Can Every Oregon Coaching Hire Be An Upgrade?

David Marsh Editorials 12 Comments

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

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Santa Rosa Duck

Thanks David Marsh. Assembling a top staff and keeping them is almost a contradictory story. The very best especially if they are young are going to be looking to move on and up.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

I have been stunned at the quality of coaching that Cristobal has attracted/recruited to Oregon. I do not know how the Ducks can later improve upon Moorhead, DeRuyter and McClendon, and that says so much about how much I and the national media (who have noticed) regard the coaches hired.

But an upgrade could be and should be done at running backs and offensive line, (IMHO) and I will be writing about one of those positions in the next month….

Great topic and article David-THANKS.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

I will politely disagree; Mirabal does not have a great reputation, and I will expand upon that later. Oregon had won the conference rushing title nine years in a row, but has not since Steve Greatwood left.

The senior offensive line of 2019 badly underperformed it’s potential, IMHO, but that is for another day. The point in reference to your article is that upgrading in the coaching staff can still happen….

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

It is a great point you make that the game-plans and playbook make a big difference, as does the RB coach telling RBs not to use the cut-back lanes in the first year-and-a-half he was here.

Mirabal’s shortcomings are documented before his time at Oregon….

How much of the recruiting of offensive line do we credit Mirabal, and how much to Cristobal? The signings will always officially be credited to Mirabal, but I do think Mario has a bit of a hand in it too?


The stated goal at Oregon is to win a National Championship. Oregon’s recruiting success has at least put the team back into the CFP conversation. The juggling act of recruiting at the highest level and coaching the X’s and O’s on offense and defense is on full display at Oregon. We have seen the team struggle with coaching and scheme changes.

”Upgrading” the coaching staff is important, but continuity is also needed. Time will tell if the current mix of coaches and players can achieve their stated goals. The team struggled last year, but I won’t use last year as a measuring stick on the abilities of the coaches.

The one constant in coaching is that if a team has success, coaches will be recruited by other teams, and move on for opportunities to further their careers.

Cristobal has proven to be a top recruiter. Can he also be a top “CEO” and provide the stability needed for long term success as his coaching staff changes?


I think arguably it is a numbers game. In his 3 seasons and the current off season Cristobal has had a total of 18 coaches. 4 of the coaches that he started with are still with the team. As of this point I do believe every new coach has been an upgrade, equal to their previous coach or are to early to tell.

OC Arroyo -> Moorhead
I really don’t think I have to explain this one. Arroyo was not a great coordinator and while I think moorhead has yet to prove much on the field he has been the primary recruiter of Thompson, Brevard, and current commit Bailey and was the secondary recruiter of thornton. I think this is clear improvement over Arroyo.

DC Leavitt -> Avalos -> DeRuyter
As stated above Avalos was just a better fit for the culture than Leavitt. He was also way more involved in recruiting and was a nice guy. I am actually more excited for DeRuyter, I think his Defense will give more versatility and hopefully he doesn’t pull out a dime package as well.

S Heyward -> Yates(to early to tell)
I think this one is to early to tell.

OLB Dennison -> Wilson
I think both of these guys were great on the field coaches. and Dennison wasn’t a slump in recruiting. I think Wilson pulling in Sewell, flowe, Flowe2 and Brown in two years proves he is the better recruiter.

WR Johnson -> Bouknight -> Mclendon
Johnson was the coach while oregon had more drops than I can remember. Bouknight stopped the drops but couldn’t recruit. McClendon has kept the drops down and has a massive recruiting history. While he didn’t do much last year, I am excited to see if he can bump Oregon’s recruiting in the coming year.

CB Williams -> Chance
I think this is one were I’d call the hire a wash. I think both are really good coaches and recruiters.

No matter how good of a hiring process Cristobal will make a mistake. I think cristobal has mentioned that he modeled his hiring after Saban and I don’t think Saban or Alabama fans will say Saban has bat 1.000 at his hires. The trick to this is being able to release underperforming coaches like Cristobal did with Bouknight.

Which brings up a completely different concern why are Mastro and Williams still at oregon? Look I understand pulling an elite RB out of the south and north east may be very difficult. So I will excuse last year because the West just didn’t have a lot of talent their but in 2020 Mastro missed on Nygata(247R-125th, ASU) and Kendall Milton(247R-54th, UGA) both in California. To add to him, I just don’t feel that the RB’s are actually improving on the field.

With Williams I think I just need to say muffed punts and that should be enough.


Interesting topic and invites some thinking on the whole attractiveness of coaching at Oregon subject. I think Oregon is an incredibly attractive location to coach at. Coaches are lucky to have the opportunity to coach at Oregon.

Oregon gives coaches an opportunity to leverage the history while having support like few programs have. That support can best be summed up by one of the first discussion between Bellotti and Phil Knight. Knight simply asked Bellotti what he needed to be more successful.

At Oregon coaches are given the foundation to success. They are then given patience and support to succeed. Patience and support are a stark contrast to the demands and expectations of some programs. This is a unique combination not everyone recognizes, but it stands out throughout the Oregon Athletic Department and Programs.