Willie Taggart left his job at Oregon on Wednesday to accept the head coach position at Florida State, leaving the Ducks searching for a new coach for the second time in less than a calendar year. After thinking outside the box to hire Taggart from USF in 2016, Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens should have a pretty good list of candidates again in 2017. So who will be the next man in Eugene? We take a look at five realistic candidates.
Mario Cristobal, Oregon interim head coach
Why it’s realistic: Cristobal has already been a head coach having led Florida International to back-to-back winning seasons in 2010-11 before being fired following a 3-9 year in 2012. He’s also worked as Miami, the same school where he won a national championship as a player, and Alabama, where he helped the Tide maintain dominance of the college football world. Oregon’s offensive line play improved greatly in his one year in Eugene and his skills as a recruiter are also well-documented. If Cristobal does get the job he may be able to help salvage the Ducks' recruiting class.
Why it’s not: Cristobal’s record as a head coach is just 27-47 and despite his track record at Alabama, he’s been passed over for other smaller head coaching jobs in the past.
Realism Rank: 7
Jim Leavitt, Oregon defensive coordinator
Why it’s realistic: There’s no doubting that Leavitt’s arrival in Eugene had as much to do with the Ducks' turnaround in 2017. Oregon’s defense went from one of the worst in the country to being in the top third, without much of an influx of new talent. Leavitt was also a successful defensive coordinator at Colorado and his career record at USF was an impressive 95-57. Leavitt built the Bulls from the ground up and had the team as high as No. 2 in the country during the 2007 season. He’s also a tireless recruiter and keeping him in Eugene could help the Ducks salvage their top 10 recruiting class.
Why it’s not: Leavitt is known for his intense personality and his time at USF ended when he was accused of striking a player during halftime of a game and was later fired after school officials said he was untruthful in his retelling of the events. Leavitt has paid his dues to get back into the game since then, but making him a head coach at a program like Oregon would still be considered a risk.
Realism Rank: 6
Kevin Sumlin, former Texas A&M coach
Why it’s realistic: An established head coach who has had success both at Houston and Texas A&M, Sumlin was fired by the Aggies last month despite a 51-26 record at the program. During Oregon’s heyday in the Chip Kelly era, the team was built on star players from Texas and Sumlin would have no problem reaching into the Lone Star State to grab elite talent. Add in the fact that he’s a proven winner, albeit not to the degree that people in College Station wanted, he has a much higher floor than other coaches the Ducks might consider. His offensive system also wouldn’t be much of a departure from the Ducks' current scheme, easing the transition from Taggart.
Why it’s not: Sumlin was considered the leading candidate to replace Scott Frost but reportedly took himself out of the running because he wanted to spend more time with his family. Add in the fact that he doesn’t have many West Coast recruiting ties and Sumlin decide to wait until next offseason to go after his next job.
Realism rank: 5
Justin Wilcox, Cal head coach
Why it’s realistic: An Oregon native, Oregon legacy and an ex-Ducks football player himself, it only makes sense that Wilcox be mentioned as a candidate. Taggart left for his “dream job” at Florida State and the job in Eugene is likely the same thing for Wilcox. He’s also more than familiar with the conference having worked as a coordinator at both Washington and USC before becoming Cal’s head coach in 2016. Wilcox would be a steady hand at the helm of the program and wouldn’t be likely to jump ship like Taggart did after just one season.
Why it’s not: Wilcox has just one year of head coaching experience and he went 5-7 with the Golden Bears this season. He would also be making a jump to Eugene after only one year in Berkeley, a rarity in the college football world.
Realism Rank: 4
Bryan Harsin, Boise State head coach
Why it’s realistic: Harsin interviewed for the Oregon job last year and is only a more attractive candidate after another successful season at Boise State in 2017. He’s 41-12 during his time with the Broncos and seems primed to make the jump to the Power Five ranks. The Ducks clearly viewed him as a serious candidate a year ago and he has strong ties to the region having grown up in Boise and played for the Broncos.
Why it’s not: Harsin is a Boise State alum and a protégé of Chris Peterson, who was very careful about leaving the Broncos for another job, turning down plenty of opportunities before leaving for Washington. Not to mention Boise State is set to play Oregon in the Las Vegas bowl in 11 days. Would Harsin spurn his alma mater in advance of a bowl matchup against the school he’s leaving for? It’s hard to see that happening.
Realism Rank: 4
Mike Leach, Washington State head coach
Why it’s realistic: Leach has shown a terrific ability to win games in the toughest of places to recruit, including Texas Tech and Washington State. His success with the Cougars has been nothing short of remarkable, taking a program that was depleted of talent and turning it in a regular member of the Top 25. His success at Wazzu despite little-to-no ties to the Northwest shows just how good Leach is at building programs and doing less with more. He won’t have to worry about that at Oregon where facilities and resources are among the best in the country.
Why it’s not: Much like Leavitt, Leach has his share of off-field baggage and he continues to publicly fight with Texas Tech over compensation following his firing by the school. He’s also not known as a prolific recruiter, something the Oregon brass prioritized in the hiring of Taggart last year.
Realism Rank: 4