Jim Leavitt

Leavitt didn’t fit Cristobal’s vision; A decade in the making

Leavitt didn’t fit Cristobal’s vision; A decade in the making

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.

After his promotion, Cristobal confronted Leavitt about the awkward situation and the two headstrong coaches put aside their personal ambitions for a season. Let’s be honest though, the lure of Oregon’s $600,000 raise probably swayed Leavitt’s decision to stay.

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.”

Leavitt and Cristobal, according to Fentress, nearly came to blows during a practice in 2017.

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. 

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. 

Next man up? With Jim Leavitt out, who will run Oregon's defense

Next man up? With Jim Leavitt out, who will run Oregon's defense

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.

Here are more reactions from the Duck defense.

Players reactions: Ducks defense is shook over Leavitt news

Players reactions: Ducks defense is shook over Leavitt news

If you are shocked to hear that defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt and Oregon are parting ways, you aren't alone.

In the few minutes since the story broke, many Oregon defensive players took to Twitter to share their reactions about Leavitt leaving, one can assume. It appears the Ducks were not aware that Leavitt would not be back for a third season. Very notable is linebacker Troy Dye's response, who made the decision to forgo the 2019 NFL Draft to return for his senior season. Also, is the nation's No. 1 recruit, Kayvon Thibodeaux, HAPPY that Leavitt is gone? The good news is he does not plan on transferring. 









A little background on Leavitt: Leavitt is the highest paid coordinator in the Pac-12 conference. Over the span of two years as Oregon's defensive coordinator, he has improved the Ducks' 126th ranked defense in 2016 to 67th in 2018 in the nation. Oregon's scoring defense has also improved from 41.4 points per game to 28 points per game.

Ducks defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt leaving Oregon

Ducks defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt leaving Oregon

Reports indicate that Oregon inside linebackers coach and defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt is to leave the Oregon football program, first reported by Matt Prehm of 247 Sports.

Over the span of two years as Oregon's defensive coordinator, Leavitt improved the Ducks' 126th ranked defense in 2016 to 67th in 2018 in the nation. Oregon's scoring defense has also improved from 41.4 points per game to 28 points per game.

Leavitt joins outisde linebackers coach Cort Dennison as well as wide receivers coach Michael Johnson as the coaches to leave the Oregon program following the 2018 season.

Mario Cristobal now has one more big coaching void to fill after hiring Ken Wilson (outside linebackers from WSU) and Jovon Bouknight (wide receivers from Texas Tech).

According to the 24/7 report, Oregon will appoint co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Keith Heyward to defensive coordinator.

With star linebacker Troy Dye announcing he would return to Oregon for his senior season, all was looking good once again for Leavitt and the Ducks defense. But how will this big time change affect the program as well as the incoming recruits? More to come from our Ducks insider Bri Amaranthus.


What's going on with Oregon Ducks defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt?

What's going on with Oregon Ducks defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt?

It remains to be seen if defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt will return to Eugene for another season under Oregon coach Mario Cristobal. 

Leavitt is the highest paid coordinator in the Pac-12 Conference, earning $1.7 million a year with a $500,000 buyout. Over the span of two years, Leavitt has improved the Ducks' 126th ranked defense in 2016 to 67th in 2018 in the nation. 

In the video above, I break down the likelihood that a change is made at Oregon.

Hint - It's likely. 

Is Jim Leavitt leaving? Is Justin Herbert staying? Could Oregon get to CFB playoff in 2019?

Is Jim Leavitt leaving? Is Justin Herbert staying? Could Oregon get to CFB playoff in 2019?

Welcome to my weekly mailbag where I answer your best Oregon questions from Twitter and Instagram. All three questions this week are uber important to the future of the Oregon football program. Let’s get to them!

Which head coaching jobs has Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt been linked to?

Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, who was the head coach at South Florida from 1997 through 2012, lobbied for Oregon's head coaching position with the departure of Willie Taggart last season but was passed over for Mario Cristobal. After eight years as an assistant, Leavitt appears to be on the hunt for a head coach job. Leavitt’s name has been linked to Colorado, following the Buffaloes firing of Mike MacIntyre. Leavitt was an assistant with Colorado in 2015–16 and helped lead it to a Pac-12 south division title in 2016.

