Knowing Taggart: What Was Cristobal’s REAL PLAN at Oregon?

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Editorials 41 Comments

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As an astute Oregon fan, you know the story. Willie Taggart was hired as the new coach at the end of the 2016 season, and he brought a staff to Eugene that included current head coach Mario Cristobal as the offensive line coach, co-offensive coordinator and run-game coordinator. Taggart left to coach at his dream school, Florida State, and Cristobal was hired by Rob Mullens.

But as I was mentally replaying the tapes on this a few months back with Duck-Buddy and former FishDuck writer Mike Merrell, there were some aspects of the story that did not match up with what we know now about the parties involved. Taggart could sell, and he sold the recruits, the parents and all of us on what he could do. Unfortunately, it did not take him long to break his word, and many of us in the after-the-fact reflection admitted that we did not see the signs of the Taggarts’ (lack of) ethics until much later.

But Mario had to have known that up front.

This was a great point brought up by Mike. One thing we’ve all been sold on is Cristobal’s ability to read and understand people and the value he places on building trust and long-term relationships. That was not Taggart’s schtick, and Cristobal had to have known that immediately after spending time with Willie.

So why did Mario Cristobal come to Oregon? Was there a master plan that took into account the weaknesses of Taggart? Was there evil genius at work (a la Mike Meyers above)?

Did Coach Cristobal know that Taggart would either blow it in Eugene or that Taggart’s ethics and coaching (see Seminoles) would eventually come to the fore and open up an opportunity for Cristobal to fill the void? He was overwhelmingly endorsed by the players after Taggart left. Was there a purpose behind Cristobal’s significant relationship building with the team (even outside the offensive line) during Mario’s first year?

Knowing Taggart and knowing Cristobal … how could Mario have not known how it would all play out?

Nothing Nefarious?

A regular in the comments, duckcardinal, proposed a different possible explanation for Cristobal’s move to Eugene that I had not considered. When Cristobal was named the top assistant coach recruiter in nation at the end of 2015, many probably thought “anybody can recruit to Alabama and Nick Saban.” Maybe Coach Cristobal came to the West Coast to prove that he could recruit anywhere he went, even in the more difficult Pacific Northwest.

Plausible, but I’m not buying it.

Gary Breedlove

So we should simply say “thanks” to Willie Taggart? Or salute the resourcefulness of Mario Cristobal?

We will never know the answer, and I’m not sure I want to. I am just glad it worked out as it did and we can savor the best recruiting class ever with the 2021 LOI days coming up. We all love so much of what Mario is putting in place, and yet I also think about the risk of coming to Oregon with Slick Willie. C’mon, you know what I mean … Taggart is a NCAA recruiting violation waiting to happen, and that could have also put Cristobal’s career in peril due to his association. 

That part of it is the biggest surprise to me. Yes, there was a big incentive for Mario to come west, but the risk with Mr. Fake Smile was significant, as well. It was either an incredibly gutsy or a brilliant move by Coach Cristobal.

I cannot imagine that Cristobal ending up as head coach for the Ducks was just a pleasant happen-stance, can you? 

“Oh how we love to ponder about Our Beloved Ducks!”

Charles Fischer   (Mr. FishDuck)
Eugene, Oregon
Top Photo by Gary Breedlove

Andrew Mueller, the Volunteer Editor for this article, works in higher education in Chicago, Illinois.

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Cristabal is heads and Shoulders above the Man Taggart. Integrity no mater what time you live in is Oh so important. If you are lied to by someone once would you tend to ever believe them after that? You shouldn’t and Taggart’s personality defiecency’s were there a long time before he came here with his TWO faces. Cristabals has the blood lines to succeed and at first he did it at Miami in their hay days. Then he coached for one of the greats and he learned from Saban and He actually might be Sabans first Desciple to beat his once HC in a meaningful game. I just wish our coach’s would quit taking these SEC matchups that benefit them close to their home fields if your not going to come away victorious. Christabal will get it done here if Mullins pays him and his SUPER Staff what they deserve to stick around a while.

David Marsh

From the looks of it Arroyo in his opening game at UNLV scored only 6 points. The offense was dreadfully predictable.

Do maybe so many of the Oregon offensive problems were on his play calling? Who knows at this point it is a small sample size and Oregon needs to take the field this year for us to compare.


