Mario Cristobal: The Commander-in-Chief of Oregon Football

David Marsh Editorials

There are two types of head coaches.

First there are the field-commanders, who call the plays from the sideline. Oregon fans are familiar with this style of coaching, as Chip Kelly is the definition of field-commander. These coaches tend to be the flashy innovators of the sport, and Kelly’s time at Oregon exemplified this.

Then there are the commander-in-chief head coaches. Where field-commanders are concerned with each and every play call, commanders-in-chief are concerned with the big picture and ensuring all the pieces of the team fit together. The great downside to commander-in-chief head coaches is that they tend not to be the blistering innovators that field-commander are. They do, however, hire innovators.

Mario Cristobal is a commander-in-chief head coach.

The sport is ruled by commander-in-chief head coaches. Alabama’s Nick Saban and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney both employ this model, and Ed Orgeron can credit LSU’s national championship to adapting to this style of coaching. This model brings a great deal of success, but it comes with a deep understanding of the coach’s vision for his program and translating that vision into coaching hires.

Chip Kelly was a masterful field-commander who changed college football.

On the other hand, commander-in-chief coaches hire field-commanders to innovate and contribute to a larger vision. At the beginning of the last decade Saban vocally opposed the spread offense, but by the end of the decade Alabama had employed many of the components of the spread. Saban is not an innovator of the spread; however, he promoted a vision of a more explosive offense for Alabama and hired coaches who could implement this vision.

Cristobal understands that hiring top-grade supporting coaches is required to elevate the program to a National Championship. In June, 247Sports Late Kick Live interviewed Cristobal. They went into depth about his hiring process and much of the culture Cristobal is instilling into the Oregon program.

Every head coach wants to make fast hires so the new hire can join the program, start recruiting, and build relationships with existing team members. This really hasn’t been the case at Oregon under Cristobal. The hiring of new OC Joe Moorhead took well over a month. Marcus Arroyo was officially introduced at UNLV on December 13, 2019 and it wasn’t until January 21, 2020 that Moorhead was officially announced as the new coordinator at Oregon.

The Avalos defense often proved too much for opposing teams to handle.

Cristobal’s hiring process is long and thorough, where each coach has to prove he is an expert with a record of quality recruiting. This is critical to this style of coaching as, in theory, coordinators need to have a certain level of autonomy in scheme and play calling. The best example Cristobal has produced to date has been the hiring of Andy Avalos, who has transformed Oregon’s defense into one of the best, if not the best, defense in UO history.

The defense is Avalos’ scheme and all coaches involved have played a role to build it into one of the most dominant defenses in the county; however, the innovation and scheme was really built by Avalos and he calls the plays.

Now, there have been some major question marks on the offensive side of the ball. Cristobal’s vision of the Oregon offense is a physical, aggressive and explosive. Under Cristobal, Oregon’s offense has certainly been physical and aggressive as we have seen him going for it on fourth down regularly. Though explosive, it has been lacking in consistency. Under Arroyo, Oregon’s offense has shown flashes of greatness though it often became predictable and easily defended.

There is the question as to whether Cristobal intervened in the offensive scheme and game planning too much, causing his desire for a physical offense to create an offense that is boring and predictable. There is also a good chance that Arroyo was simply unable to mesh Cristobal’s offensive vision with his own. Cristobal hired one of the developers of the pistol, Jim Mastro. The pistol formation has a track record of working and it could even be a good fit for Oregon. One thing is for sure: this vision for Oregon’s offense has failed to come to fruition.

Mario Cristobal is involved in every facet of the game.

From the few scraps that were reported from spring practices, the reports indicate the the pistol was still being used and there were far more explosive plays. Is Moorhead going to be the the one to finally make the pistol work?

The most critical part of being a head coach is hiring assistant coaches. It requires a skill set that many don’t have, and to do it right, it takes far more time than fans are comfortable with the coaching carousal spinning and so many big names being snatched up before January.

Being the commander-in-chief of a college football program requires a coach who can recognize and hire ambitious innovators as their field-commanders, all while they mold and develop a culture and vision for their program that transcends just one side of the ball.

David Marsh
Portland, OR
Top Photo By: Kevin Cline

Natalie Liebhaber, the Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in Bozeman, Montana.

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