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

David Marsh Editorials 29 Comments

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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.

Kevin Cline

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.

Eugene Johnson

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.

Kevin Cline

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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For Football Season: FishDuck Back to Seven Days a Week!

I had to shut down the daily articles on July 20th because I could no longer work the extra 3 to 12 hours per week of certain managerial/editorial duties. (beyond the usual ones with FishDuck)

I’ve had a blast writing without those duties, and now, due to a new agreement with the writers, I can announce that we will have articles seven days a week again. I wish to thank the writers publicly for their graciousness in coming to a solution, as now I still do not have do those extra duties with our agreement, and meanwhile the writers are back having fun creating articles as I am.

Everybody is happy! So below is the new schedule through football season:

Monday: Mr. FishDuck
Tuesday: Darren Perkins
Wednesday: Joshua WhittedMr. FishDuck
Thursday: Coach Eric BolesAlex Heining
Friday: David Marsh
Saturday: Mr. FishDuck (GameDay Baby!)
Sunday: Jordan Ingram

A couple of writers could not join us as they have new projects in their lives, and cannot write for anyone at the moment–but perhaps we will see them back later.

Things rarely work out so well for all parties in agreements, but this time it has and truly….everyone wins!

Our 33 rules at FishDuck can be summarized to this: 1) be polite and respectful, 2) keep it clean, and 3) no reference of any kind to politics. Easy-peasy!

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The burning question on my mind at the moment is: What is the new OC’s last name? Is it Morehead, Moorhead, Moorehead, Mourhead???

Jon Sousa

David, thank you very much for the  247Sports Late Kick Live link. That is the best interview that I can even imagine taking place with Mario Cristobal.


Agreed, MC was presented with some tough questions and gave us a good insight into his thought process.


Agree, there are two type of coaches, and the hybrid approach doesn’t work.

Cristobal is the commander in chief who has found himself trying to be the field general, at times. When this happens it seldom works.

I think this has been a problem specifically on offense. From calling inopportune timeouts, to calling the run plays we all hate, Cristobal has to get out of the way of our OC. He is the CIC, not the OC.

I also think the offense is a bit of a hybrid which also doesn’t work well. We need to run the RPO as Moorhead has shown he knows how and get away from the pistol.

Doing anything halfway is a recipe for disaster. It is time for Cristobal to be the CIC, not the general, the offense the RPO, not the pistol.

Hopefully the extra time off the field will build comfort between Cristobal and Moorhead. With this we will see even more of a CIC and an OC who fully runs the offense.


Great points, Hayward, and I have confidence in the Cristobal process. I feel like he has an endgame, getting Oregon to the top of college football. The first step was setting a culture, of which recruiting is the most visible part.

The workings of the team, offense & defense have taken their time; the defense was transformed by Leavitt, and improved even more under Avalos. The offense is taking longer. But, even winning the conference and the Rose Bowl, Cristobal still replaced the OC because he wasn’t satisfied with the way the offense was going. He didn’t hire an up & comer OC, who would be easier to control. He hired an established, well respected OC, in Morehead, because he believed that Morehead could give the offense an identity to match what was happening on the defensive side.


He didn’t replace the OC because he wasn’t satisfied, he took a head coaching job. Agree hiring an established, well respected OC was a good sign.

I also agree about the culture, a very important, and often overlooked, part of creating a winning program. Cristobal is nailing the culture part of it!


Right about Arroyo leaving, but Cristobal took no effort, that we could see, to keep him.


Good point.

Jon Joseph

CIC. Good take.

Considering the myriad obstacles including a dysfunctional, functionally insolvent network, Mario is The Best recruiter in CFB.

But will he as the CIC get out of Moorhead’s way like Coach O did at LSU last season and Smart is supposedly going to do at Georgia this season?

To date, I think there has been too much micro-management of the offense?

Santa Rosa Duck

I remember when our concern was would Joe Moorhead stick around more than one year. Now I would just like to see him coach one full year. What a difference a year makes. I think it is imperative that we keep our coaches and they will need to be well paid. With the state of Oregon finances in serious trouble as well as the finances of the University of Oregon in trouble, my guess is we will need to look to the alumni to make this happen and not just Phil Knight. Even Nike financials have taken a hit in this age of Covid.

Jon Sousa

This is one of my concerns if we do not have a season this year. If Moorhead is gone in three years, ¿and we lose one? No good. The same with AA. He has only coached one year. We were all looking forward to seeing what the defense was going to look like this year. If we lose it? What if AA was hoping to move up in four years… is he going to stay an extra year just because he (we all) lost one?

I want Moorhead and Avalos to stay long enough for all of their assistant coaches to thoroughly learn the offense/defense so that SOMEONE among the assistants can be a “field commander in training” and take over when they leave.


Thanks for this, David. It is interesting to look back on the coaches; Bellotti was in charge during a time when there wasn’t a lot of hiring of assistants; the longevity of the coaching staff of the Ducks was unseen anywhere else.

The one big hire Bellotti made was when he brought that guy in from New Hampshire.

After that Helfrich, who wasn’t so much hired as appointed, hired Brady Hoke, and then promoted Don Pellum; both of which turned out to be horrible moves.

Taggart. Of course we all know now the best move he made was leaving; himself to go to Florida State, and leaving Cristobal here.

