Oregon Ducks

Jim Leavitt's departure is addition by subtraction of a distraction for the Oregon Ducks

Jim Leavitt's departure is addition by subtraction of a distraction for the Oregon Ducks

We are two seasons removed from the firing of a legacy staff and save for one strong recruiting class. It's safe to say that the last two years have been rocky off the field more so than on. 

The departure of defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, first reported by 247 Sports and verified by sources to NBC Sports Northwest, is the latest chapter in a rather dysfunctional tale of a seemingly unstable program. 

Maybe now things will settle down without Leavitt, who was ridiculously celebrated as the second coming of Buddy Ryan or when Oregon hired him in 2017, and, according to sources, has never gotten along with coach Mario Cristobal, leading to endless friction since the two joined Oregon's staff under former coach Willie Taggart. 

Let's be frank about this. Nothing has ever been copacetic between Cristobal and Leavitt. Anyone out there that believed the new staff sat around the camp fire singing "kumbaya my lord" was living in fantasy land.

Leavitt and Cristobal, according to sources, nearly cam to blows during a practice in 2017. When Taggart left the the program that December for Florida State, Leavitt lobbied hard for the interim and permanent head coaching position leading up to the Las Vegas Bowl, and lost out to Cristobal. An angry Leavitt looked to leave Oregon for a program willing to pay him the $1.15 million per year that the Ducks had coughed up for his services. Reports surfaced that Taggart had offered him $2 million to follow him to Florida State, but those were false.

When Leavitt, who according to sources will be replaced by defensive backs coach Keith Heyward, elected to remain at Oregon, it publicly appeared that he truly wanted to be with the Ducks and most of the public lapped up that storyline, which was being fueled by the 62-year-old coach's always-lively Twitter feed. 

But the truth is that Leavitt stayed because Oregon foolishly tossed an additional $600 K his way to raise his salary to $1.7 million in 2018, compared to the $2.5 million that Cristobal received. The raise smacked of desperation for a program that saw the defense take a dive in 2015 and 2016 only to witness Leavitt bring it back to life in 2017, and had just lost Taggart. 

The goal was to keep as much of the staff together as possible and that meant raises. 

However, Leavitt has never in his life proven himself to be a defensive coordinator worthy of that kind of money. He had only been the lone defensive coordinator at the major college level once before and that was at Colorado, where he helped a young defense in 2015 grow into a great, senior-dominated defense in 2016. That convinced Oregon to throw big money at Leavitt while ignoring the fact that the Ducks that year had put up 508 yards on the Buffaloes in a 40-34 loss at home while without running back Royce Freeman, offensive tackle Tyrell Crosby and wide receiver Devon Allen, and with solid, but not great, Dakota Prukop at quarterback. 

Regardless, Leavitt did have a good season with Oregon in 2017 but he also did benefit from taking over a unit that had lost just one impact senior from the previous season. It only stood to reason that the defense would improve, and it did, greatly, jumping from 128th in the nation to 28th. 

But in 2018, with most of that defense returning, Oregon regressed to 55th in the nation. That wasn't the type of production that Oregon had paid $1.7 million to receive. 

Furthermore, the friction between Cristobal and Leavitt never waned. Leavitt expected and got autonomy on defense and still harbored a grudge for being passed over for the head coaching position. In many ways, Leavitt had a right to be bitter. He had been a wildly successful head coach at South Florida from 1997 through 2009, posting a record of 95-57 while helping the Bulls make the move to the FBS level. There, Leavitt won three bowl games in five seasons while the program was a member of the Big East Conference. 

Cristobal had been a head coach once before at Florida International where he had an unimpressive record of 36-52, albeit under very trying circumstances. 

What truly gave Cristobal the edge over Leavitt was his amazing recruiting ability, which just helped the Ducks land its highest-rated recruiting class ever at No. 7 on Rivals.com, and that he had never been accused of striking a player, an accusation that Leavitt has denied but ultimately ended his run at South Florida and has haunted his career. 

So, with Leavitt's bitterness and the obvious friction between two alpha dog coaches, it only stood to reason that this situation would prove to be untenable and eventually erode. Plus, while Leavitt is a very good defensive coordinator, he is not the mythical figure he has been made out to be since he arrived in Eugene. 

For example: According to sources, Heyward and Taggart were the men behind Oregon's defense that shut down Arizona and quarterback Khalil Tate in 2017. Tate had been ripping up the Pac-12 by gaining 1,207 rushing yards over his first six conference starts before the Ducks held him to 32 in a 48-28 UO victory at home. 

