10 Candidates to Replace Andy Avalos as Defensive Coordinator

Coach Eric Boles Editorials

Another year, another coordinator search. The idea of replacing coordinators every two or three years isn’t an enjoyable one for most Ducks fans, as they long for the days of decades-long staff continuity, but it’s the reality of having a great staff. Coach Mario Cristobal has done a tremendous job building Oregon’s staff. These coaches aren’t leaving the program for the same position elsewhere, but for promotions. That’s an indicator of the program’s strength and its ability to attract great coaches when the time comes.

With Coach Andy Avalos most likely moving on to become the head coach of his alma mater, Boise State, the Ducks are tasked with finding his replacement. The list that follows is of ten possible candidates to become the new Oregon defensive coordinator.

Joe Salave’a

Coach Joe Salave’a

Coach Salave’a is your in-house candidate. He has been a career-long defensive line coach, but if he is interested in becoming a defensive coordinator, this may be the perfect situation. He already has a relationship with the players on the current team and with Oregon’s recruits. Coach Salave’a has worked under Coach Avalos for the last two seasons, so he’s also familiar with the current system.

Peter Sirmon

Coach Peter Sirmon

Coach Sirmon just finished his first season as defensive coordinator for the California Golden Bears. In 2019 he was co-DC, and the year before that, he served as their inside linebackers coach. Outside of Cal, he has coordinated defenses for Mississippi State (2016) and Louisville (2017). At all three stops, Coach Sirmon has implemented a 3-4 defense, a style that the Ducks are very familiar with. Though already a DC within the Pac-12, it could be alluring for Coach Sirmon to the lead the defense of his alma mater.
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Tosh Lupoi

Coach Tosh Lupoi

Coach Lupoi is the current defensive line coach and run game coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons. Both he and Coach Cristobal served on the Alabama Crimson Tide staff from 2014-2016. Coach Lupoi was promoted to co-DC for the 2017 season, and later sole DC, where he coached a 3-4 defensive scheme. On top of his defensive prowess, Coach Lupoi is a strong recruiter with ties to the West Coast, as he began his career with Cal and Washington.

Zach Arnett

Coach Zach Arnett

Currently, Coach Arnett is the defensive coordinator for Mississippi State. Before joining Mike Leach in Starkville, he spent his entire career with San Diego State, including a stint as DC from 2018 through 2019. Coach Arnett uses a unique scheme in the 3-3-5 defense, similar to what Oregon uses now. The familiarity with the West Coast, especially the state of California, would also aid tremendously in recruiting.

Kurt Mattix

Coach Kurt Mattix

Coach Mattix is Coach Arnett’s heir and current defensive coordinator at San Diego State. In his first season, there was no drop-off in defensive production for the Aztecs as they are ranked 3rd in total defense. Like his predecessor, Coach Mattix deploys the 3-3-5 scheme. Both Coach Mattix and Coach Arnett take a unique scheme and make it more unique by alignment. They usually have both OLBs on the line, much like the 3-4 defense. This creates a 5-man line, and either OLB can come or drop at any time, making it incredibly hard for offense to pick up. Also, like Coach Arnett, Coach Mattix is familiar with the recruiting footprint in California, which is a plus.

Kevin Steele

Coach Kevin Steele

Coach Steele was, most recently, the defensive coordinator for Auburn. On top of being Auburn’s DC, he has held the same position with Alabama, Clemson and LSU, along with spending time in the NFL. Of all the coaches on this list, Coach Steele’s 4-2-5 defensive scheme is the most similar to the Ducks’ current system. His system has been built from a full career of seeing the nation’s best offenses. Coach Steele also bring automatic name recognition, which is a huge aide in recruiting.

Derek Mason

Coach Derek Mason

Coach Mason was most recently the head coach of Vanderbilt, and before that, was the DC for the Stanford Cardinal from 2011-2013. He also spent time in the NFL. Coach Mason’s career is unique in that he has coached on both sides of the ball, spending a lot of time as a WR coach. In his last two seasons as the Cardinal DC, his 3-4 defenses shut down the conference’s best offense in the Ducks. Not only does he know defense, but he knows the conference and the state of California.

Will Muschamp

Coach Will Muschamp

Coach Muschamp is the former head coach of South Carolina. He has also been the defensive coordinator for Auburn and Texas, where he put together some of the nation’s best defenses. His 4-3 defensive scheme is built around physicality, a trait that Coach Cristobal adores in his team. Though Coach Muschamp hasn’t spent any of his career on the West Coast his name recognition makes him a recruiting force all across the nation. However, if Oregon wants him, they may have to battle Texas for his services. Though the allure of returning to his one time home in Austin may be too great, he’s too big of a name to leave off this list.

Jim Leonhard

Coach Jim Leonhard

Coach Leonhard is the mastermind behind Wisconsin’s 3-4 defense and a hot name in coaching circles. He has spent his entire, though not very long, career with the Wisconsin program. He started out as the Badgers’ DB coach in 2016, was elevated to DC in 2017 and has since coached one of the nation’s best defensive units. This past season, Wisconsin ranked 5th in the nation in total defense. It would be difficult to lure him away from Wisconsin, but it’s worth a shot.

Marcus Freeman

Coach Marcus Freeman

Coach Freeman is the current defensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bearcats. Though last on this list, his name is top-of-mind for every program searching for a DC. His Bearcats defense has allowed just 18 touchdowns this season (averaging out to only 1.8 per game!), and though his scheme is more akin to the 3-3-5, it easily shifts to a 4-3 when need be. He has spent his career solely in the Midwest, but programs all over the nation have their eye on him, and for good reason.

That’s my list of ten candidates to replace Coach Avalos. I believe that every name on this list would serve Oregon well. If you have another name in mind, I would love to hear it in the thread for this article in FishDuck’s new Our Beloved Ducks Forum. Go Ducks!

Coach Eric Boles
Newark, Ohio
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