All of Cristobal’s decisions have worked so far. It didn’t look like it was going to work long time with Leavitt, so he left in the smoothest way possible, and Avalos has been fantastic. Whatever the situation was with Cristobal and Arroyo, he was comfortable with severing it, and bringing in a highly respected coach in Morehead. Donte Williams departs for USC, but his replacement has hit the ground running.

Already there are rumblings that once again the other coaches in the conference don’t really care for Cristobal, re the All Pac-12 selections last season, and Cristobal emphatically couldn’t care less. All of this bodes well for the future of Oregon football with Mario Cristobal in charge.

Jon Joseph

Kelly is a TERRIBLE recruiter. He stepped into the perfect scenario at Oregon and couldn’t wait to leave town and get to the NFL where he did not have to recruit.

He then named himself GM of the Eagles and we all saw how that worked out. He was a complete disaster in San Francisco.

The biggest beneficiary of Kelly going to UCLA? Floridaa.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Between last year and this year-to-date….Oregon has 25 of the coveted 4-Star and 5-Star players signed or verballed while Chip at UCLA has only five?

That would not get it done anywhere that has expectations beyond, say Oregon State….


I want to state as I don’t think it is fair to say Cristobal severed the situation with Arroyo. Arroyo was hired as the head coach of UNLV. While most fans have chagrin over the offense(if that was his or Cristobal’s fault we do know entirely) there he is. He is doing a pretty good job as well so far, They had the number 2 MW class last cycle and are currently sitting at the number one MW class.


HATE the “pistol !!! RB is 7/8 years behind the line , and we just don’t have the explosive RB Iike the past . CJ is a nice back but not a speedster , Dye is a fumbling mess ! We need to go get some stud RB !!! Who are the best , and go get them . And Thank You Chip , for the greatest 4 years of my Duck life , there was nothing better !!!!


the kid has 4 fumbles over 2 seasons of carries playing as a true freshman. It averages one fumble every 60ish carries, of the 4 fumbles 3 have come in wins against cal the last fumble in a blowout loss to AZ. is he the next james, no but don’t equate him as a “fumbling Mess”. chip had some great teams but it is clear with him in UCLA right now that his tenure at oregon would have come to a close at some point. allthough if you really think chip is the answer I am sure they would love some fans right now, no harm in rooting for him.


David, you raised an interesting point about “the Pistol” offense. You mentioned “The pistol formation has a track record of working and it could event be a good fit for Oregon. One thing is for sure: this vision for Oregon’s offense has failed to come to fruition.

So this begs the question: with one of the developers of the “Pistol” coaching here at Oregon in Jim Mastro, why did it not work out better then it did ?? What was Oregon doing wrong for the “Pistol” not to be that successful ??

As Pac-12 champions and Rose Bowl winners one would think we certainly have adequately skilled players to be able to make it work, but it didn’t come about. It was often discussed much like that of “a problem child”.

Is the “Pistol” formation so unique that it has to be the main element in an offensive, in order to function properly ?? Can it not be a subset of the different offensive formations for it to work ?? Does it have to be an all or nothing ??

If Oregon has the brains behind the “Pistol” and athletes capable of pulling it off what prevented it from being better then it was ??

Jon Joseph

In today’s CFB, no matter the base system on O, the QB has to be a legitimate run threat.

We need to see Moorhead running his RPO O or why the hire?

Jon Joseph

The Rose Bowl. A brilliant opening drive and then, where did the O go? He has to get out of Moorhead’s way. Will he do so?


for some reason I think Joe will make sure that he does. One of the things Joe has over Arroyo is maturity.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

My understanding is that you need a very fast QB to make the Pistol work, because you are doing the mesh so deep in the backfield. Kapernick was rare in that he had an NFL arm, but WR speed, and while Herbert is decent in speed and being elusive, but not like Kap.

A problem with the Pistol is that when you do not run the QB…then the defender being “read” will charge the running back and often tackle him at the LOS. In the first TD versus Utah…you could see that the DE being “read’ truly froze in his place as he was now concerned about the QB running threat that had been established in two prior plays in that drive.

With the “read” defender frozen, then the double-teams at the LOS got Verdell through to the end zone. You must have a running QB and a fast running QB to effectively run the Pistol, IMHO.

By contrast, Zone-Reading a defender out of the Shotgun is easier as it is closer to the LOS, and the QB can simply have “adequate” speed as both Herbert and Trevor Lawrence do. They only run when the opening is there, (not very often) thus the threat of run freezes the defender and adds an extra blocker on the playside.

What we did before with Chip and Helf worked, and I believe Cristobal added the “Pistol-Plunges” to simply be different than what Chip and Helf established at Oregon.

What is interesting is how Moorhead only ran his Zone-Read, RPO offense out of the Shotgun, and now is forced to use the Pistol too?

One component that may ease the issue is establishing that Oregon will always have the QB running as a threat, since we now have both Shough and Brown, who can both run the offense. Hence the Pistol may work since we have two QBs in case of injury?


It seems that the decision to not have Justin run has hampered the Oregon offense last year. That coupled with very poor QB coaching has held us back. That will be a definite thing to watch under Joe.

Does anyone know if the schools that play in the fall will have any kind of after conference bowl games ??