Leavitt is also rumored to be a top candidate to be the next Texas Tech football head coach, replacing Kliff Kingsbury. Athletic director Kirby Hocutt and Leavitt are close as Leavitt was Hocutt’s linebacker coach at Kansas State. Duck Territory has reported that Leavitt has interviewed for the opening.

A little background on Leavitt: Leavitt is the highest paid coordinator in the Pac-12 conference. Over the span of two years as Oregon's defensive coordinator, he has improved the Ducks' 126th ranked defense in 2016 to 67th in 2018 in the nation. Oregon's scoring defense has also improved from 41.4 points per game to 28 points per game.

QUESTION: What are the odds of Justin Herbert staying?

Personally, I believe that Herbert is going to forgo the 2019 NFL Draft and stay another season at Oregon.

[READ: Confirmed: Justin Herbert's injury not serious, "good to go"]

He is talked about as a top-pick, and the lure of the NFL and the riches that come with it are tough to resist. But Herbert is not your typical athlete, and fits the mold of a player who would stay for his senior season.

He is extremely academically driven and hopes to become a doctor, staying would allow him to work towards his Masters degree. If he stays, he would get to be teammates with his brother, four-star tight end Patrick Herbert who has committed to Oregon's 2019 class.

Growing up in Eugene as an Oregon fan, I believe Herbert has more he’d like to accomplish as a Duck.

Obviously, if Herbert returns for another he would need an insurance policy against injury.

QUESTION: What are the realistic odds of Oregon making the playoffs next season if Herbert does stay?

In order for Oregon to make the college football playoff, it would first need to win the Pac-12 North Division relatively unscathed. As we’ve seen this season, the conference has beat itself up to the point where no Pac-12 team will be in the playoff, although Washington State may receive an at-large bid to a New Year’s Six game.

Winning the north would be a tough task but next season is Oregon’s narrowing chance to accomplish it.

If Herbert returns, the offense will be strong; running backs CJ Verdell and Travis Dye are only going to improve, leading receiver Dillon Mitchell will continue to break ankles, and the offensive line doesn’t lose a senior.

The defense loses a few key components in seniors Ugo Amadi, Jalen Jelks and Justin Hollins. Another big loss, for continuity sake, would be Leavitt.

We’ve seen flashes of brilliance from Oregon this season. With another season of experience and development, 2019 could be the Ducks shot at a conference title and a possible playoff run.

Jim Leavitt isn't living up to his $1.7 million price tag: Agree or disagree?

Jim Leavitt isn't living up to his $1.7 million price tag: Agree or disagree?

Aaron Fentress and I discuss if Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt is living up to his $1.7 million contract at Oregon.

Leavitt is the highest paid coordinator in the Pac-12 conference and inherited a defense in 2016 that ranked 126th in the nation in total defense. In 2018, the Ducks are 67th in total defense. Over two years, Oregon's scoring defense has improved from 41.4 points per game to 28 points per game. 

What do you think?


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Oregon Ducks counting on old man Justin Hollins

US Presswire

Oregon Ducks counting on old man Justin Hollins

Outside linebacker Justin Hollins is quietly leading the Ducks and crushing opposing quarterbacks, all while climbing NFL draft boards at an alarming rate.

The fifth-year senior is a big reason why No. 12 Oregon’s front seven is among the most productive in the Pac-12 conference.

“He’s a freak of nature,” said fellow linebacker junior Troy Dye. “He is super athletic, big, strong, physical, fast. He’s everything you want in an outside linebacker and then some.”

Dye jokingly added that Hollins is “the old man” on the Oregon defense.

At 23-years old, Hollins is anything but an old man. However, through his five seasons as a Duck, he’s experienced a Rose Bowl victory, a National Championship run, a 4-8 losing season, three different head coaches and three different defensive coordinators… That’s enough to give anyone some grey hair.

His final year as a Duck is proving to be his best yet. He’s racked up 20 quarterback pressures and leads the team with four sacks, nine tackles for loss and three of Oregon’s five forced fumbles. Hollins is also streaking, recording a tackle for loss in 10 straight games. To round out his stellar stat line, Hollins is tied with senior safety Ugochukwu Amadi for a team lead of 21 solo tackles.

