Can Every Oregon Coaching Hire Be An Upgrade?

David Marsh Editorials

With every new hire, Mario Cristobal declares it an upgrade. In most cases to date, this seems true. However, was each one of these hires really an upgrade for the Oregon program?

In the case of the new defensive coordinator, this would seem to be true. When Mario Cristobal took over the program at the end of 2017, he inherited, and then extended, Jim Leavitt’s contract. At that time, Leavitt was considered the savior of Oregon’s defense and, for the most part, that was true. Leavitt proved to be good on the X’s and O’s front, and the defense had a remarkable improvement from 2016 to 2017. However, he seemed to be a reluctant recruiter and didn’t fit Cristobal’s culture. (The two reportedly did not gel.) It initially came as a shock when Cristobal let Leavitt go at the conclusion of the 2018 season. Although, with our retrospective understanding of their relationship, this firing seemed inevitable.

Cristobal followed up Leavitt’s departure with Andy Avalos, who was an all-around upgrade over his predecessor. Avalos’ defense in 2019 was one of the best in Oregon’s extensive history, and Oregon recruiting reached new heights. Avalos was a far more hands-on recruiter than Leavitt and just as importantly, Avalos was a better fit for the program’s culture. Avalos left Oregon at the end of the 2020 season to take the head coaching job at Boise State, which created a new opportunity for Oregon’s defense.

Kevin Cline

Andy Avalos helped create one of the best defenses in program history in the 2019 season.

Tim DeRuyter comes to Oregon as a veteran defensive coordinator with head coaching experience. We have not seen DeRuyter’s mark on the defense yet, but in the upcoming Spring Game, fans will get their first glimpse of what should be a dominant defense. DeRuyter will be an upgrade in terms of X’s and O’s over Avalos due to his experience alone.

Upgrade at Recruiting?

In terms of recruiting, DeRuyter does not have a history of being an ace recruiter, but he also hasn’t been with many high-profile programs, so it is difficult to gauge how good of a recruiter he can be at Oregon. He will have access to more resources and a more attractive national brand than he has had at anywhere he coached previously, save Texas A&M. In this respect, DeRuyter isn’t too different from Oregon’s other recent hire, safeties coach Marcel Yates. Yates comes to Oregon with a wealth of experience as a position coach, and was even the defensive coordinator at Arizona. However, Yates doesn’t have many four or five-star recruits to his name, unlike his Oregon predecessor Keith Heyward.

It’s also of note that when it comes to evaluating a coach’s recruiting ability, you have to consider the program the coach was recruiting to. The resources for recruiting at Oregon are greater than those at Cal, Arizona, and most other schools in the country. As fans, we cannot expect coaches coming from programs with fewer resources to be considered premier recruiters. It doesn’t mean they aren’t good recruiters, as both DeRuyter and Yates have both managed to find and develop top-tier talent. Rather, both coaches were just not at programs that could realistically pursue five-star recruits.

From Twitter

DeRuyter’s linebackers at Cal were scary good.

The most important aspect of recruiting is finding and developing the best talent available. At Cal, DeRuyter was able to recruit and develop a terrifying linebacking corps. DeRuyter and Yates will both improve as recruiters as they learn from Cristobal and also take advantage of the resources they need to recruit top-tier talent. Recruiting will not be an issue for either coach during their time at Oregon.

Can Cristobal Keep Upgrading?

This leads to the question: What happens when big names like DeRuyter or Offensive Coordinator Joe Moorhead leave Oregon? Is it possible for Oregon to upgrade if Cristobal has seemingly maxed out the potential at this position?

Cristobal is always looking for coaches who push the program forward, and in Cristobal’s mind, the best way to do this is through constant competition. In practice, Cristobal wants his players to compete against each other; to push each other to be better. Cristobal wants the same from his coaches.

From Twitter

Tim DeRuyter ushers in the next era of the Oregon defense.

Cristobal has poached his previous two defensive coordinators from teams that stifled Oregon in frustrating losses. There is a sense that Cristobal is looking for coaches who can beat his team with less talent. In the case of his defensive coordinators, Cristobal hired Avalos and then DeRuyter so that they could challenge Oregon’s offense every single day at practice. The same can be said for Cristobal’s hiring of Moorhead to challenge the Oregon defense.

This is the key to Cristobal finding upgrades in his coaching staff: competition. If done right, Cristobal can continue to upgrade his staff with every hire, as each hire should bring new ideas and innovations.

So far, Cristobal has been able to upgrade his coaching staff with every new hire, and let’s hope that trend continues.

David Marsh
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo By: Eugene Johnson

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

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