So, it could very well be that the defense will be in great hands under Heyward, however this will be his first run at being a defensive coordinator. Could there be growing pains? Possibly. And if so, how long of a leach will Heyward be given to work through his inexperience in this role?

Since the firing of Mark Helfrich in 2016, Oregon hasn't experienced much in the way of stability or consistency, and there has been plenty of controversy.

  • Assistant coach David Reaves was arrested for DUII and fired in early 2017. 
  • A second assistant coach, Jimmie Dougherty, who was riding with Reaves also was fired. 
  • Players were hospitalized following excessive workouts in 2017. Two of the players, Doug Brenner and Sam Poutasi, are suing Taggart, the NCAA and Oregon. 
  • Taggart left after one season causing Oregon's 2018 recruiting class to fall from No. 1 to No. 18. 
  • Leavitt leaves team after two seasons. 

 

The good news is that the Ducks won a bowl game last season, did land a very strong recruiting class in 2019 and quarterback Justin Herbert elected to return for his senior season. 

And now, Cristobal will have a staff that is made up only of men he hired or wanted to retain. For the first time, it can truly be said that this is Cristobal's program from top to bottom. 

But what happens after Herbert is gone after next season? He, like Leavitt, regressed statistically last season, inexplicable for a junior quarterback with first-round NFL talent. That's a bad sign for the future of the offense beyond Herbert and the future of the defense is in flux with a new coordinator. 

One thing for sure is the past two years for the Ducks' football program have been anything but dull and the next couple of years promise to be equally as intriguing. 

Oregon Ducks lose out on 4-star CB Denzel Burke who commits to Ohio State

Oregon Ducks lose out on 4-star CB Denzel Burke who commits to Ohio State

A blue chip Oregon target has decided to attend college elsewhere.

2021 four-star defensive back Denzel Burke announced his commitment to Ohio State University Sunday afternoon via his Twitter. 

On May 12, Burke had announced that Oregon was among his top-five teams along with the Buckeyes, USC, Colorado, and Washington.

Via the 247Sports Composite rankings, Burke was the 183rd overall prospect in the country, seventh-best athlete, and fourth-best overall player in Arizona. Oregon has secured three of the five best players in Arizona this recruiting cycle by getting verbal commitments from OL Jonah Miller, QB Ty Thompson, and OT Bram Walden. 

[RELATED]: Oregon Ducks land 2021 four-star OL Jonah Miller

If the 6'0", 189 pound cornerback wasn't going to choose the Ducks the Buckeyes was the next best bet for Oregon as he will not be in the Pac-12 conference. They may match up on the field next season in Colombus, however, when the Ducks travel to play Ohio State on September 11, 2021. 

Additionally, verbal commitments are nonbinding so if Oregon can pull off the upset against Ohio State this season in Autzen Stadium then maybe Burke could reconsider, if that game happens.

[RELATED]: Could the Oregon vs. Ohio State series flip locations?

Be sure to check out the latest Talkin’ Ducks Podcast with host Jordan Kent and special guest Oregon Strength & Conditioning Coach Aaron Feld.

Walt Disney World would 'be happy' to host the WNBA season as well

Walt Disney World would 'be happy' to host the WNBA season as well

Sabrina Ionescu always produces magic on the court so it only makes sense she may make her professional debut next to the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World.

According to Keith Smith of Yahoo! Sports, Walt Disney World would "be happy" to host the WNBA in addition to the remainder of the NBA season if the league wants.

"We'd be happy to host the WNBA here as well," a source told Smith. "We see this as an overall partnership with the entire NBA umbrella. We've been great partners for years, as seen with the NBA Experience at Disney Springs. This is an expansion of that."

Smith worked at Disney for 20 years before leaving to cover the NBA full-time.

The report comes hours after NBA spokesman Mike Bass announced that the NBA in congruence with the Player's Association have begun talks to play out the remainder of the season at Walt Disney Corporation's ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.

"The NBA, in conjunction with the National Basketball Players Association, is engaged in exploratory conversations with The Walt Disney Company about restarting the 2019-20 NBA season in late July at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida as a single site for an NBA campus for games, practices and housing," Bass said. "Our priority continues to be the health and safety of all involved, and we are working with public health experts and government officials on a comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure that appropriate medical protocols and protections are in place."

On April 3, the WNBA season was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, no longer targeting to begin training camp on May 15.

"As developments continue to emerge around the COVID-19 pandemic, including the extension of the social distancing guidelines in the United States through April 30, the WNBA will postpone the start of its training camps and tip of the regular season originally scheduled for May 15," said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert in a statement. "While the league continues to use this time to conduct scenario-planning regarding new start dates and innovative formats, our guiding principle will continue to be the health and safety of the players, fans and employees."

