From 1977 through last season, Oregon employed four head coaches. With Willie Taggart’s departure for Florida State, the Ducks are now working on their third in the last 13 months. This is a program that has traditionally valued continuity in a transient business, so watching Taggart walk out the door the year after firing Mark Helfrich — the program’s first firing in four decades — is a shock to the system. There’s also an acute pressure on AD Rob Mullens to make this hire stick.
An understanding of Oregon’s history is a good place to start, though, because there’s a real chance Oregon fills its vacancy by promoting from within. Both of Taggart’s coordinators — Mario Cristobal on offense and Jim Leavitt on defense — are candidates for the full-time position. Both have held FBS head coaching positions before, and both would like to return to the big chair. Cristobal has been named interim head coach and has support of “most” of the locker room.
Leavitt has made no secret of his desire to be a head coach again, and the prospect of landing the head coaching position is unquestionably one of the things that made him pause before accepting Taggart’s offer of defensive coordinator for the ‘Noles.
It’s also worth remembering that Mullens used Parker Executive Search to land Taggart, and four other candidates Oregon engaged in dialogue with last time around were Greg Schiano, Matt Rhule, P.J. Fleck and Jim McElwain. We would not be surprised to see discussions begin again with any of those coaches, though circumstances have changed for each of them. Schiano had his life — and, presumably, his head coaching profile — turned upside down with the Tennessee fiasco. Rhule signed a 7-year deal as the head coach at Baylor. Fleck took the Minnesota job and has already signed a 2-year extension. McElwain passed the last time around, but has since been fired by Florida.
One name that was not mentioned last time around but has gained a lot of heat in coaching circles is Justin Wilcox. He earned positive reviews in his first season as Cal’s head coach, was born in Eugene and played defensive back for the Ducks. His buyout is a reported $2.695 million, which Oregon could more than cover considering Florida State is carrying the freight of Taggart’s $4.4 million buyout.
Other names that have drawn mention from media reports are former Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin, Fresno State head coach and former Cal head coach Jeff Tedford, Washington State head coach Mike Leach and Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin. One complicating factor to a potential Harsin candidacy is that Oregon and Boise State are set to meet in the Las Vegas Bowl in a week and a half.
Taggart’s eventual departure for Florida State was telegraphed before Jimbo Fisher even left Tallahassee, so Mullens was not caught flat-footed here. This won’t be a long search, but will be a fascinating one to follow.
As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest.