EUGENE - Oregon coach Willie Taggart would be more than justified in giving up offensive playcalling duties while he overseas reinventing the Ducks football program, the most prestigious job he has held to date.
However, a few realities stand in the way of the former Western Kentucky quarterback letting go of being the point man for the offense that employs co-offensive coordinators.
1) Simply put, Taggart has too much fun directing his no-huddle, spread offense to give up calling the plays. 2) He said doing so helps him remain more hands-on with the offense and the team. 3) Last, but not least, when the (bleep) hits the fan, Taggart wants to make sure he is the one operating the fan.
“I’d rather do it and receive the blame than let someone else do it and still get the blame if it doesn’t go well,” Taggart said.
Taggart hired Mario Cristobal to coach the offensive line and be the running game coordinator before bringing in Marcus Arroyo to coach quarterbacks and tight ends while serving as the passing game coordinator.
The three, who have never before worked together, will operate in unison to create UO’s offensive plan of attack each week.
It will be a process, Taggart said, void of egos, beyond the obvious fact that the head man runs the show.
“The beauty of it is that those guys don’t have any egos,” Taggart said. “They are all for the team.”
“The attitudes and personalities we’ve got, coach Taggart’s done a great job,” Arroyo said when asked how the three would work together. “He knew what he was doing. Doesn’t matter who calls the plays.”
-Complimentary skill sets-
The co-coordinators bring complimenting skill sets. Arroyo held the role of offensive coordinator at Prairie View A&M, Wyoming and Southern Mississippi. He’s been co-offensive coordinator at San Jose State, where he played quarterback, and was the passing-game coordinator at California.
Cristobal has never been a coordinator but during his career has coached offensive line and tight ends, and was the head coach at Florida International for five seasons before going to Alabama in 2013 to coach the line.
The use of co-offensive coordinators at Oregon is a departure from the program's past, to a certain point.
During the last two regimes under former UO coaches Mark Helfrich and Chip Kelly, offensive line coach Steve Greatwood and running backs coach Gary Campbell had their fingerprints all over the rushing attack while helping to coordinate the offense with the offensive coordinators, whether it was Helfrich under Kelly, or Scott Frost and then Matt Lubick under Helfrich.
Nevertheless, the dynamic was slightly different than what is going on now with clearly defined game-planning roles in place for Arroyo and for Cristobal.
The offensive system is Taggart’s and is one he has been developing since becoming the co-offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky in 2001. He used it with great success as the head coach at WKU and later at South Florida.
“The core of the offense is what we did at South Florida,” Taggart said. "It was important that (Cristobal and Arroyo) understand the system and come in and learn it and build off of it.”
Taggart gave up calling plays his first two years at USF (2013 and 2014) and the offense struggled, averaging 13.8 points in 2013 and 17.2 in 2014 while going 6-18 over that span.
"I tried the other way and it didn’t work," Taggart said. "Had to go back.”
The offense improved dramatically in 2015, averaging 33.6 points per game and jumped to 43.8 points per game last season.
At the same time, it must be pointed out that Taggart’s teams his final two years at USF were considerably better and the improved offense likely had more to do with Taggart’s development of quarterback Quinton Flowers that it did playcalling.
Still, Taggart said he feels more comfortable having control of the direction of the offense on gamedays.
“I like being involved during games,” Taggart said. “I like being involved with the guys and I know what I want."
-Blending together ideas for the greater good-
Taggart stressed the importance of allowing both coordinators to have input on building the Oregon system in order to help enhance the overall scheme and take the offense into different directions.
For instance, Taggart said Cristobal has already infused parts of the running game he helped oversee at Alabama.
Oregon redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Brady Aiello said Cristobal has put in more downhill running plays than the Ducks used before in its no-huddle system under Helfrich.
Meanwhile, Arroyo has brought in some passing elements used at his previous stops.
Whatever is added must fit well with Taggart’s established offense. Constant collaboration is in play at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex during this critical time of establishing an overall methodology with many unfamiliar, moving parts that come with a new staff taking over a program.
“Those guys are really good at if I’m not in the room with them, coming and finding me and asking what I think about this and that,” Taggart said.
Also, Taggart, who essentially coaches the coaches on what he wants, will sit in on position meetings to make sure all of the details of the offense are being properly taught to the players.
During game weeks, each co-coordinator will focus on how his half of the offense should attack the opposing defense while Taggart studies the opponent in order to formulate his own ideas, as well.
“They will have a lot of input,” Taggart said. “They will have my ideas and what I think and then we’ll collaborate together. But they will do most of it.”
After the three coaches have solidified the game plan, the coordinators will be in charge of installing the strategies on the field with the players while Taggart, of course, watches over the process and reviews the day’s work through watching practice video.
The game plan will be fluid during the week to allow for tweaks and then all three coaches work together to finalize that week’s play sheet with scripted plays based on down and distance, hashmark placement, field position and anticipated defensive schemes.
“We’ll come to a consensus during the week,” Taggart said.
One of the major misconceptions of being offensive coordinator is that it is all about who calls the plays on game day. Helfrich was often marginalized because Kelly called the plays when the two worked together from 2009 through 2012.
Yet in reality, most of the in-game playcalls are decided through the coordination process during the week. A process that greatly involved Helfrich under Kelly and will be the same with Arroyo and Cristobal under Taggart.
Plus, like with the Kelly-Helfrich dynamic, Arroyo and Cristobal will have input on any deviations from the play sheet during games.
“They will be on hand and give me plays when needed,” Taggart said. “Sometimes I might get off rhythm and simply say, ‘give me a play.’”
Or, Cristobal, who will be on the sideline, might notice a weakness in the front seven that could be exploited for a big run. Maybe Arroyo, who will be in the coaches box, notices that a safety is cheating in too shallow and could be beaten with a deep pass. In either case, both co-coordinators will have the freedom to alert Taggart with a play, and if he likes what he hears, the play will be put into motion.
Taggart has made it a point of emphasis to get the players to become closer and work better with another. He wants the coaching staff to develop a strong rapport with the players. He also demands that the coaching staff do the same within its circle.
One of the more interesting dynamics that will play out this season will be the relationship between Cristobal and Arroyo.
So far, Arroyo said the two have gotten along well and have become close. They even ride to work together.
There’s no reason to believe their relationship will go south, especially if both have truly checked their egos at the door and Taggart can manage the three-headed offensive coordinating monster he has created.
“Football is not hard, people are,” Arroyo said. “People are complicated. Getting to know each other and working together, that’s a huge component of us jelling.”
Coming together is also something, according to Arroyo, the coaches must do well in order to set an example for the players, who witness the coaching dynamic on a daily basis.
“We’ve got to be models,” he said.
And on gamedays, they have to help the players get into the end zone.