The league also held the 2020 WNBA Draft virtually which saw three Oregon Ducks go in the first round: Sabrina Ionescu (No. 1 to the New York Liberty), Satou Sabally (No. 2 to the Dallas Wings) and Ruthy Hebard (No. 8 to the Chicago Sky).

Additionally, Oregon State's Mikayla Pivec was selected by the Atlanta Dream with the first pick of the third round. 

Now, it appears like all four will make their respective WNBA debuts at Walt Disney World.

Be sure to check out the latest Talkin’ Ducks Podcast with host Jordan Kent and special guest Oregon Strength & Conditioning Coach Aaron Feld.

The secret to Oregon's success starts in the weight room with Aaron Feld

The secret to Oregon's success starts in the weight room with Aaron Feld

You probably noticed the moment Aaron Feld took over as Oregon Football’s Strength and Conditioning coach back in January 2018.

Whether it was the magnificent mustache or perhaps it was the first time you heard him screaming ‘good morning’ at his players when they arrived for football practice in the early AM. Or maybe you noticed his impact on the players themselves, seeing their bodies transform in the weight room. 

Whatever the case may be, Feld has made quite the impact in Eugene, Oregon. 

The biggest difference Feld sees since he has taken over the program is the mindset in the weight room.

The weight room mentality here in the long history seemed to be just guys come in, do what they got to do and get out. What we tried to do was change that mentality of ‘Okay this is something we have to do,’ to ‘Okay, this is part of the process of winning.’ — Aaron Feld

That’s no easy task. For example, the players would have a scheduled lift every Sunday during football season, meaning after playing a long, hard-hitting football game on Saturday, to then wake up on Sunday to go lift. But Feld believes first in training your mind to then train your body. To see working out as something greater than just working out.

We used to have to come up with gimmicks and games and ideas to get them excited about training. This past season, it’s a business mentality. You walk in the weight room, you go to work, you get your job done and then you bounce. The purpose isn’t to lift weights; the purpose is to be great at football. — Aaron Feld

It’s that mindset that separates the good from the great and it’s in every small detail.

The fact that the Oregon weight room overlooks the practice fields serves as a constant reminder to the players that they’re not there to lift weights; they are there to play football. It’s about keeping your body and your mind in tip top shape to play the game of football.

Now it’s part of what they [the players] do and not something they have to do. — Aaron Feld

Be sure to check out the latest Talkin’ Ducks Podcast with host Jordan Kent and special guest Oregon Strength & Conditioning Coach Aaron Feld.

Justin Herbert’s Redbox Bowl halftime speech is the most Justin Herbert speech ever

Justin Herbert’s Redbox Bowl halftime speech is the most Justin Herbert speech ever

For those of you who don’t remember, most likely because you’ve washed it from your memory on purpose, let’s flash back to the 2018 Redbox Bowl game.

It was a warm, sunny day for a noon kickoff at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. The 8-4 Ducks, in head coach Mario Cristobal’s inaugural season, earned a post-season bowl game against the 7-6 Michigan State Spartans.

What came next was anything but predicted.

The Ducks and Spartans entered halftime with the scoreboard reading 0-0, and no that wasn’t the game clock, it was the score. 

Oregon Strength & Conditioning Coach Aaron Feld joined host Jordan Kent on the latest Talkin’ Ducks Podcast. Feld was asked what his favorite memory of being a coach at Oregon was. 

One of his favorites came at halftime of this Redbox bowl shutout.

Justin Herbert calls the whole team up - he doesn’t speak a whole lot - and he give this great ‘Hey, everybody relax, do your job, you know the drill, we’re going to go out there and win this game.’ And then he said, ‘Now let’s go out there and kick their butts.’ The entire team died out laughing. It was the perfect comic relief, icebreaker, like everyone calm down. We went out and had a good time the second half. — Aaron Feld

It’s the most Justin Herbert-like speech ever. 

But it also got the job done. The Ducks went on to win 7-6 and Mario Cristobal earned his first post-season bowl game win as head coach at Oregon. Oregon’s sole touchdown was a 28-yard pass from Herbert to wide receiver Dillon Mitchell with 11:19 to play in the fourth quarter.

Oh man, to be a fly on the wall during that halftime speech.

Feld has another favorite memory, quite similar to the one above, that too makes a whole lot of sense when looking at the last four years of the Oregon Football program. 

Last season, Cal had a 7-0 lead at halftime over Oregon in Autzen Stadium, something that doesn’t happen often. 

