Did Mario Cristobal Nudge Coaches Out the Door?

David Marsh Editorials 46 Comments

Mario Cristobal is the Commander-in-Chief of Oregon Football. With this coaching style style, the determining factor of a team’s success or failure boils down to a few important decisions: effective coaching hires.

Cristobal has no problem firing a coach who isn’t a fit for the program as we saw when he fired Jim Leavitt. However, the firing of Leavitt came with a considerable price tag in the millions, which is never an easy pill to swallow, especially when Leavitt was given a raise the year prior.

Over the past couple of years, there have been two glaring problems: the offense not living up to its potential and an underwhelming receiving corps. Oregon had a solid quarterback in Justin Herbert, but some would say he failed to reach his full potential at Oregon. The offensive scheme and the overall lack of quality receivers not only held Herbert back, but also the team.

Kevin Cline

Jim Leavitt’s firing came with a great financial cost to Oregon.

Recently, offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo and wide receivers coach Jovon Bouknight left the program. In Arroyo’s case, he landed a job as a head coach at UNLV, which is a step forward for someone looking to advance their coaching career, while Bouknight landed as the receivers coach at Kentucky after a mutual parting of ways with Cristobal and the Ducks.

The offense under Arroyo wasn’t working. It had some spectacular moments, but on the whole it fell flat far too often and failed in elevating Herbert’s raw talent. It is convenient that Cristobal didn’t have to fire Arroyo as Oregon would have had to buyout the remainder of his contract, however, there was still a glaring need for an upgrade at offensive coordinator as an offense led by Arroyo would be incapable of achieving Cristobal’s ultimate goal, a National Championship.

Perhaps Arroyo’s convenient departure was assisted by Cristobal encouraging Arroyo to interview for head coaching jobs, which was an optimal time for Arroyo given the success of last season. In turn, Cristobal hired Joe Moorhead who is considered to be one of the best offensive minds in college football.

Kevin Cline

Marcus Arroyo before kickoff against Nevada.

Something similar can be said for Bouknight. The receivers did take a step forward in 2019 and there was something unusual about the timing of his departure from the program. Bouknight left Oregon rather abruptly,  as Oregon was only a couple practices into the spring. That is incredibly late in the coaching cycle for a coach to switch programs…

Cristobal followed up by hiring Bryan McClendon who came from South Carolina with a track record of being a strong recruiter from the SEC coaching mold. McClendon is exactly the type of coach that Cristobal wants. This is the second time this year that Cristobal gets a convenient opening in his staff with the opportunity to make an incredible hire and an upgrade, at least on paper.

Is it all a coincidence? Or, is Mario Cristobal nudging coaches out the door who aren’t the proper fit for the program, avoiding massive buyouts in the process?

David Marsh
Portland, OR
Top Photo By: Kevin Cline


Chris Brouilette, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is a current student at the University of Oregon from Sterling, Illinois.

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cristobal definitely pushes coaches out who don’t meet his demands. He requires a lot from his coaches. I actually think Bouknight did a decent job when compared to michael johnson, in 2018. Drops were down significantly. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have his problems WR recruiting tanked, and the WR’s continued to fail to get open. I imagine if he would have had wilson(Committed to ASU) commit/sign he’d still be at oregon.

Obviously the whole situation with Leavitt is proof enough that even a coordinator’s position isn’t secure if you are underperforming to his standards.

Other than that I’m not convinced or sure about the other coaches that have left oregon under head coach cristobal. coaches include Michael Johnson, Cort Dennison, and Arroyo. Obviously Donte Williams left for family reasons.


Leavitt didn’t underperform he led the defense from last to competitive. What he became was dysfunctional once he didn’t get the head coaching job. He also left because of family issues, his wife and kids never moved to Eugene.

