Aaron Fentress

Oregon's Cristobal momentum goes bust in Las Vegas Bowl

Oregon's Cristobal momentum goes bust in Las Vegas Bowl

LAS VEGAS - Oregon coach Mario Cristobal didn't want to hear about his team possibly having played uninspired football and being distracted during a 38-28 loss to No. 25 Boise State Saturday afternoon in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Senior safety Tyree Robinson shook his head and smirked at the mere suggestion that the Ducks (7-6) were impacted at all by the emotional rollercoaster the players endured last week when former coach Willie Taggart bailed for Florida State and three days later Cristobal took over the reigns. 

Yet, to pretend that none of that madness contributed to the uncharacteristically bad showing by Oregon against BSU (11-3) on Saturday defies logic. 

"I don't think our guys were uninspired," Cristobal said. "We just didn't play well."

Not playing well equates to making some mistakes here and there that cost you a game. Simply not playing well does not explain away rushing for just 47 net yards after gaining 268 per game during the regular season or why an offense that averaged 52 points per game with sophomore Justin Herbert at quarterback didn't find the end zone until the third quarter against Boise State. 

"We just wanted to do whatever we can, lay our bodies on the line for (Cristobal)," Robinson said when pressed further about the team's emotional state during the game. "We're not worried about the decision that coach Taggart decided to make. We were playing for this coach now and that's all that matters."

Truthfully, it would be more comforting to know that the Ducks were indeed distracted. Otherwise, the alternative is that they simply got out-coached, out-worked and smacked around by what amounts to an inferior opponent on paper. What exactly would that mean for Oregon's future?

The team we saw go 6-1 with Herbert at quarterback (he missed five games with a broken collarbone) and stop cold a rising Arizona team before destroying a bad Oregon State team to close out the season appeared headed for a 10-win season in 2018. The team we saw on Saturday would be lucky to become bowl eligible again. 

The Ducks played conservative football in the first half with a lot of short passes as if freshman Braxton Burmeister were still filling in for Herbert. The offense line, coached by Cristobal, played awful football. 

Not only couldn't Oregon run well, but the Ducks offered mostly shaky protection for Herbert, who was sacked four times and harassed into two uncharacteristically badly thrown interceptions, one resulting in a 53-yard touchdown return that gave the Broncos a 24-0 lead in the second quarter.  

"We just didn't execute," said Herbert, who also lost a fumble. "We didn't move the ball when we needed to. We didn't hold up our end of the bargain."

The defense didn't play particularly well, either, but did keep Oregon in the game with two defensive scores within the final minute of the first half thanks to some horrible decisions by the Broncos. Sophomore linebacker Troy Dye recovered a fumble off of a botched Statue of Liberty play and returned it 86 yards for a touchdown. Later, Robinson intercepted a horrifically thrown pass route into the end zone and ran it back for an Oregon record 100 yard touchdown return that make the score 24-14 at halftime.  

Those two miracles only delayed the inevitable. The Ducks simply didn't have it on this day. And who really could blame the team for coming out flat. There is simply no way that this team was not impacted by the entire goings on over the previous two weeks. Let's recap:

  • Taggart on Dec. 1 informs team that he would listen to Florida State, which upsets many players.  
  • Taggart goes on a recruiting trip on Dec. 4 in which he also interviews with Florida State. 
  • Taggart returns that same day, and according to some players, sends mixed messages about his intentions. 
  • Taggart tells the team on Dec. 5 that he is leaving after one season, which leads to some players taking to Twitter to essentially call him a liar. 
  • Taggart is introduced at FSU on Dec. 6 while some of Oregon recruits from its top-five ranked recruiting class begin decommitting. 
  • Oregon begins a coaching search while players wonder who will be their third head coach in a year. 
  • Cristobal is named interim coach, which upsets defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. 
  • The players sign a petition asking the administration to make Cristobal the permanent head coach, which probably didn't make Leavitt feel too grand. 
  • Rumors start to swirl about Leavitt leaving and some of the rest of the coaching staff moving on, as well. 
  • Cristobal is officially named head coach on Dec. 8.  
  • The Ducks coaching staff begins the process of trying to salvage the recruiting class while also preparing for a quick turnaround to play Boise State in just eight days.
  • Senior running back Royce Freeman announces that he will not play in the bowl game, news that senior running back Kani Benoit said after the game that the team already knew was coming. 
  • The Ducks take the field against a team with inferior overall physical talent but plenty of determination and stability, and not contending with major distractions.
  • Oregon falls behind 24-0 and never recovers. 

