Justin Wilcox

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 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. 

Cal's Wilcox talks hiring former UO O-Line coach Steve Greatwood

Cal's Wilcox talks hiring former UO O-Line coach Steve Greatwood

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. - When California named Justin Wilcox head football coach on Jan. 14 he wasted little time extending a job offer to former Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood. 

"Whatever day it was that I got hired, I want to say that he was there the next morning," Wilcox, a former Oregon defensive back, said today during Pac-12 Media Days. 

In fact, Wilcox already had Greatwood in place in anticipation of landing the Cal job. Cal announced Wilcox as its next head coach on Jan. 14.  CSN broke the news that same day that Greatwood would be headed to Cal.

"I think the world of him as a person," Wilcox, 40, said. "I think his track record speaks for itself in terms of his coaching and we're fortunate to have him on our staff. He's the type of guy that everybody can learn from. I know he's energized. It's been really great to be back around him. It's been a number of years since I've got to see him a lot. Just really fortunate for us. A lot of experience."

Wilcox and Greatwood, 59, have Oregon connections but weren't there at the same time. Wilcox played defensive back for the Ducks from 1996 through 1999.  Greatwood coached offensive line and tight ends from 1982 through 1994 before moving on to the NFL, Maryland and then USC. He returned to Oregon in 2000 and remained there until the entire staff was let go last fall following a 4-8 season.  

Greatwood, however, did coach Wilcox's older brother Josh, who played tight end at UO from 1993 through 1996. The Wilcox brothers are the sons of Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker and former Oregon star Dave Wilcox and hail from Junction City, Ore. 

California running back Tre Watson, whom Greatwood helped attempt recruit to Oregon, said the offensive line appears to be responding well to its new coach. 

"He definitely makes it simper for the offensive line so they're able to pick things up," Watson said. "He brings a different dynamic."

Sources: Former Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood headed to Cal

Sources: Former Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood headed to Cal

Former Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood will join new California coach Justin Wilcox's staff, according to sources. 

Greatwood spent 27 of his 37-year coaching career at Oregon with 24 years devoted to coaching the offensive line.  He and the rest of Oregon's assistant coaches lost their jobs when former Ducks' coach Mark Helfrich was fired last Nov. 29. 

Greatwood began his career at Oregon as a graduate assistant in 1980 before becoming a full-time assistant in 1982. He coached offensive linemen and tight ends from 1982 to 1993 before becoming strictly the offensive line coach in 1994. That season the Ducks won the Pac-10 Conference championship under coach Rich Brooks. 

Brooks became the coach of the Los Angeles Rams the following season and took Greatwood with him to coach tight ends in 1995 and then offensive line in 1996. 

Greatwood then spent one year at Maryland and then two seasons at USC before landing back at Oregon in 2000 to coach defensive line. 

It was during Greatwood's time away from Oregon that Wilcox played defensive back for the Ducks from 1996 through 1999. However, Greatwood did coach Wilcox's brother, Josh Wilcox, who played tight end at Oregon from 1993 through 1996. 

Greatwood coached the Ducks defensive linemen until 2005 when he returned to coaching the offensive line throughout the rest of his career at Oregon. Along the way he helped mold offensive lines that helped the Ducks win four conference championships, win two Rose Bowls and appear in two national title games.

He did one of his best coaching jobs in 2014 when the Ducks reached the national title game. Along the way, Greatwood dealt with several injuries that forced him to juggle lineups in order to keep Oregon's offense humming.

Greatwood produced seven offensive linemen during that stretch, Adam Snyder, Mark Asper, Geoff Schwartz, Darrion Weems, Hroniss Grasu, Kyle Long and Jake Fisher. 

Those linemen helped pave the way for several great Oregon running backs, including Jonathan Stewart, LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, De'Anthony Thomas and Royce Freeman. James, Freeman and Barner are Oregon's top three all-time leading rushers. 

Greatwood will be replaced at Oregon by Mario Cristobal. The former Alabama assistant will also operate as the Ducks offensive coordinator under new coach Willie Taggart.  

Greatwood leaves Oregon with a strong stable of offensive linemen, including four talented players who started in 2016 as redshirt freshmen. The group, which includes senior Tyrell Crosby, could be considered the most gifted group Oregon has ever had.