We owe a great debt to Leavitt, but the millions probably covered that pretty well. I will always defend Leavitt as he led the defense out of one of the greatest holes ever dug by coaching decisions.


don’t get me wrong, I think Leavitt did a lot to get our defense back on track, he improved immensely both years, less our second year. With that I do feel inclined to believe the rumors that he practically checked out during the season. He is only listed as the primary recruiter on 247 for one signed athlete that year and we had some inexplicable losses that year as well. Does he deserve credit from turning our 2016 defense to an actual fieldable defense, Yes a thousand times. yet acting entitled to a HC position(with his history no less) and then checking out after becoming one of the top paid coordinators nationwide is unbecoming and he deserved to be pushed out.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

The rumor with Dennison was that Cort wanted more family/personal time and did not want to work as hard at recruiting as Cristobal wanted. So he got a similar job at Louisville..and we now see quite a pattern established; don’t fire, just tell them to apply elsewhere!

Again…I do not know if the rumor was true, but when coaches leave and take a similar position elsewhere–it is a clue.

That is a good pattern to follow. One of the marks of a successful coach is the “tree” he has cultivated. Hopefully Arroyo & the others will do well at their new locations.


I have no idea about that rumor but after some research i’d say it likely isn’t the case. his oregon contract was worth 275k a year plus bonuses, his first year at Louisville was 400k plus bonuses.(the max bonuses were bigger at oregon but i am sure some of it would be difficult to obtain).

Add in that he was hired away from Louisville to come to oregon and it might make sense that he wanted back. He also added a few titles at Louisville including assistant coach, and recruiting coordinator. he was also the number one recruiter for louisville this last class and he was just promoted to co-DC.

I’d argue, taking a pay raise of 100k, back to a school and staff that you worked with for a number of years is incentive enough.

I would suggest that it actually began slightly before MC, with the lateral move of receivers coach Michael Johnson going to Mississippi. Things were not going well with that position group from both a coaching and recruiting standpoint; Coach “Bo” improved the downfield blocking, but he did not get it done with recruiting.

Letting coaches get hired elsewhere instead of being fired works best for their career and Oregon’s finances, and I do not recall a coach “nudging” assistant coaches this much. (And I am very much in favor of what he has done)

Our running back recruiting declined once Gary Campbell left and has not returned to former heights, IMHO.


True in every word Charles.

I too wonder where Mastro fits into this scenario. The recruiting and development hasn’t been what Oregon has had and many of us expect.


I heard that. But Mastro was under Arroyo, and that may have had something to do with it. We can’t see recruiting, except for results. But we can see the way the RBs run, and it hasn’t looked very good since Freeman left.

When the line opens huge holes, its all good, but the RBs were not getting much on their own, in my opinion.


Great points. College football has changed. Kiffen was an all time great recruiter – just because he was the coach at USC. Now, a few years later, a program can no longer use its history to bring in blue chips.

Every step of the way, Cristobal shows that he knows, understands, and succeeds at all aspects of college football.

I think Cristobal is up there with Urban Meyer, Jimmy Johnson, Saban, Carroll and other football coaching greats, but we will have to wait for Moorhead’s offense and some new offensive skills players to see it all come together.

And lets give ourselves a little bit of credit. Eugene is not a traditional hotbed of college football. The fans got it started in the 90s, and Joey Harrington gave the program a big boost, and lets not forget that he was a Portland native. When Chip had the team rolling, fans all over the state were not only packing the stadium, but wearing the gear and watching in sports bars.

Oregon football means something in Oregon, the west coast, and nationally.

Cristobal knew when he got here as an assistant, that this program had the potential to be a top contender. I just hope the pac12 does not abandon its football programs to irrelevancy.


When you said “I just hope the pac12 does not abandon its football programs to irrelevancy.” I think the Pac-12 leaders have really hurt Oregon with their handling of the pandemic and it will take Oregon several years to fully recover. If MC sticks around then they have a chance, but if he doesn’t then it could be a very long recovery.


10 elected officials from, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota & Pennsylvania sent a handwritten letter to Big 10 Commissioner, Kevin Warren. The letter, originated by Lee Chatfield, Speaker of Michigan’s House Of Representatives, asks the conference to overturn
its postponement of fall sports,


I couldn’t agree more, oregon 111, Cristobal is on his way to the top of college football, when it starts again. Dabo is being hailed now as the greatest coach not named Nick Saban. There were some lean years for Dabo at Clemson, and it is located in much more fertile recruiting ground than is Eugene.

