Oregon coach Mario Cristobal and defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt are parting ways. I’ve heard the same thing over and over from people inside the Oregon football program… Leavitt was simply "not in Cristobal’s vision".
Have you heard about Leavitt and Cristobal’s rocky start? Their relationship started with a phone call over a decade ago, that I would consider perfect foreshadowing.
Before we get to the beginning, let’s look at the end. You could point to he sticky situation when former Oregon coach Willie Taggart left for Florida State and both vyed for the open position. Despite Leavitt’s stronger resume, Oregon promoted Cristobal to head coach. Keep in mind, Cristobal had the recruiting prowess, the vision of “Oregon Football 2.0” and a petition with his players signatures lobbying for him to be their new coach.
Whether it be that raise or the promotion, there was a tangible imbalance of power. The salaries were not typical; Leavitt earned the sixth most by a coordinator in the nation and only $800,000 less annually than Cristobal. After Leavitt successfully stabilized the Duck defense, improving Oregon's 126th ranked defense in 2016 to 28th in 2017, he took ownership and made it known Cristobal should stick to offense.
My fellow reporter Aaron Fentress said it best, “bottom line is, there was just too much friction between Cristobal and Leavitt.”
The tension has been around for longer than a decade, starting with a phone fight from 2007, detailed by Cristobal during a one-on-one interview with Fentress last year.
Their relationship started when Florida International University, where Cristobal was head coach from 2007-12, was preparing for their upcoming game against University of South Florida. The FIU program was only three years old, and Cristobal needed to scout USF, so he called them to ask for game film (colleges must share game film with each other). At the time, USF had played two games that season, and FIU had played one game.
Cristobal requested the game film from both games. Leavitt, USF’s coach at the time, answered the call, declined and arguing ensued.
Leavitt wanted to only share one game because he was only getting one game of film in return. Cristobal wanted to pick which of the games he received, while Leavitt questioned if he already had the film of the other one (he did). The two coaches went back and forth until Cristobal came to a realization.
“I was like, wow, this is like I’m talking to my dad here.”
It was just a small confrontation over 10 years ago, but the foreshadowing is ironic.
Now Leavitt and Cristobal are no longer on the same team.
Cristobal wants his coaches, his recruits, his strength and conditioning program, his offense AND his defense. Oregon football 2.0 is his vision and he’s taken another step to get there.
He made a statement by parting ways with Leavitt. If you aren’t in his vision, you won’t be around for long.
The official release from Oregon states 'a national search for a new UO defensive coordinator is underway.' However, according to sources within NBC Sports NW and multiple reports, Cristobal is expected to promote safeties coach Keith Heyward to defensive coordinator.
Heyward is apparently in Cristobal’s vision. Yes, former Oregon coach Willie Taggart hired Heyward, but Cristobal extended Heyward’s contract in 2017, when Taggart left. Cristobal called the defensive backs coach a “rising star” and according to Fentress, Heyward and Taggart were the coaches behind Oregon's defense that shut down Arizona and quarterback Khalil Tate in 2017. Then, entering the 2018 season, Cristobal added co-defensive coordinator duties to Heyward’s role.
With the highest ever recruiting class coming to Eugene and his staff in place, the 2019 Oregon football season is all on Cristobal, top to bottom.