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When you list it all out like that it what we saw on Saturday makes perfect sense. There is a fine line between being great and being mediocre. Oregon, when it had that swag, looked amazing at times. Mix in the nine-day stretch they experienced prior to the Las Vegas Bowl and you get what you saw on Saturday. 

It would be easy to point the fingers at Cristobal's coaching. But he, like his team, was also placed into an unfair situation. He went from orchestrating the running game as the co-offensive coordinator and line coach to running the team. Offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo went from coordinating the passing game for Taggart, who called plays, to calling the plays himself.

Saturday's game shouldn't be given too much credence in terms of predicting the Ducks' future under Cristobal. Oregon will have eight months to get things situated before next season, which begins with three cupcake games. 

Plus, it's not as if we don't have two somewhat recent examples from the past to back up the idea that Saturday was just a bad day not a prelude to disaster. And it just so happens that one example involves Boise State while the other includes the Las Vegas Bowl. 

In 2006, the Ducks looked even worse than they did Saturday during a 38-8 loss to BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl (Oregon should never return to this game) during a 7-6 season only to bounce back the following year and contend for the national title before quarterback Dennis Dixon went down for the season with a knee injury. 

In 2009, Chip Kelly made his debut as Oregon's coach at Boise State and lost 19-8 before righting the ship to lead UO to the Pac-10 championship in 2009. 

Maybe Oregon, under Cristobal, could make a similar rebound from Saturday to find great success. 

"We've got to get back to work once we come back off the break and re-establish ourselves and recognize the good things that were accomplished this year, and the things that have to be made better," Cristobal said. "And we will. We will focus on that and go forward."

Time will allow the Ducks to do so with a much clearer focus. 

Ducks can't afford to crap out in the Mario Cristobal Bowl

Ducks can't afford to crap out in the Mario Cristobal Bowl

LAS VEGAS - Saturday's game should be viewed by Oregon as the Mario Cristobal Bowl played in Las Vegas, Nev. 

Cristobal needs this win. UO's administration needs this win. Most of all, the players need a victory in order to validate why they went to bat for Cristobal with a petition asking that he be elevated from co-offensive coordinator to head coach last week after Willie Taggart jumped ship for Florida State. 

"We definitely feel the need to go in there and show the administration, as well as everybody all around the country, that they made the right decision in picking coach Cristobal to be the head coach," Oregon sophomore center Jake Hanson said. 

That need is real, and it raises the stakes for Oregon (7-5), making this about as close to a "must-win" as a middling bowl game matchup could be. 

Let's face it; the Oregon program and most of its fans believe that the Ducks are above the Las Vegas Bowl.  To them, this is the program of Kelly, LaMike, Mariota, Rose Bowls, Fiesta Bowls and national title games. 

The Vegas Bowl, and the like, is for chumps, not Ducks. With so many bowl games and only six wins needed to qualify for these glorified exhibitions, it's easy to dismiss most of these postseason contests. This bowl certainly falls into that category. Heck, senior running back Royce Freeman won't even be bothered with playing in this event. This will be the lowest bowl game the Ducks will have appeared in since losing 38-8 here to BYU in 2006. 

Yet, here Oregon is, in Sin City, desperately searching for its first bowl victory since the 2014 season that ended in the national title game. The Ducks (7-5) are also looking for some validation that the program is headed in the right direction.

Boise State (10-3) is the opponent. The Broncos are champions of the Mountain West Conference. That's not even Power Five. BSU shouldn't be on Oregon's level, record be damned. Surely the Ducks have got this one in the bag.

Well, they'd better. For a program that built its brand and success through a lineage of connected coaches, the Ducks appear to be a white-hot mess in desperate search of some footing. 

Reasons exist to believe that Cristobal, despite his 27-47 record, could lead the Ducks back to the top. Oregon bypassed chasing after bigger names because athletic director Rob Mullens - skewered after Taggart, his handpicked guy, departed - decided to roll the dice on Cristobal and maintaining some continuity.  

Should Cristobal fail, Mullens would have whiffed twice in finding a replacement for Mark Helfrich, who went 37-16 in four seasons but was fired after one losing season, albeit a horrific one at 4-8. 