Kelly wasn’t interested in recruiting’ believed that he could scheme Oregon to the top. Others, notably Scott Frost, used geography as an excuse. But Cristobal has put a spotlight on recruiting and made a myth of Oregon being at a disadvantage.

Jon Joseph

Maybe? Hopefully? But you can’t pull on the choke versus the ASU’s of the world and you have to finish against teams like Auburn.


Work to be done for sure, and I think that Mario understands and accepts that challenge. Hopefully he gets his chance to continue.


I forgot Sweeny. Dabo was also an innovator with his use of tall receivers and a passing game in the southeast. He also has real studs on the D line. I used to live near Clemson and they had a rabid fan base. Every day, somebody was telling me what Danny Ford was doing and who he was ‘dating’. But Danny Ford couldn’t beat Fla St, at least not regularly.

Jon Joseph

111 – First Mario has to at least go 1-1-1 in the playoff. OK, 2-1 under today’s OT rules. Better than OK’s 0-4.


Name just one school, in today’s world, that can win playoff games and NOT be in a high school hotbed? Answer: none
If Cristobal can keep winning pac12 titles, AND win the big non-conf games, then I won’t hold it against him when the pac12 is slighted and not chosen for the playoffs.


Not sure what happened with Jovon, but he is making more at Kentucky than he was at Oregon. As long as Cristobal upgrades I don’t see a problem with the outcomes so far.

If guys are being offered more money, as Jovon, then Oregon might be at a disadvantage when we really want a guy. What happens when Avalos, Big Joe or others are offered another job at a higher salary?

We also may be seeing guys not wanting to recruit as fiercely as Cristobal wants and they move on. This could be a troubling development when creating a strong, tight team of coaches. Again this doesn’t seem to be a problem, but something to watch.

We may be seeing guys pushed out, but we have to be competitive in $’s, and expectations, or the job may not be as enticing, longterm, as we want. Interesting topic, and we really don’t know what is happening inside, but we like what we are seeing on the outside!


Yes, it was definitely rumoured that Boughknight did not have the legendary Cristobal work ethic, And, of course, WR recruiting had left lots to be desired, UNTIL THIS YEAR! :-)

Jon Joseph

Kentucky has more $.

Jon Joseph

Thanks David.

Spot on take.

When Leavitt did not get the HC job he basically fired himself and had to go.

As to ‘the other guys’ mentioned in your fine take, swapping pieces on the chess board instead of throwing them away is the sign of effective, mature, leadership.

Regarding Arroyo? Did Marcus have the freedom to operate as he wanted? Or, was he handcuffed by Mario? Will JM have the freedom to manage the O as he sees fit?

FYI and as I noted in the comments to yesterday’s article, it is worth the while of all Ducks fans to find Dennis Dodd’s interview with Mario on the CBS sports college football site.

I’d link it. But when it comes to tech, I am missing far more than a single link.

Jon Sousa

My take on Mario possibly “handcuffing” MA is: in the first year yes, at least somewhat, in order to instill his culture of being “bigger, better, stronger than” / “impose our will on” our opponent. I think there was a “Let’s do it!” and then a “Let’s do it again”… and then a “Let’s do it AGAIN!” Until everyone got the idea that they want to be able to push people around. That takes repetition. And I think it worked.

Second year, I think that MC didn’t bring out the handcuffs as much. I think different parts of the Culture were being worked on even while none of the parts were ever allowed to be forgotten. I think MC had/has a long term view of accomplishing this goals and I think the team is ahead of schedule. I believe they would have been in the playoffs this year, sans COVID.


David ,great article ! Heck YES , MC pushed those guys out the door , our offense was like a BAD marriage , boring and predictable ! Look at our 2 loses , and the scoring 17 pts , against a terrible stanford team was a joke . Only 24 , really 17 , against OSU ! That wasn’t gonna cut it against real teams !!! Only things that disappoints me , we could be 4 days and counting till Ohio State. ! Biggest game EVER in Autzen


The question is, did he or didn’t he? And David, I think he did, and I think it worked out for all involved, Cristobal is definitely a CIC, and a well running coaching staff is imperative if his vision for Oregon football is going to materialize.

