Estimated read time: 6-7 minutes
And Oregon makes four.
Four Pac-12 programs — at least four — will have new head coaches next season after Mario Cristobal left the Ducks in the dust for the lure of his hometown and the desire to rebuild his alma mater.
Cristobal accepted the Miami job on Monday, three days after a blowout loss to Utah in the Pac-12 championship and two weeks after a program-altering, playoff-wrecking beatdown by the Utes in Salt Lake City.
In the wake of his departure, the Ducks will commence a search to hire their fourth head coach in seven seasons.
By comparison, Arizona and Colorado appear stable.
Oregon has the resources to attract quality candidates, but the administration and key constituents — really, the key constituent — should prioritize one attribute above all others: stability.
Don't hire a coach with a deep professional or personal attachment to the Midwest or Southeast.
Don't hire a coach who could bolt Eugene after a few successful seasons, as Cristobal has done, or after one mediocre season, as Willie Taggart did.
This scenario has played out repeatedly, at Oregon and elsewhere across the Pac-12:
Coaches with connections to other regions or other conferences leave the footprint to return to their roots, so long as the money offered is comparable. (And it's almost always comparable, or better.)
Instead, the Ducks should hire someone with personal ties to the university, or the state or, at the very least, the West Coast.
They should not presume that the facilities and the lifestyle and the Nike influence are enough to keep someone for the long haul.
They should refuse interviews with anyone who cannot identify Cottage Grove on a map (and name the movie filmed there).
They should aim for a lifer and work back from that goal, if necessary.
They should prioritize stability.
They should prioritize consistency: consistency in head coach, in coaching staff, in playing style and in recruiting philosophy.
And they should remember that the greatest stretch in school history, with Chip Kelly at the helm, had at its foundation a coaching staff defined by its continuity, loaded with assistants who knew Oregon, who new the recruiting trails and knew what was required for long-haul success.
In case a reminder of the chaotic recent years is required …
2016: Oregon fires Mark Helfrich, two years removed from a playoff berth, after the program collapses from within. The Ducks replaced Helfrich with Willie Taggart, a Florida guy who was coaching South Florida and always longing to return to Florida, despite his public comments to the contrary.
2017: While on a recruiting trip for Oregon, Taggert interviews with Florida State for its vacancy and accepts the job in early December, a mere 363 days after accepting the Oregon job. Three days later, the Ducks promote Cristobal, also a Florida guy.
2021: Cristobal leaves the Ducks to return home, to his ailing mother and his alma mater. The Ducks conduct a national search and hire …
Which way will they turn?
Time is short, with the early-signing window on Dec. 15.
The search should not take long. The key players (university president Michael Schill, athletic director Rob Mullens and patriarch Phil Knight) had plenty of time to prepare for this moment.
For weeks, there have been rumors about the Hurricanes making a coaching change. Surely, they cannot be surprised by this — by Cristobal rejecting all contract offers and emotional pleas to remain. Miami is his alma mater and his hometown.
Here are six names to consider, with one reminder:
The supply of quality candidates is limited — this is the wrong year to be in the market for a new head coach.
Auburn coach Bryan Harsin: He left Boise State for southern Alabama because he didn't expect the jobs he really wanted, Washington and Oregon, to have vacancies. One opened and closed; now, the other is open. His refusal to discuss his vaccination status would require an explanation but isn't a deal-breaker. Won 10+ games in five of his six non-COVID seasons at Boise. Ties to Oregon or the West Coast: Harsin played quarterback for Boise State and spent more than a decade on the Broncos' staff as an assistant or head coach; he also coached at Eastern Oregon for one year.
UCLA coach Chip Kelly: Both Hotline sources and media reports indicate a faction of the Oregon football constituency has interest in bringing Kelly back to the program he transformed into a powerhouse. But this isn't 2012, and Kelly doesn't have the schematic advantages he once did. Put another way: The thought of CK2 in Eugene would not spark instant panic in the conference's other 11 football offices. And we doubt UCLA would make a counteroffer. Kelly's $9 million buyout drops to zero in the middle of January. Ties to Oregon or the West Coast: Obviously.
BYU coach Kalani Sitake: His work in Provo the past two seasons has been impressive, and like Cristobal, he favors physical over finesse. Was 5-0 against the Pac-12 this season and accomplished something the Ducks did not: He beat Utah. His recruiting connections within the Polynesian communities in Utah, Southern California and the Pacific Islands would ensure the Ducks are well stocked on the lines of scrimmage. Ties to Oregon or the West Coast: Sitake attended BYU and served one season as Oregon State's defensive coordinator (under Gary Andersen). His entire coaching career has been spent West of the Rockies.
Former coach Chris Petersen: There is a 0.001% chance of this happening, but the reward is so immense that the Ducks must make the call. Ties to Oregon or the West Coast: Petersen spent six seasons as Oregon's receivers coach under Mike Bellotti. Supposedly, he spent time coaching one of the Ducks' chief rivals, but we're attempting to confirm that rumor.
Former coach Jeff Tedford: One of the best football minds the West Coast has produced in the past quarter century. Tedford just turned 60 and had health issues at Fresno State. But he's reportedly in good shape, energized and interested in jumping back into coaching. (The Ducks would need to be sure about the medical matters and possibly put a succession plan in place. But he is only two years older than Kelly.) At the very least, Oregon's next head coach should consider Tedford for the offensive coordinator post, if he's interested. Ties to Oregon or the West Coast: They are deep. Tedford grew up in Los Angeles, was Oregon's offensive coordinator under Mike Bellotti and has coached Cal and Fresno State.
Cal coach Justin Wilcox: If the Ducks want a lifer, Wilcox is their guy. The former Oregon defensive back is a top-notch defensive coach currently toiling in the most bureaucratically difficult job in the Pac-12. At Oregon, his access to players — especially at the skill positions — would quadruple. But Cal's lack of success during (because of) COVID makes Wilcox a tough sell, even though his teams have given the Ducks more trouble than any in the North. Ties to Oregon or the West Coast: Born in Eugene, grew up in Junction City, played for the Ducks, his brother (Josh) played for the Ducks and his father (Dave) played for the Ducks. Simply put: Blood does not get any greener. Also, Justin Herbert would approve.
Jon Wilner's Pac-12 Hotline is brought to KSL.com through a partnership with the Bay Area News Group.
Jon Wilner has been covering college sports for decades and is an AP Top 25 football and basketball voter as well as a Heisman Trophy voter. He was named Beat Writer of the Year in 2013 by the Football Writers Association of America for his coverage of the Pac-12, won first place for feature writing in 2016 in the Associated Press Sports Editors writing contest and is a five-time APSE honoree. You can follow him on Twitter @WilnerHotline or send an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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