Losing Saturday won't mean that hiring Cristobal was a mistake. But it certainly would create doubt, in at least some, that would linger all offseason. A loss could also lead to further deterioration of UO's recruiting class once ranked No. 1 and No. 5 respectively on top websites before Taggart left. Now the class sits at No. 9 and No. 10 after six four-star recruits withdrew commitments. 

Winning on Saturday, however would send the Ducks into the offseason with momentum and an even stronger belief that Cristobal is the guy. Rallying the team from the disappointment of losing Taggart and through not having Freeman to take down a solid Boise State club, and having 14 starters returning next season will raise hopes that a 10-win season is on the horizon. 

"It's huge," Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert said. "We just had a coaching change and we're very confident in the guy we have. Everyone is so supportive of him and I know that everyone is going to play their heart out for him."

They have no choice. 

Crosby to play in Las Vegas Bowl to honor mass shooting victims

Crosby to play in Las Vegas Bowl to honor mass shooting victims

LAS VEGAS - Oregon senior left tackle Tyrell Crosby will play in Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State to honor those killed and injured during the mass shooting here on Oct. 21.

Crosby, a native of Las Vegas, Nev., could have followed the lead of senior running back Royce Freeman and not played in order to avoid a potential injury that could harm his NFL Draft status.

Instead, he announced today via Instagram that he will play and wear No. 58 rather than his usual No. 73 in order to honor the 58 people who lost their lives on when a man opened fire from Mandala Bay Resort and Casino onto concert goers across the street. Another 546 people were injured. 

Crosby did not meet with the media today, but Oregon coach Mario Cristobal talked about Crosby's decision. 

"Tyrell is a very special individual and a talented football player," Cristobal said. "This is kind of a homecoming for him and obviously the events of the past have really had a tremendous impact on him."

Having Freeman on the field will certainly lessen the impact of losing Freeman. 

"For us, obviously we're through the roof excited that he is participating," Cristobal said. "He's had his best week of preparation that he's had all year. I know this means a lot to him and all of the people among his friends and family that know him out here."

Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert said Crosby is the type of player that players gravitate toward. 

"He's a leader," Herbert said. "For him to come back and play in this game is huge for our offense. I know that everyone is super excited to have him back."

The game kicks off at 12:30 p.m. at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Oregon running back Royce Freeman wise to sit out Las Vegas Bowl

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USA Today

Oregon running back Royce Freeman wise to sit out Las Vegas Bowl

LAS VEGAS - Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman made what had to be a tough decision for him to sit out Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State. 

He made the wise decision, even though it might appear to be selfish on the surface. 

"This is hard for him, now," Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said today prior to practice at Bishop Gorman High School. "This is not an easy thing for a guy like that."

Freeman, who practiced with the team on Wednesday, was not made available for comment today.

Freeman leaves Oregon as its all-time leading rusher (5,621 yards) and the Pac-12 Conference's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (60). He has given 947 carries to the program, a total that's also a record. Going out a winner in a bowl game was probably enticing for Freeman but the risk of injury isn't worth the reward. Few will remember or care who won the Vegas Bowl within days after it ends. An injury could hinder Freeman, projected to go in the third or fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, for the rest of his career. 

Senior left tackle Tyrell Crosby would be wise to follow suit. Cristobal said Crosby would announce his intentions on Friday. Projected by many to be a first-round pick, Crosby could literally be risking $10 million or more by playing in the Vegas Bowl. A serious injury could knock him out of the first round and into the later rounds, as it did former Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who tore an ACL during practice prior to the 2014 Rose Bowl. He ended up getting drafted in the seventh round and never fully regained health in his knee. He is now out of the NFL. 

NFL-bound players electing to not play in their team's bowl game is a growing trend. Former Last season, Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey and LSU running back Leonard Fournette sat out their respective team's bowl games. 

Cristobal is not in favor of this development. 

"I like to see key players play," Cristobal said. 

That doesn't mean he isn't with Freeman on his decision. 

"Am I disappointed in him? No, I'm not," Cristobal asked. "Do I want to see him play? Absolutely. But I stand by him just like I gave him my word and I don't break my word for nobody."

Cristobal said the entire team backs Freeman, as they should 

"They understand that this family thing is not just talk," Cristobal said. "This family thing is real. This family will stick together, support each other and we'll press forward."

Oregon's running game should be just fine on Saturday. When Freeman went down with a shoulder injury in the first quarter against California on Sept. 30 the Ducks still won 45-24 and rushed for 328 yards and six touchdowns.