Troy Dye comes into the locker room, grabs Herbie [Justin Herbert] and pulls him over to the offensive line… We had been coaching and preaching about lifting each other up and elevating everybody and Troy calls these guys over and says, ‘Hey, all we need is eight points. If you get us eight points, we’ll win this game.’ We ended up winning 17-7 so the defense absolutely held their end of the bargain. — Aaron Feld

It’s like those moments when the student becomes the master. 

That kind of leadership was both needed and expected in those crucial moments and throughout the rest of the season from Justin Herbert and Troy Dye when the two decided to forgo the 2019 NFL Draft and return to Oregon for their senior year.

Be sure to check out the latest Talkin’ Ducks Podcast with host Jordan Kent and special guest Oregon Strength & Conditioning Coach Aaron Feld.

Could the Oregon vs. Ohio State series flip locations?

Could the Oregon vs. Ohio State series flip locations?

There’s still so much unknown right now when it comes to professional sports and collegiate sports.

Oregon Ducks fans and Ohio State Buckeye fans are anticipating the decision on their scheduled 2020 non-conference game this fall. The game is currently scheduled for Sept. 12 at Autzen Stadium in Eugene.

However, there’s a lot of concern that sporting events will not take place in the state of Oregon at that time. 

Two weeks ago, Oregon Governor Kate Brown gave an update on sporting events in Oregon, stating that large events such as sports would not be able to return or would be drastically altered “until we have a reliable treatment or prevention like a vaccine.”

So now the question is: Will the Ducks and Buckeyes showdown take place at all?

The scheduled Sept. 12 game is part of a home-and-home series.

Oregon is scheduled to travel to Ohio Stadium on Sept. 11, 2021.

This week, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith made a joke about playing both of the games in their house.

“We can just play both of them here, two years in a row,” Smith joked during a teleconference Wednesday.

Ducks fans probably don’t think that was all that funny.

But in all seriousness, Smith said he spoke with Oregon’s athletic director Rob Mullens, but they did not discuss the possibility of flip-flopping locations for the two games.

That's not to say that the possibility of switching locations for the series couldn’t happen.

Smith isn’t ruling out the idea.

“This is the first time I've thought about it, so I'm not so sure I've got a strong opinion on it,” he added during Wednesday’s teleconference. “Because we would be probably giving up a game next year, in '21, which would make it harder for us. So, I'm not so sure I would do that.”

He started off Wednesday’s teleconference stating, “Obviously, we have a lot of challenges with what we’re dealing with it. A lot of things to be… decisions to be ultimately made.”

Listen to the entire Gene Smith conference call right here.

Be sure to check out the full Talkin’ Ducks Podcast with host Jordan Kent and special guest GoDucks.com editor-in-chief Rob Moseley. 

Troy Dye went out as a Rose Bowl Champion and it 'meant the world'

Troy Dye went out as a Rose Bowl Champion and it 'meant the world'

Once a Duck, always a Duck.

It's a saying that originates in Eugene but has been echoed all through the country and even the world. As those leave the University of Oregon, one thing's for sure: All Ducks share a special bond. 

Now that sentiment will extend to Minnesota where former Oregon linebacker Troy Dye will be playing professional football for the Minnesota Vikings who selected him in the fourth round, 132nd overall, during the 2020 NFL Draft.

In an interview on the Minnesota Vikings podcast, Dye discussed what his time in Eugene meant to him. 

I think Eugene is probably my second home because I just fell in love with the community. I feel like I have a spot there for the rest of my life, no matter what. - Troy Dye

After winning the Redbox Bowl as a junior, Dye along with quarterback Justin Herbert, forwent the NFL Draft to play one final season in Eugene with one goal in mind: To go out on top.

We've been through so much: Three difference coaching changes, three different offenses, three different defenses, different scandals, different things going on with strength coaches and administration people, just different things that can distract people. People transfering, people getting kicked off. There's many things that can get you discouraged and you can go 4-8, then [7-6], then 8-4, and then the last year could be 8-4 and you'd be okay with that but we had a different mindset, different goal. We made sure everybody was on the same page going into this last year and made it happen. - Troy Dye

The city had given Dye so much that he knew he needed to finish the rebuild his senior class began. 

I've built so many relationships and friendships over those four years it's just meant the world to me. So to be able to go out with that senior class that we came in with and go out with the Rose Bowl it just meant the world.

Dye's senior class accomplished just that winning the program's first Pac-12 Championship and Rose Bowl Championship since 2014, and finishing with the program's highest final ranking of No. 5 since Marcus Mariota left for the NFL. They also left the program ready to continue building forward with back-to-back top recruiting classes in the conference which leads to more talent being injected into the program.