Donte Williams was the exception; Cristobal didn’t want this ace recruiter to leave, especially not to end up, and relight a fire at USC. But, Rod Chance, returning to Oregon, has stepped up, and the DB’s look to still be of the strongest units on the team.

But, as BDF mentioned, what is up with Mastro? the RB’s were at the core of Oregon football and have definitely taken a step back.


Good point 30Duck. Donte Williams was a big loss for Oregon and was intensified because he went to USC, laying in the heart of recruitment land.


I’m not sure why this is throwing me off and making me scratch my head, but MC has been the “CIC” for over two years now…if he doesn’t have the pieces in place to fit his “vision” when is it going to happen? Are we talking different coaches, different schemes, different players?

That’s what I don’t get…it’s like people are contradicting themselves by saying MC is handcuffing his coaches, but makes great coaching hires. If he’s limiting them on what they can do with schemes, players, etc., then that actually doesn’t give a whole lot of hope for the future, no matter who the OC is.

Has anyone actually heard a player or coach (current or former) say anything about MC holding anyone back? Granted, I don’t know the guy, but I just don’t see that as being one of his traits. Plus, as vanilla and predictable as our offense was last year under Arroyo, we did win the PAC12 and the Rose Bowl with him in charge of the offense. I’ll take vanilla and predictable all day, every day if those are the results.


I agree that it was Arroyo who was the issue, but I keep hearing so many people saying that it was MC that wouldn’t turn him, or anyone loose on offense. This is coming from both fans and commentators during games. I replied to your comment, but it really is more of a stand alone statement.


Exactly right about the coaching moves needing to be parts of the plan and not isolated actions which is what I’ve seen from Cristobal. It could be that Cristobal sees Mastro becoming even more of an asset in Morehead’s offense. If this doesn’t happen, he’ll be gone.


I’m thinking that maybe Mastro is, how do you say, “something that we will get around to changing but first things first”.


I think you hit the nail on the head here David. I for one was sure that Arroyo’s departure was helped by MC. I was not watching McClendon as closely but can imagine his departure put a smile on MC’s face although hidden from the fans. How much he was pushed I don’t know but it would fit the pattern. It’s always hard to say what goes on when the lights go off, after all it is a game of “hardball”.

Either way the Ducks were the benefactor. What surprises me now is why Jim Mastro is still around. (Next man up – maybe ??)

Jon Joseph

Didn’t Arroyo leave after the first drive in the Rose Bowl?

I was surprised, and pleased that UNLV offered him the gig. It’s too bad he did not get to open the new Raiders stadium against CAL. I hope the stadium will help UNLV’s recruiting? With the coming of the Raiders and the growth of Vegas, UNLV could be an expansion target for the B 12?


Thats quite a travel distance for the B12 to go, isn’t it ??

Jon Joseph

For most teams, closer than Morgantown, W VA.


No clue about a future b12 expansion but I am not all that surprised that UNLV offered him the gig. He has been known as a pretty good recruiter for some time and while UNLV isn’t a great qb coach he may be able to hire some better coaches around him. example of his recruiting prowess, in the four years prior to him at UNLV they average a MW class of 7.5. Last class UNLV was number 2, and they currently have the number one MW class. he also recruited players like chuba hubbard at Oklahoma state and Goff at cal, I think he is a pretty good talent evaluator.

Jon Joseph

Good points all.


CJ improved A LOT during the season last year. I know we will always love Campbell, and that RB recruiting was not great during Helfrich, but I am not sure Maestro is a ‘problem’ in the same way Leavitt and Boughknight definitely were, and most likely Arroyo to some degree – we will see how much if our Ducks ever play again….


i completely agree here. CJ was never a burner yet he is steadily improving, imagine his yardage last year if he didn’t have injuries last year. I think we need to understand that CJ is being used to the best of his ability in the system he was in, which often created loaded boxes that he had to plow through.

Jon Joseph

Will he play in the 2020 season in2021?


No clue, while I think he is a guaranteed draft pick He can always increase his stock. Unlike Sewell and holland who are pretty much first round picks. My guess is he plays.