In 2016, after Freeman went down with a foot injury at Nebraska, the Ducks managed to rush for 336 yards and five touchdowns. Crosby was lost for the season in that game. 

Interestingly, following practice offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo met with the media and when asked about Freeman's decision said that he was unaware of the situation. 

"It's unfortunate," he said. "Obviously, Royce is such a big part of who we area. But guys are going to made decisions based on the betterment for their life. Royce has done an awesome job for us. We're going to miss him...but just like when he went down, we have to find a way to pull together."

The Ducks will lean on senior Kani Benoit, redshirt junior Tony Brooks-James, who will likely be next year's top back, junior Taj Griffin and freshman Darrian Felix. 

There is plenty of talent there to win with making Freeman's decision ever more on the mark as being the right move for his future. 

Freeman and Crosby not yet all in on Las Vegas Bowl

Freeman and Crosby not yet all in on Las Vegas Bowl

LAS VEGAS - Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman and left tackle Tyrell Crosby will play their final game as Ducks in Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State. 

Or will they?

Both players practiced with the team today at Bishop Gorman High school, but there is a strong chance that each played their final games as collegiate players during the Ducks' 69-10 victory over Oregon State on Nov. 25. 

"We will be having more extensive discussions some time between tonight and tomorrow," UO coach Mario Cristobal said.

Freeman and Crosby were not made available to the media today. Crosby said last week that he hadn't yet decided if he would play. Freeman when asked in the past has also not stated definitively either way.  

Those discussions will undoubtedly involve the risk-reward factor of playing and not playing. 

On one hand, both must eagerly want to end their careers with a bowl victory. As freshmen, they were vital parts of the 2014 team that won the Pac-12 Conference title, defeated Florida State in the first college football playoff game ever played that just so happened to take place in the Rose Bowl, and they participated in the national title game. 

Those were the good old days. Since then, Oregon has blown a big lead in the Alamo Bowl and went 4-8 last year when Crosby missed 10 games and Freeman missed some time while being banged up for the entire season. Going out with a bowl victory, any bowl victory, would certainly give both young men something to smile about on the way out the door. 

Then there is the risk factor. Both can start getting paid soon after the Vegas Bowl in endorsements and card signing contracts. The NFL Draft is about four months away. Many draft sites project Crosby to be a first-round pick. Freeman should go off the board somewhere between the second and fourth rounds. 

An injury suffered in the Las Vegas Bowl could damage their draft status and cost them money. Most recently, Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu severely injured his knee while practicing in preparation for the 2014 Rose Bowl game against FSU. Once a potential first-round pick, Ekpre-Olomu went in the seventh round to Cleveland and is no a free agent. 

The odds of something like that occurring to Freeman and/or Crosby are long. But it does happen. Any injury that holds them back from working out for the NFL Scouting Combine or provides NFL teams with questions regarding their durability could cost them money in both the short and long terms. 

Is winning the Las Vegas Bowl worth that risk? Each player must decide that for himself. 

My vote: Sit it out. Both have given plenty to the program. They will have gone out as winners against Oregon State and Arizona and helped get the program back on track. Nobody is going to remember this bowl game beyond next year. Heck, UO fans barely cared the day Oregon defeated Texas in the 2013 Alamo Bowl. 

Protect your bodies and get ready for the next chapter in your careers. 

Then again, it sure would be great to see both play just one more time. 

Upbeat Ducks prepare for important Vegas Bowl vs. Boise State

Upbeat Ducks prepare for important Vegas Bowl vs. Boise State

Oregon returned to the business of football over the weekend in preparation for Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl as if nothing ever happened last week.

During a seven-day stretch crazy emotional swings, Willie Taggart left Oregon to become the coach at Florida State on Tuesday leading to Mario Cristobal being elevated from co-offensive coordinator to head coach on Friday. 

Once the madness had subsided, the Ducks got back to playing football and preparing to face formidable Boise State on Saturday. 

"I feel like we're very dialed in, especially with everything that has been going on, I still feel like we have our heads on straight," redshirt junior defensive end Jalen Jelks said.

Cristobal said he didn't expect his team to display any adverse impact from going through such a tough week, nor did he believe that the trappings of Las Vegas would distract his team from the job at hand. 

"I'm confident about the mindset of our guys," Cristobal said. "During the bowl season a couple of things happen; you have a mindset to go perform or you have a mindset to kind of go have fun. Our guys want to perform well. And to perform well, the investment has to be done during the course of the week."

