In the last five years Oregon has seen two head coaches leave for their dream jobs. Willie Taggart didn’t even finish coaching the entirety of his first season at Oregon before he jumped at the opportunity to coach at Florida State. Mario Cristobal left after the Pac-12 Championship game after leading the program for four years.
Both names prompt angry comments from the Oregon fan base. Coaches leaving our beloved Ducks program for any reason besides going to join the NFL ranks brings a volatile reaction. The truth is that Oregon isn’t many coaches’ dream job, but it is a good place to be. Every coach since the Rich Brooks era has brought something to Oregon and helped elevate the program. For that alone we should be thankful for Taggart and Cristobal and wish them well as they continue their coaching careers elsewhere.
The Short Taggart Period
Taggart was always going to treat the Oregon job as a stepping stone, regardless of how much time he spent in Eugene. His tenure at Oregon was only as short as it was because of the timing of the Florida State job opening up just under a year from Taggart’s arrival. Taggart would probably have taken any of the three major Florida jobs, and it happened that the University of Florida job opened in 2018 and Miami in 2019. It was only a matter of time before Taggart would be back in his home state.
Taggart sold himself to Florida State and they hired him. They paid his buyout to Oregon and paid him even more. It turns out that Florida State didn’t want to keep Taggart for long, as he lasted for about a season and a half before Florida paid another Taggart buyout.
Oregon fans actively rooted against Taggart at Florida State and cheered his firing as a sort of comeuppance for leaving Oregon. This is completely illogical because Florida State’s firing of Taggart just proves that Oregon hired the wrong coach and inevitably would’ve had to fire Taggart if he had stayed. Taggart couldn’t restore Florida State, which sits in a recruiting hotbed, so he was unlikely to get Oregon to the promised land.
We should thank Taggart for leaving when he did; he saved us as fans a lot of pain and he ensured Oregon was paid four million dollars for his buyout rather than having to pay it.
Cristobal Has Returned Home, and That’s a Good Thing
The last four games of the 2021 season have been absolutely terrible. Utah and Oklahoma blew Oregon out in the first half and never looked back. Though Cristobal didn’t coach the Alamo Bowl game, the program’s deficiencies were still evident. Even though Oregon put on a valiant comeback, it was too late.
Cristobal has done some incredibly good and valuable things for Oregon in his four years as the head coach. He has won Oregon two Pac-12 Championships and a Rose Bowl, and brought us Oregon’s first-ever win over Ohio State. Most importantly though, Cristobal has brought the Ducks our best recruiting classes in program history and has shown that it is not impossible to recruit to Oregon — it requires a lot of work, but it is by no means impossible.
As the season wore on it became more and more apparent that it is unlikely Cristobal was going to lead Oregon to the promised land of a National Championship — not without making a significant number of changes. Cristobal is a better head coach after four years at Oregon than he was when he started, but his stubbornness has been a point of severe frustration for Oregon fans for the past four years, and that is something that was never going to change.
Cristobal did relinquish the pistol and embraced the shotgun in the run game this year, which is a massive improvement; however, the offense has remained mediocre. That is partly due to the lack of ability from Anthony Brown, but also from the offensive vision which has been more about power than speed and points.
Even before Cristobal announced his departure from Oregon for Miami, it was well known that Joe Moorhead was on his way out. He was announced as the next head coach at Akron, and Cristobal was going to be in the market for another offensive coordinator — and it wasn’t likely that we were going to see a sudden and drastic shift in the offensive mentality at Oregon.
Regardless of his shortcomings, the powers that be at Oregon were prepared to give Cristobal a large contract extension to stay. Cristobal’s decision to decline that extension and go to Miami has saved our future frustrations as we watched a slow plodding offense and a bend-but-don’t-break defense. Cristobal’s departure pays Oregon nine million dollars and gives Oregon a chance at a new coach.
Dawn of the Lanning Era
The loss of another promising recruiting class hurts, but we should be thanking Cristobal for leaving now and for what he achieved in elevating Oregon’s program. It is because of Cristobal that this Oregon team is stocked with talent and ready for Oregon’s next head coach, Dan Lanning, to take over.
So as fans, let’s stop referring to Taggart as “Slick Willie” and Cristobal as “Wario.” For those who don’t know the reference, Wario is effectively evil Mario from the video game series. It makes us as a fan base look bad and it’s time we are thankful for what we have now and what the future may hold. The future is bright for Oregon football and that has only been made possible because of the work of all the coaches who have come to Oregon, including those who decided to leave us for their dream jobs.
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Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in Bozeman, Montana.
David Marsh is a high school social studies teacher in Portland, Oregon. As a teacher he is known for telling puns to his students who sometimes laugh out of sympathy, and being both eccentric about history and the Ducks.
David graduated from the University of Oregon in 2012 with Majors in: Medieval Studies, Religious Studies, and Geography. David began following Ducks Football after being in a car accident in 2012; finding football something new and exciting to learn about during this difficult time in his life. Now, he cannot see life without Oregon football.
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