Chargers win!!!! 39-29 over Jacksonville. As usual, the Chargers led early, this time 16-0. But then Jacksonville went on a 21-0 blitz. Justin however would not be denied this time. He passed for around 350 yards,had 3 TD passes, and 60+ yards rushing, including a run for a touchdown. He was great on 3rd down today, and again he was on every type of pass. Him and Keenan Allen are becoming a great combination. Next week, Chargers @ Broncos, where it was snowing today.

David Marsh

Herbert deserved to win and his team finally helped him get it. Herbert is far and away the best player on their roster as he is carrying that team.


Interesting take on the ever changing coaching carousel. Based upon Cristobal’s win/loss record as head coach, it would be difficult for him to be hired at a marquee job. (Tough sell to the major donors.) However, a stop as an underling at a marquee location would help build momentum to a better gig.

I do believe that this was a stepping stone for Cristobal. I think that a few years in Eugene was the overall plan to gain momentum back into a HC position. As circumstances played out, the HC position was handed over to him. He obviously impressed in the interview stage and full support of the team certainly helped.

I think that the person under the gun was actually Rob Mullens. The team was in meltdown mode and the powers behind Mullens knew something had to be done to stabilize the environment. Cristobal was hired and we are starting to reap the rewards based upon his recruiting prowess.

Cristobal is a dynamic individual, and his work ethic motor runs at high speed. He appears to me as a “blue collar” coach that will just outwork the guy next to him all day long. He exudes confidence and that appeals to both players, and coaches that have to work beside him.

Thanks for the article.


A modest refresher with a slightly different take on the history of the principals:
When Mullens hired Taggart he was a rising star, with a rock-solid pedigree. Recruited out of high school by Jim Harbaugh to play QB for his dad @ Western Kentucky, Taggart had an outstanding career there and became close with the entire Harbaugh family.

Willie rejoined Jim as his running backs coach when Harbaugh took over a moribund Stanford program, and was part of that transformation into a top 10 national program via installation of a blue-collar and relentless work ethos, physicality, and a power run, West Coasty type offense, plus a complete overhaul of their recruiting process. When the HC job at a stumbling Western Ky opened up, Willie left Stanford with Jim’s blessings and turned around his alma mater’s program in a couple years before taking over the higher profile USF HC job.

Taggart’s Stanford style offense was not getting it done in Tampa, so Willie took a hard look, hired some spread style assistant coaches and came up with the very productive Gulf Coast offense, which he intended to implement @ UO until a couple of those assistants fell afoul of the racy night life in Eugene, bringing Marcus Arroyo to Lane County. That’s the basic story; nothing nefarious here folks. Ponder what might have happened if the FSU job hadn’t become open for another 3-5 years…..

Leavitt swapped DC roles from Boulder to Eugene for somewhere around a 50-100% pay raise. Don’t recall at the time having heard anything about his family never relocating to Colorado, but it was no secret that JL had his go-bag ready for another HC job, with Kansas State the prohibitive favorite. He did leave us Adrian Jackson, who I’m dying to see play fast and finishing!

Mario had completed his coaching PhD @ U-Nick, and, having earned National Recruiter of the Year, was marking time in a post-doctoral limbo where he looked to be way behind flashy OC types for advancement. A jump to a suitable university where he could expand his role (and net income) with a tenure track position seemed natural. Plus, the wife had family out on the West Coast, so a chance to expand his recruiting footprint and coaching acumen was utterly logical.

Now, I can’t discount Charles’ psychological ruminations, but for the Occam’s Razor type folks, the above might suffice.


While I agree slick left Stanford with Harbaugh’s blessing, all of the next moves weren’t as smooth. I also agree his pedigree through the Harbaugh’s was strong.

He left Western Kentucky as head coach, and wasn’t able to coach their bowl game, as it wasn’t what the program wanted. He also left the South Florida program toward his stated goal of winning a national championship with little thought of how it impacted anyone else. He then left Oregon after one season, again with little thought, other than what he wanted.

If you look at this quotes he now regrets leaving Oregon, and letting down Mullens. He now wants to try and build something where he gets ‘the hardware,’ as in the past he left before reaping what he sowed. Once again he is showing his true colors. He doesn’t talk about the student, just the outcome he wants as coach.

What is interesting is the lessons Taggart keeps being taught. In his only bowl game, he lost to Western Kentucky, the team he left. He got his dream job, and he was fired. I hope he is listening, as people with little integrity often get those lessons.