The last time Oregon played in the Las Vegas Bowl not only did the city's environment get to the Ducks but Brigham Young laid a 38-8 butt-whoopin on Oregon. That Ducks team, however, was a mess. They had experienced a disappointing season after going 10-2 the previous year, and headed to Las Vegas as a fractured bunch. 

This time around, despite losing their head coach, these Ducks are strongly united and excited for the challenge ahead. Very rarely does a team's voice get answered when it comes to the hiring of a coach. But certainly the fact that 70-plus players signed a petition asking athletic director Rob Mullens to elevate Cristobal didn't go unnoticed. 

The result is an Oregon team that got what it wanted in a head coach. Now the team must go out and prove that it will perform at a high level for Cristobal in a big setting. 

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Oregon vs. Boise State

When: 12:30 p.m., Saturday, Sam Boys Stadium, Las Vegas, Nev.  

T.V.: ABC. 

Betting line: Oregon by 7 1/2.

Records: Ducks (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12), Boise State (10-3, 7-1 Mountain West).

Last game: Oregon won the Civil War two weeks go then had the past two Saturday off. Boise State won its conference championship game over Fresno State, 17-14 on Dec. 2. 

Coaches: Ducks' Mario Cristobal (27-47, 0-0 at Oregon); BSU's Bryan Harsin (48-17, 41-12 at Boise State).

Fear factor (five-point scale): 3.5. The Ducks with sophomore Justin Herbert at quarterback are a force that Boise State will have a tough time defeating. 

Boise State has a solid offense led by quarterback Brett Rypien, who has passed for 2,515 yards and 14 touchdowns with four interceptions. 

"He's efficient, he's tough, he's athletic," Cristobal said. "He knows exactly what to do. He's a very well-coached individual."

But the Broncos' 32 points per game shouldn't scare the Ducks, who averaged 52 with Herbert in the lineup. 

Boise State's defense has being strong, giving up just 22.5 points per game. But Washington State put up big numbers during a 47-44 triple-overtime win over Boise State and Virginia took down the Broncos, 42-23.

The odds of Boise State keeping the Ducks under 40 are not strong while nothing about the Broncos suggests that they are capable of winning a shootout against Oregon.

The wild card in play, however, could be the status of senior running back Royce Freeman. Should he elect to sit out the game in order to prepare for the NFL Draft, the Ducks would be in for a closer outing. Senior left tackle Tyrell Crosby said on Friday that he wasn't sure if he would play in Las Vegas. 

If both sit out, the Ducks would certainly face a much tougher challenge in Las Vegas. 

Game prediction: Oregon 44, Boise State 30. The Ducks are fired up. Keep in mind that this program has not won a bowl game since the 2014 Rose Bowl and not many players on the team saw the field that day. They have something to prove having supported Cristobal ball or the head job. Letting him down with a poor performance would be a bad look for all involved.   

BREAKING: Oregon to name Mario Cristobal new head coach

BREAKING: Oregon to name Mario Cristobal new head coach

Developing story

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Mario Cristobal will become the new head coach of the Oregon Ducks football team, according to a source. 

Cristobal will will replace Willie Taggart, who after one season left Oregon on Tuesday to replace Jimbo Fisher as the next coach at Florida State. 

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Cristobal came to Oregon last year to become the Ducks co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. He previously coached the offensive line at Alabama from 2013 through 2016. 

Cristobal has head coaching experience. He guided Florida International from 2007 through 2012, compiling a record of 27-47. He took over a struggling program and went 1-11 his first season. He seemingly rebuilt the program and reached 8-5 in 2011 before backsliding to 3-9 the following year. 

About 70 Oregon players signed a petition lobbying for Cristobal to take over the program. He was named interim coach for the team's Dec. 16 meeting with Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. 

The push now is to keep defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt on as defensive coordinator. He wanted to replace Taggart as head coach, so it will be interesting to see if he is willing to remain at Oregon given that he was passed over for another assistant. 

However, the Ducks, with the help of some powerful boosters, could be in a position to make a financial offer that could ease Leavitt's disappointment. He made $1.125 million this season. 

According to those with knowledge of the search, former Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin and current California coach Justin Wilcox were very much in the mix. However, Wilcox, according to a source, never interviewed with Oregon.

Keeping Cristobal is a strong move. He, along with whatever assistant coaches remain, could help salvage what was a top five recruiting class before Taggart departed. 

