On Tuesday, December 5th, 2017, The University of Oregon football program was confronted with a familiar hindrance when the Ducks’ head coach Willie Taggart was announced as the new head football coach for the Florida State Seminoles. Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens has chosen highly regarded offensive mind Mario Cristobal to replace Taggart at the head of the program. This stands as the second winter in a row the Ducks have been given the job of filling the most important seat within the coaching staff, as the Ducks’ former head coach Mark Helfrich was fired on December 1, 2016, after just winning 2 out of 9 conference matchups. Willie Taggart’s decision came subsequent to an array of rumors regarding his loyalty to the Oregon program, and such rumors were spurred by the departure of Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher in November.
Prior to Fisher leaving, it was already apparent that Florida State was Willie Taggart’s dream job. With Taggart’s undeniably successful season in Eugene, there was no doubt he was at the top of the Seminoles’ list. Taggart, a Florida native, spent the majority of his early coaching career at the University of South Florida where he essentially reversed the success of the Bulls from two wins and 10 losses in 2014 to 10 wins and two losses in 2016.
In the midst his first and only season as head coach for the Oregon Ducks, Taggart left an immediate impression on the nation of college football, as his 2017 recruiting class ranked a stunning No. 1 in the nation. Taggart led the Ducks to finish the regular season 7-5, a progression from 4-8 in 2016, even without injured starting quarterback Justin Herbert against California and Utah, and at Stanford. Taggart’s incredible ability to quickly re-energize a fallen program had caught the eye of many athletic directors across the country.
Thus, many Oregon fans were not surprised when Taggart packed his bags that Tuesday to coach the struggling Florida State Seminoles, even though there was a sense of disloyalty and deception amongst the Ducks’ fanbase.
Three days later, Mario Cristobal took the podium at a press conference. “I’m beyond humbled and honored to be here today as the head football coach at the University of Oregon,” said Cristobal.
Cristobal lived out his early coaching career with minor coaching positions at Miami (FL) and Rutgers, and earned his first head football coaching job at Florida International University (FIU) in 2007. In his five years as head coach of FIU, Cristobal won a Sun Belt conference championship and earned the Sun Belt Coach of the Year award in 2010. Cristobal’s talent led him to college football powerhouse Alabama in 2013 where he spent 3 years as the offensive line coach and assistant head coach to Nick Saban, where Cristobal earned the 2015 National Recruiter of the Year award. He then moved on to be the co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach of the Oregon Ducks, and on Friday, December 8th, Cristobal stepped into spotlight as he was upgraded to head coach.
In an interview with athletic director Rob Mullens considered several people for the head coaching job, but he landed on Mario Cristobal to vanguard the program. “Something separated Mario from group,” said Mullens.
With the employment of highly decorated Mario Cristobal, the Duck program seemed to have rebounded quickly. But with a post-season loss in early December at the Las Vegas Bowl to number 22 Boise State, fans and critics raised questions regarding Cristobal’s potency as head coach.
On Wednesday, the Ducks took action in their first Spring practice of 2018, and with the new season arises new hopes for the program.
The Willie Taggart era motto “Do Something” has been replaced by gigantic banners that read, “COMMITMENT, DISCIPLINE, EFFORT, TOUGHNESS, PRIDE”.
Starting receiver Dillon Mitchell stated that such an attitude is “what we’re trying to bring back here.”
Cristobal’s energetic disposition doesn’t seem to be his only redeeming factor. Ducks players have voiced the overwhelming support of Cristobal as a friend and role model.
“He’s been a lot more transparent than the last staff,” said Oregon running back Tony Brooks-James. “I can pretty much go to him and talk to him about anything I want to.”
Only the future will tell if Cristobal’s Ducks will be successful next fall. But fans can only hope that the young players of last year’s football program have gained some much-needed experience over the offseason, and that the squad will rally behind Cristobal’s fresh energy and attitude.
“He pushes us, he’s a great storyteller. He’s a guy that you kind of just want to run through a brick wall for,” Brooks-James said.