I will say it was Mullens who was taken advantage of. The guy was a known carpetbagger, and Mullens didn’t put in place a decent buyout.

I also agree that slick isn’t a nefarious character. He is, was a self-centered person and short sighted. It seems his last stop may have cured him of this, but I’ll believe it when I see it. I hope he has learned, it is nice to see people turn things around and create positive change.


Hayward, I agree, Taggart isn’t nefarious, but I find that self centered and short sighted are too lenient of descriptors. He’s a con man. He knew what he was doing when he signed the deal at Oregon, and I think he was chuckling inside about how his departure played out. It would be nice if he could turn things around, but yeah, seeing is believing.


I try to be too lenient in my description when I speak about people. I wish I had the opportunity to tell slick, to his face, that he was an incredibly poor example to his children when he left Oregon the way he did. What matters most, to those with integrity, he was devoid of. When I read about his discussion with his son about the FSU job, I about puked.

I will say the student matters the most when looking at college athletics! That includes winning and knowing how to win. I also enjoy a little character, but that is another discussion.


Mario Cristobal said entire team will be tested tomorrow, (Sunday) as per usual protocol, follow-up PCR tests for 5 positive antigen tests to come as well as contract tracing.
“From there, we’ll see what the next steps are” in terms of when the Ducks can resume anything.


And what became of Jim Leavitt post Oregon? Followed Taggart to FSU as an “Analyst” and subsequently Florida Atlantic as Defensive Coordinator. Maybe Jim is positioning himself for a HC gig knowing “Slicks” method of operation?


We have to remember there were 3 damaged head coaches hired when Helfrich was let go. Each of those coaches needed to build his resume in order to get where they wanted to go.

Slick probably came away with the best short term solution to his desire, be head coach at FSU. Little did he know this was the nightmare for everyone, but Oregon and Cristobal.

The damage, that was known about slick, was he would build a program and leave as soon as possible. This was also known to Cristobal. Cristobal knew, with the talent hired, the Oregon program would be built and slick would leave.

I think both Leavitt and Cristobal knew slick was a short term guy. Each of these guys knew one of them was going to be up to become head coach in just a couple years, maybe 3 at the outside. Cristobal won that bet, Leavitt lost, but both did an exceedingly good job for Oregon.

What was known about slick, was he was leaving before he even stepped off the plane. This is what brought Cristobal and Leavitt. His lack of integrity and loyalty was exactly why they came.

Leavitt wanted the money and opportunity. If Leavitt really wanted a head coaching position it probably would have been smarter to stay at Colorado and build his reputation back. Poor Colorado still has a revolving door at the head coach position.

Cristobal saw he would never become head coach at Alabama. I would guess he knew he needed to prove himself more before he was awarded the top spot again. He left to become a head coach, Oregon provided the best opportunity for that to happen. I think Cristobal knew exactly the type of coach slick was, a carpetbagger. He exploited the position to gain what he wanted.

Jon Joseph

The door hit Mel Tucker in the butt last night when Michigan State lost to RUTGERS,

Jon Joseph

Very interesting ponder point.

What motivates people? Always hard to know with certainty. It is interesting that a person with no ties to the west and with his family in Florida, would decide to pull up stakes and move west for a better opportunity. Something hundreds and hundreds of Americans have done and continue to do today.

Willie must have had a dream for Oregon football that he sold to many the coach back east who came with him. Maybe, if he hadn’t run a reverse, Willie could have pulled it off?

I do not plan on spending too much time asking why Mario is here, he’s here and never look a gift horse in the mouth (unless you are a Trojan,)

BTW, last evening, my rowboat sank and my plane was shot down – YTD ATS 5-3.


MN v UM was a fun game to watch, and Quacknadian has more bounce in his step today. Thanks for the heads up and teasers for that game and others. Poor Arroyo; rough opener. They looked as bad as the score; or worse.

BIG & Mountain West return doubled the number of games (and selectivity) that I recorded and sampled.

Biggest shocker was Domers spanking Pitt (hat tip, Bob R.) looking much more the contender than pretender.

Hope all those Boeing workers relocating from Seattle to South Carolina aren’t going to compromise your tee times!


This one is a Dilly, Charles. Unlike us fans, Mario had been around Willie T for a while, and so could see behind the façade, he knew what he really was, and when he joined him at Oregon, he knew that one way or another the head coach position would be open soon.