Since he moved on, the class has fallen to in the rankings due to decommits but remains top 10. Cristobal's presence could very well help keep the class in the top 10. 

PODCAST:

Karma bit Oregon in the backside, but the Ducks will recover

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USA Today

Karma bit Oregon in the backside, but the Ducks will recover

In the end, Oregon got what it deserved. 

Karma bit the Ducks in the backside when former coach Willie Taggart, after one Swag Surfin' season, hopped on his boogie board and glided out of town to become Florida State's new coach, leaving behind a lot of angry UO fans and jilted players (see Troy Dye).

For the first time ever (or at least based on what I can tell), an Oregon football coach has flat out left the program for another college job. It's no coincidence that this occurred a year after Oregon fired a coach for the first time in 40 years. 

Yes, I'm back on the Mark Helfrich kick once again. But only because I warned this time last year last year that firing Helfrich after one losing season and just two years removed from guiding Oregon to the nation title game could set into motion a vicious cycle of coaches coming in and out of the program for a variety of reasons. 

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Here we are a year later and the Ducks are already searching for their second coach post Helfrich. 

What's most amusing is all of the whining about "loyalty." Really? Loyalty is not sending a group of coaches that had accomplished so much at Oregon out to recruit when the writing was on the wall that they would be fired, then firing them while they literally were in the process of meeting with recruits. That was a messed up and totally disrespectful move by athletic director Rob Mullens on every level.

One recruit's family member, who wished to remain anonymous, recalled an awkward home visit with Helfrich, who clearly believed he was on thin ice. Helfrich told the family that he didn't know if he would remain Oregon's coach while also trying to recruit the player to UO.

That's just wrong. Let's go ahead and set aside Helfrich for a moment, how does one place in the same situation former long-time assistants like Steve Greatwood, Don Pellum, Gary Campbell, Tom Osborne and John Neal? 

Those guys only helped anchor the greatest era in Oregon football and what will likely remain the greatest era into the near future unless the Ducks magically win a national title, which remains only remotely possible. 

How Taggart dealt with Oregon's players is another story. But in terms of the business side of things. spare me the talk about how disloyal Taggart was to a program he worked for only one year. Especially considering that he didn't leave the Ducks for, say, Arkansas or Louisville. He left Oregon for Florida State, an all-time marquee program that Oregon can't measure up to, and it just so happens to be the team he grew up rooting for while growing up in Palmetto, Fla., where his widowed mother still resides. 

That, right there, is loyalty. Loyalty to family. Loyalty to roots. Loyalty to that childhood connection many of you have with Oregon. And, yes, loyalty to the almighty dollar, because Florida State offered more money (six years and $30 million) than Oregon did. 

And don't think that Taggart hadn't noticed how Helfrich and company were treated when fired.

During a candid conversation with Taggart last February, he said that he believed that the previous staff were unfairly fired given all that they had accomplished. But, that's the business, he added. On Tuesday, he played that business to his advantage. 

Oregon had avoided that side of the business for decades because the program didn't panic when things went south, as they did last year when the Ducks went 4-8 under Helfrich during the program's first losing season in 12 years. Oregon had a legacy coaching tree in place that went from Rich Brooks to Mike Bellotti to Chip Kelly to Helfrich. The latter three were promoted from within after serving as offensive coordinators to their predecessor. Bellotti retired from coaching in 2009 order to promote Kelly. Kelly left for the NFL in 2013 opening the door for Helfrich. All three came within a game, or two, of winning the national title. 

Then, well, Oregon got too big for its britches. The Ducks fans and hierarchy decided that the program was far too big to ever have a down season, which of course is absurd. So, UO blew out the former coaching staff and set out to find someone that would return the program to glory. 

That someone was expected to be Taggart. Oops. 

What Mullens should have done last year was sat Helfrich down and given him the "win or else" talk. Mullens should have made it clear that he must at least reach a bowl game in 2017 and reestablish discipline in the locker room.

One former assistant coach who didn't believe that the staff would be fired up until they were, stated late last season that had the staff returned in 2017 and had another losing season, he would fire himself.  

Instead, Mullens pulled the trigger last year. Clearly, he believed that Oregon could do better than a staff that had won four Pac-12 titles, two Rose Bowls and a Fiesta Bowl in six years. Yet, he ended up striking out with all of the so-called "big named" candidates before hiring a young coach in Taggart on the speculation that he was ready to thrive. 

