Oregon Ducks

Oregon rolls the dice and they come up Taggart

Oregon Ducks

Oregon stepped up to the craps table on Wednesday, grabbed the dice and let them fly with the hiring of Willie Taggart as the next head football coach. 

How this roll plays out won't be determined for a few of years. Oregon could hit its number with the hiring of the South Florida coach who comes with a modest 40-45 record but has rebuilt two programs, or the Ducks could roll snake eyes. 

Right now, many fans and boosters are freaking out a bit. How, they ask, could UO athletic director Rob Mullens fire former coach Mark Helfrich (37-16) after one losing season (4-8) just two years removed from appearing in the national championship game only to hire a successor not from a Power Five conference and someone armed with arguably a weaker résumé ?

Fair questions, to be sure. But to surely be fair, Taggart must be given a chance. Said one current UO player about the firing of Helfrich and the hiring of Taggart: "Yeah, kinda surprising, but there's nothing to be done about it now. Hopefully they come in and do a great job."

That's all anyone could hope for. The problem is measuring what "do a great job" entails. 

 

Helfrich went 9-4 in 2015 and that was viewed by many as a down season, even though it's tied for the 11th most victories in the history of the program. The bar has been set so high that even the coach of arguably the greatest season ever (2014) didn't survive one losing season in 2016. Taggart, most certainly, will be given at least three seasons to prove himself before his job would be in danger. But what will constitute success? Must he get to 10 wins inside of those three years? Must he have won a Pac-12 championship?

If so, Taggart, who will be introduced during an 11 a.m. press conference on Thursday, could be in big trouble. The Pac-12 is deeper than it's ever been and is loaded with quality proven coaches from Washington's Chris Petersen to Stanford's David Shaw to even Oregon State's Gary Andersen, who is clearly rebuilding the Beavers.

Oregon should certainly be in the thick of the Pac-12 race in most seasons, but is also not immune to the occasional down year. Oregon's run of dominance from 2009 through 2014 (the first four seasons under Chip Kelly) was largely done within an inferior conference that where it stands now. 

What Taggart certainly brings to the table is offensive firepower.  No. 25 South Florida this season ranks 10th in the nation in total offense (515 yards per game) and seventh in scoring (43.6). With Oregon's returning talent, led by a promising offensive line and quarterback Justin Herbert, the Ducks' offense should remain formidable.

The questions come on defense. USF, 10-2 this season, this season ranks 120th in total defense (482.1 yards per game) and 86th in scoring defense (31.0). Taggart must make a strong hire at defensive coordinator to assure improvement for an Oregon defense that ranks 126th in the nation but does return 10 starters.

Taggart is considered to be a strong recruiter. But check yourself if you think he is going to start a flood of Florida's rich talent base to Oregon. First off, Taggart mostly recruited to USF the talent left over after Florida State, Florida and Miami (and major out-of-state programs) got through combing over the area. USF's 2017 recruiting ranks 54th in the nation, according to Rivals.com. The 2016 class ranked 72nd, and the 2015 class, 57th. 

The truth is that Oregon would never be after most of the commits Taggart recruited to USF. However, that doesn't mean that he couldn't entice some higher-ranked players to turn down the local bigger programs and get them to Eugene. 

Speaking of Eugene: It will still be a tough sell to get Florida kids to travel to the small city in the much colder and wetter Northwest to play football when there are plenty of options in sunny Florida, including Central Florida, coached by former Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost. The city of Eugene is not easy to get to. Travelling to home games can be a burden for some families who would prefer that their children remain closer to home. 

 

So while Taggart has recruited well to USF, there's zero guarantee he will recruit well enough to the Ducks to return the program to glory. 

One aspect of Taggart that will help him is that he reportedly possesses a strong personality. He's reportedly a very positive person who runs a tight ship. Oregon's players became at least somewhat lackadaisical in the area of discipline over the past couple of seasons. Taggart could establish some order with a fresh voice and approach.

Taggart, the running backs coach at Stanford from 2007-2009, comes highly recommended from former Cardinal and current Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, as well as from former NFL coach, Tony Dungy. Harbaugh's coaching tree also produced Shaw, who worked alongside Taggart at Stanford. 

None of that, however, has stopped some of the naysayers from barking.

Said one mid-level booster: "I'm officially out of the donor program. Mullens should be fired immediately."

Said another: "I'm disgusted by how the firing of Helfrich was handled, but I'm willing to give Taggart a chance."

In the end, that's all Taggart could ask for. How this roll of the dice plays out will be fascinating to watch.

Place your bets!