Oregon is parting ways with defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. All Pepsi jokes aside, Leavitt stabilized the Ducks’ defense over the past two seasons, helping improve Oregon's 126th ranked defense in 2016 to 67th in the nation in 2018.
As the sixth-highest paid assistant in the nation, Leavitt was earning $1.7 million annually and under contract for two more years. The amount for his remaining buyout would have been $3.4 million, less anything he earns in the next two years.
The athletic department announced Thursday the “mutually reached agreement to part ways” will be funded from private sources over multiple years. Oregon will pay him a maximum amount of $2.5 million, subject to reduction based on future employment.
This news begs the question, with star linebacker Troy Dye returning to lead the 2019 defense and the some of the nation’s top talent signing with Oregon, including incoming freshmen defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, who will be in charge of Oregon’s defense?
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 was hired as the Ducks’ safeties coach in January 2017. Here is what you need to know about the Oregon State alumnus:
Entering the 2018 season, Cristobal added co-defensive coordinator duties to his role and earns $450,000 annually at Oregon.
“Keith is a rising star in this industry and played an instrumental role in our remarkable improvement defensively across all metrics,” Mario Cristobal said after extending Heyward’s contract in 2017 after former head coach Willie Taggart departed for Florida State. “We look forward to his continued impact in the development of our players.”
Prior to Oregon, he was the secondary coach at Louisville in 2016. In one season as Louisville’s defensive backs coach the Cardinals racked up 15 interceptions.
Heyward is a veteran of the Pac-12 Conference as both coach and player. The leader of the Oregon safeties room has coached defensive backs at four different Pac-12 schools (Oregon, Washington, USC, Oregon State) and was an All-Pac-10 cornerback at Oregon State, ending his career with 35 consecutive starts.
While coaching defensive backs at USC in 2014-15, he also served as passing game coordinator. He helped the Trojans to the Pac-12 Championship game and a trip to the Holiday Bowl in 2015.
Can he help Oregon win its first Pac-12 title since 2014?
The defense loses key components including safety Ugo Amadi, linebacker Justin Hollins and defensive end Jalen Jelks. However, after starting six sophomores in 2018, the 2019 defense could make an improvement. Not to be overlooked, the Ducks add Thibodeaux and linebacker Mase Funa, who could make an impact right away.
By the way, don’t worry about Thibodeaux transferring away from Oregon. The nation’s No. 1 recruit tweeted this after the Leavitt news broke.
The transfer portal hasn’t even crossed my universe . Stop askin’— kayvon thibodeaux (@kayvonT8) February 14, 2019