Truth be told, I liked the hire. It was a bold roll of the dice on a young coach. Oh, and he is African-American, which for me (also African-American and long annoyed by the clear racism involved when it comes to the hiring of football coaches of color) earned Mullens triple bonus points.  

But the right move still remains to have given Helfrich and company one year to turn things around. With quarterback Justin Herbert in place, that turnaround would have happened and Oregon wouldn't be in the mess that it is now. 

The good news is that Oregon should still be able to find a good coach to lead what will be a potentially really good team in 2018. The trick, though, is finding someone that cares as much about Oregon as Oregon cares about winning. 

For all of its bells and whistles, Oregon is not a marquee job. The stadium is small, it's tough to get to Eugene, the region is short on recruits, the fan base is fickle and not nearly as rooted as they are in places such as Michigan, Nebraska, Texas and Florida State. Oregon has accomplished a lot with many disadvantages thanks to what was an innovative offense, Nike's support and brilliant marketing that elevated the Ducks brand, making UO a desirable place to play for high-end recruits. But not many proven coaches out there are going to view Oregon as a destination job. Helfrich did. But UO wasn't even on Taggart's radar until he interviewed for the job. 

So where does UO go from here. 

Kevin Sumlin and Mario Cristobal are good options. Sumlin, fired this year by Texas A&M, is looking to rebuild his career. Cristobal, once fired by Florida International and from Miami, Fla., longs to return to being a head coach. 

But would either consider Oregon a place to set up roots? At this point, Mullens will have to build a contract for UO's next coach that makes it very painful to leave for another collegiate program.  He failed to do that with Taggart. However, I'll bet that Taggart and his agent, Jimmy Sexton, would not have allowed such language to get in the way of the coach taking off for FSU. 

All of this is why I want to see Oregon go after California coach Justin Wilcox. He is an up-and-coming talent that has deep connections to Oregon. He played there. His brother, father and uncle also played there. He likely wouldn't leave Oregon down the road unless it were to jump to the NFL. 

Hiring Wilcox would return the Ducks to a place that values connections and roots, a formula tha worked so well for 40 years, save for a few bumps in the road such as the 2016 season. 

Whatever Oregon does, the Ducks will have a chance to return to greatness but will never avoid having bumps in the road here and there. Few programs ever do.  

But maybe returning to the past in terms of how the program hires and fire people should be more important than the unrealistic quest to become something the program will never be, a place strong enough to keep a Taggart from jetting off to a Florida State.  

At the end of the day, the entire Helfrich debate comes down to one more year. Had he succeeded, everyone would be happy. Had he failed, then he would be gone. The former staff deserved that one year more so than a Florida State fan with ambitions beyond Oregon. 

Oregon linebacker Troy Dye calls out Willie Taggart on Twitter

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USA Today

Oregon linebacker Troy Dye calls out Willie Taggart on Twitter

Oregon linebacker Troy Dye called out former coach Willie Taggart on Twitter today. 

The sophomore retweeted and responded to my tweet regarding Taggart, introduded today as Florida State's head coach, admitting that FSU contacted him on Thursday despite having told the media that he had not heard from FSU through the weekend. 

Dye's brother, three-star running back Travis Dye, committed to Oregon's 2018 recruiting class. 

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Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens revealed Tuesday that Taggart informed him about FSU reaching out to him on Thursday. 

Taggart left Oregon yesterday after one season with the Ducks. 

Some players and recruits are claiming that Taggart was not truthful with them through the process. 

Freshman safety Nick Pickett also made a comment on Twitter about Taggart. 

Editor's note: The tweet has since been taken down

It must be pointed out that one freshman player told me that he told Taggart after the team meeting on Tuesday that he was proud of him and gave him a hug. 

So, not everyone at UO is down on Taggart. But clearly, some are regarding the way he handled his exit. 

 

Oregon should make a run at Cal coach Justin Wilcox to replace Taggart

Oregon should make a run at Cal coach Justin Wilcox to replace Taggart

Florida State introduced Willie Taggart as its new head coach today in Tallahassee, Fla.

Taggart has returned to his home state to coach his favorite team growing up as a child in Palmetto, Fla. 

I know. It hurts. But all is not lost for the Oregon Ducks. 

A good team will return next season along with a recruiting class that ultimately will remain strong despite a handful of decommits. And, most importantly, a superstar quarterback is already in place. 

