of the chatter has been positive, but most of it has been negative. Regardless, he’s moved on, and a better hire will raise Cristobal’s grade in this category. For now, he gets a C+.
The respect that Cristobal’s players have for him is quite clear, and again, he gets a high rating here: A.
I’ve already covered Cristobal’s lack of player development, and for this, I have to give him a D.
Preparing for opponents has been a mixed bag for Cristobal. He failed to do so against Arizona State, which cost the Ducks a shot at a playoff berth. Also, he struggled to get players “juiced” and mentally ready for other games throughout the year. The team tended to drift in and out of game consciousness far too often. For this, Cristobal gets a D.
As for Cristobal’s in-game management, his inexperience shows up from time to time. Not kicking field goals when he should have and running the same play on key fourth-and-short plays are prime examples of this inexperience. I have to give him a C- for this item.
In summary, Cristobal is great at recruiting players but not so great at developing players. He has great personal characteristics with which he’s leveraging to build a winning culture in Eugene. However, he’s not so hot at his day-to-day or week-to-week duties that need to be mastered.
While Cristobal isn’t perfect and might not yet be an elite coach, he seems to be well on his way. If he can continue to improve in the key areas mentioned, he’ll be among the best in the country before long.
And to answer the initial question, yes, he should absolutely be given a contract extension after only two seasons. As great as he has been so far, his potential is even greater. That’s a frightening thought for the rest of the Pac-12.
San Diego, California Top Photo by Eugene Johnson
Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in digital marketing in Chicago, Illinois.
I’ve been a Ducks fan since watching the Dennis Dixon quarterback days. His games started it all for me and now it has expanded into Ducks men’s and woman’s basketball also woman’s softball. So far that’s the biggies for me and at my age of 73 it’s enough. I’m a retired computer programmer and writing is a new thing for me but I always have an opinion and not afraid to state it.
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