Dye, Herbert, and the rest of the 2020 class will be remembered for turning around the program back to national relevance; where it belongs. 

Be sure to check out the full Talkin’ Ducks Podcast with host Jordan Kent and special guest GoDucks.com editor-in-chief Rob Moseley. 

New Hayward Field is complete and it looks absolutely stunning

New Hayward Field is complete and it looks absolutely stunning

The walk to Autzen Stadium is considered among the most beautiful parts of Eugene, but now it may have some competition. 

Wednesday evening, Oregon Track & Field released a look at the newly built Hayward Field testing the sound system. 

Then, Oregon Cross Country coach Jill Steele released a look at twilight which was stunning. 

Oregon 2021 wide receiver target Dont'e Thornton liked what he was seeing, too. 

Construction on the renovation of Hayward Field began in Summer 2018 fully funded from Phil and Penny Knight along with 50 other donors. The capacity has been increased more than double from 10,500 to nearly 25,000.  

The field was scheduled to host the 2020 Pac-12 Championships and 2020 Olympic Trials, but both events were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The newly constructed field will host the 2021 Olympic Trials June 18–27, 2021 ahead of next year's Summer Olympics. 

Additionally, the 2021 World Championships have been delayed to July 15–24, 2022 as the 2022 World Championships at Hayward Field. 

Former Oregon Track and Field star and Olympian Ashton Eaton talked about Eugene maintaining the tradition of Tracktown, USA on the Talkin' Ducks podcast last month, prior the delay to 2022. 

The World Championships was a plan that was in the minds of folks who were building up the Oregon track program, Hayward Field and the ‘Tracktown’ idea years ago. And so, in order to get to that point, the 2008 Olympic Trials had to be had, 2012, 2016 and now 2021. So these things were all not random. They were leading up to this moment of bringing the entire world of track and field to Hayward Field, to Eugene, Oregon. -- Ashton Eaton

Be sure to check out the full Talkin’ Ducks Podcast with host Jordan Kent and special guest GoDucks.com editor-in-chief Rob Moseley.

Oregon Ducks signee Luke Hill arrested for attempted murder

Oregon Ducks signee Luke Hill arrested for attempted murder

Oregon Ducks signee Luke Hil was arrested Tuesday on eight different charges, including first degree attempted murder, according to 247Sports

Per arrest records, Hill has been charged with the following

  • An attempted loaded handgun on person
  • Handgun on person
  • Possession of a firearm by a minor 
  • Use of an assault weapon
  • Use of a firearm
  • Attempted first-degree murder
  • Reckless endangerment
  • First-degree assault

The former four-star recruit has a preliminary hearing scheduled for June 19, 2020, at 8:45 a.m. ET in Prince George County in Maryland.

"He was informed earlier this Spring that he would not be a member of our program," head coach Mario Cristobal told DuckTerritory in a statement Wednesday.

Justin Hopkins of ScoopDuck has reported that Oregon hasn't had plans of having him in the program for months. The University never gave him any admissions paperwork after becoming aware of character concerns and told Hill he would not be a Duck. Hill then deleted all Oregon presence among his social media. 

John Canzano of The Oregonian reported that Hill was let go from Oregon following a series of "immature actions" in February unrelated to the current charges. 

247Sports rated Hill as a four-star recruit, ranked as the 195th overall player in the 2020 high school class and 15th overall cornerback. He held offers from Alabama, Clemson, Florida, and other premier college football programs.

This story is updating as more information is becoming available. 

Be sure to check out the full Talkin’ Ducks Podcast with host Jordan Kent and special guest GoDucks.com editor-in-chief Rob Moseley.

Patrick Chung signs two-year contract extension with NE Patriots

Patrick Chung signs two-year contract extension with NE Patriots

Patrick Chung is being rewarded for his consistency on the field.

The former Oregon Ducks safety has agreed to a two-year extension through 2023, according to Field Yates. 

Originally drafted by the Patriots in 2009 and spending all but one season with New England, Chung has been a late bloomer professionally. Chung has found his stride.

He has enjoyed three Super Bowls (XLIX, LI, LIII) since returning to the Patriots after a brief stint in Philadelphia and has only missed one regular-season game.

Chung has also been recognized for being able to stay on the field. During his Oregon days, Chung currently holds the record for starting more games than any other defensive player in program history (51 straight game).

He might not pop off the screen as a player with a lot of Pro Bowl selections or crazy defensive stats season after season, but that never matters at the end of the end when you help your team get to the Super Bowl practically every year.

Chung has been the backbone of this long run of excellent defense the Patriots are now accustomed to the season after season and now is being rewarded for what he has brought to the table for the Patriots.