I was going to say that knowing this, Mario acted accordingly, but that sounds calculating on Mario’s part, and that is not what I intend. I see all of Mario’s behavior and actions as genuine. As much as Willie T’s character is real, so is Mario’s.

I believe it when Mario talks about what he’s building at Oregon. A coach can believe in himself without being full of himself. Mario wants to be the head coach at Oregon when the Ducks are National Champions, like we all do. But, Mario’s salary is a joke; next to last in the conference, half of what Whittingham is making at Utah. I believe Mario understands that Oregon can’t afford to pay him what he’s worth. But he isn’t selfless to a fault; there’s a lot of room to move up from 11th.


This just out: “Oregon announced it did not scrimmage as scheduled on Saturday because of “five positive antigen tests within the program”. What a blow to the season that is.

Jon Joseph

I think that with daily testing it will likely be difficult to get 7 games played?


bye, bye playoffs.


Well, Jerry Palm may not think so, but I said bye bye to the Playoffs before the season started.


Way down deep I had a little hope.


Yep, the Pac-12 slogan, “We’re better than nothing!”. But seriously, this season has an upside. A new OC, new QB, new OL, new receivers, new secondary, all these players get experience w/o using up eligibility. Let’s win the conference, because somebody has to, and after yesterday, I’ll take a Fiesta Bowl against Penn State, of course it might be Indiana. Well, unfortunately, it would probably be Wisconsin again.

Jon Sousa

I wouldn’t mind actually “kicking some Badger butt” next year. Last year’s win did not convince many Badgers that the Ducks were the better team.


That sounds familiar, who knew that Badgers & Huskies had something in common.


we are the only college football on the TV and will have a TON of eyes on us. You really think so ?? – – Maybe.

The tattletale sign will be if “Gameday” gives us a spotlight, or two. Wouldn’t that be a hoot.


24/7 has recently run a number of video pressers with most of the coaching staff. One thing they all have talked about is cross training players so that they will have serviceable depth at all positions. All schools will be dealing with some version of this problem.

Much as the press likes to make it seem so, this is not a catastrophe. Prior to this weekend I read that of 28 scheduled SEC games, 26 had been played.

This is not a sky-is-falling moment, and it’s likely to be the first of many similar events. Get ready for the ride.

Santa Rosa Duck

This is totally beyond our control. I hope we have a season but I think this team is really set up for a fine 2021 season. Ae we beyond COVID 19 by then?


I think you are right on there. In 2021 most everyone will have some experience at station, QB, OL, LB, Moorhead, etc. Also we have Ohio State as an OOC game. Should be a fun year.


Such an interesting puzzle you present us with Charles. Where do I start.

First of all I think you hit the nail on the head when you said “Taggart could sell, and he sold the recruits, the parents and all of us on what he could do”. However you should have added “coaches” to that list. Taggart also sold the bill of goods to the other coaches that came with him, including Cristobal. After all the easiest people to sell things too are sales people. Taggart sold the other coaches, the dream that he wanted for Oregon, and as shallow as it was at the time, Cristobal along with the recruits, the parents, Rob Mullens, and all of us bought into it.

Since Cristobal has taken over at Oregon we have all seen his significant relationship building with the team, the recruits, the parents and all of us, to the point that we can see that for him its not just a punch line it’s a lifestyle. I do not know when in his life it started but so far I don’t think it’s a “fake smile”. Now if Cristobal was to jump ship tomorrow for a place offering more money, than I would quickly reverse my opinion, but for now and for these last several years now, I think he’s real.

You ask “I cannot imagine that Cristobal ending up as head coach for the Ducks was just a pleasant happen-stance, can you?”. – – – I sure want to and for the rest of my dream time, I’ll put out my “do not disturb” sign, close my eye’s and put a smile on my face.


Taggart and Cristobal brought to Oregon something that we Oregon fans have not seen before, “elite level recruiting”, and that beg’s the question “what other elite characteristics has Oregon fans not seen before that we hope to in the future ?? – – – – A national championship, maybe ??

Jon Joseph

Good point on Taggart being an excellent salesman and perhaps, Mario had enough of working for Nick Saban to want to move on?


I was thinking perhaps he looked at it as an opportunity to show what he could do when not working under Saban.


Interesting thought.