A 10-win season next year is a possibility regardless of who coaches the team. Remember that the team we saw on the field this year was not built by Taggart. Every starter on offense, including freshman receiver Johnny Johnson III, and every starter on defense other than defensive tackle Jordon Scott and cornerback Thomas Graham, but including freshman safety Nick Pickett, were recruited by Mark Helfrich and the previous staff.  That team, when quarterback Justin Herbert was healthy, looked like a potential 10-win team. Most of the starters will return in 2018. So, there's no reason to believe that another good coach couldn't lead this team to glory. 

My early vote for the man to be that coach is California's Justin Wilcox. 

First off, the former Oregon defensive back grew up in Oregon. His father, pro football hall of fame linebacker Dave Wilcox, brother Josh Wilcox and uncle John Wilcox, also played for the Ducks. He has stronger ties to Oregon than Taggart has to Florida State, where Taggart didn't play. 

Is Oregon Wilcox's dream job? I have no idea. But I imagine he likes money and I believe that he could be had quite easily by the Ducks. The contract he signed at Cal is worth just under $10 million over five years. That's chump change to Oregon, which offered Taggart at least $4 million per year before he took a six-year, $30 million deal from FSU.

Oregon could offer Wilcox $3 million to $3.5 million per year and he'd probably jump at the chance to coach the Ducks. Plus, if he were to have success at UO, Wilcox likely wouldn't look for the first escape route toward a bigger program as Taggart just did.

Wilcox is an inexperienced head coach, to be sure. But the former defensive coordinator at USC, Washington, Tennessee and Wisconsin appears to be on the rise. 

The Golden Bears went just 5-7. That's hardly sexy. But why wait for him to win big elsewhere? Have the vision to get him now, before he blows up.  

Cal lost three games by a field goal or less this season. The offense was the problem, but not from a coaching standpoint. The team lacked explosive talent on offense and had a young quarterback while averaging just 27.8 points per game, 10th in the Pac-12 Conference. Offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin, who could accompany Wilcox to Oregon unless Cal were to name him head coach, would do wonders with Oregon's offensive talent. Remember that it was Baldwin who developed Vernon Adams Jr. before he transferred to Oregon in 2015.

Defensively, Wilcox did for Cal what Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt did for the Ducks. Cal this season allowed 28.4 points per game compared to 28.2 for Oregon. Both allowed just over 40 points per game in 2016. 

Wilcox would make sure Oregon's defense continued to improve while the Ducks' offense is already ready to roll.  Give Wilcox 40 points per game to work with and he could easily win 10 games next season. 

Other viable options also exist that would keep Oregon on track toward greater success. Here are four other coaches that could very well already be on Oregon's radar listed in order of preference with the knowledge that Wilcox is No. 1:

2. Mario Cristobal: Oregon's co-offensive coordinator, who will serve as the team's interim coach during the Dec. 16 Las Vegas Bowl, would be a logical candidate in order to maintain continuity following Taggart's departure. Reports say that Leavitt will accompany Taggart to FSU, which leaves Cristobal as the best option already in house. Cristobal has head coaching experience, is considered to be a great recruiter and could help to keep the Ducks' promising 2018 recruiting class largely intact. Maybe Cristobal could convince co-offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo to remain on as the offensive coordinator if he isn't planning on joining Taggart to FSU. 

3. Kevin Sumlin: Sumlin was fired recently by Texas A&M where he went 51-26 over six seasons in the rugged SEC. He is an offensive guru that would likely get the most out of Herbert. Former Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy in 2012 while playing for Sumlin. He has the kind of big name that Oregon was after in 2016 before hiring Taggart. The problem with Sumlin is that if he had success at Oregon he could be the type of coach that immediately starts looking elsewhere for a better situation. 

4. Les Miles: There is not an unemployed coach out there with a better resume. The former LSU coach almost always had great defenses with the Tigers in the SEC. Yes, his offenses struggled late during his tenure at LSU. But they were once good enough to get him a national title during the 2007 season and could be very good with Herbert running the show on the field. Miles went 114-34 over 12 seasons at LSU. That's a dynamic record given the competition he faced. Miles never won fewer than eight games and won 10 or more seven times. 

5. Bryan Harsin: The Boise State coach was on Oregon's radar last year and should be considered a viable candidate this time around. He is 41-12 over four seasons at Boise State and just won his second Mountain West Conference championship.