At 6-foot-five and 245-pounds, Hollins is a long and lean edge defender. NFL scouts like his physical gifts, combined with his versatile ability to rush the quarterback and excel when dropping back into coverage. Because he is an outside linebacker in Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt’s 3-4 scheme, Hollins won’t face any transition pains, as most scouts see his NFL future at outside linebacker. Hollins is rising in 2019 NFL mock drafts because of his strong hands, hesitation moves and fluid ability to dart into the B-gap.

But it’s Hollins’ mentality and preparation that sets him above the rest, according to Oregon co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Joe Salava’e.

“He’s literally a student of the game, such a conscientious kid,” said Salava’e.

Each week, Hollins questions Salava’e…in a good way. Hollins wants to understand exactly why the Ducks are doing what they are doing. So he asks Salava’e specific questions about why they are running different coverages or which technique should be used at the line of scrimmage.

His deep understanding and confidence in Oregon’s game plan gives him an obvious edge on Saturdays. The senior is one of just two players in the NCAA this season with four sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception.

Hollins’ performance on Saturday is “critical” for Oregon to beat No. 25 Washington State," says Oregon coach Mario Cristobal.

“If you are trying to overplay the pass, (WSU) will gut you in the run game,” said Cristobal. “Guys like Justin have to affect the line of scrimmage and in more ways than just stopping the run. They have to affect the passer and redirect and chase down screens.”

A Cougar to keep an eye on is running back James Williams, who leads all running backs nationally with 32 receptions and is tied for the lead with three receiving touchdowns.

Winning the line of scrimmage against Washington State won’t be an easy task either. The Cougar offensive line has allowed just five sacks in six games, which is tied for 8th nationally and the fewest sacks allowed in the Pac-12.

Can Hollins keep the pace on his best season yet? The Duck defense thrives when he intimidates around the edge. With Pac-12 title hopes on the line in a rowdy Top 25 matchup and the nation watching, the Ducks will be counting on their old man.



Travis Dye and his ferocious jump cuts could be special this season

Travis Dye and his ferocious jump cuts could be special this season

Oregon’s rushing attack is legendary and the history of offensive weapons is impressive. The past four seasons, No. 23 Oregon could count on Royce Freeman, who carried the bulk of the rushing load and holds Oregon’s career rushing yards record (5,621) and career touchdowns record (60).

Those are some big cleats to fill. Oregon (1-0) has pegged senior Tony Brooks-James as their every down back, and he has goals to dominate in his final season as a Duck.

Behind Brooks-James are five scholarship running backs that each have a special skill set. If you are looking for special, look no further than the first running back off the bench last Saturday, freshman Travis Dye and his ferocious jump cuts.

Dye replaced Brooks-James for the third series in Oregon’s 58-24 victory over Bowling Green, he rushed for 37 yards on seven attempts and demonstrated why his teammates and coaches talk wildly about him.

“I think he’s darn good. Shoot, he’s a lot better than his brother (Troy),” Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt teased. “I just had to say that for Troy because Troy will get fired up on that one. Travis is really so talented. He has so much balance, runs with his shoulders out front and has good vision.”

Football is a family affair for Travis, as Dye has four older brothers that have played (or are playing) college football, including star UO junior linebacker, Troy.

Troy said he was proud of Travis’ performance in his college football debut. Travis sat a few feet to his right on the podium and ended it with some brotherly love: "But at the end of the day, he's still a bum."

Travis enrolled early at Oregon for spring football after rushing for 2,383 yards and 34 touchdowns as a high school senior at Norco High school in California. Dye was banged up with a minor injury in UO's fall camp but rebounded and is fully healthy.  

Brooks-James smiled wide when talking about Dye’s strengths. He complimented his shiftiness and ability to run hard without hesitation.

“With those things combined, when he hits a hole, he’s gone,” Brooks-James said.

Dye can juke anyone with his jump cuts but it was the freshman’s maturity that impressed quarterback Justin Herbert. 

“He knows what he’s doing,” Herbert said. “He made some mistakes but he gathered himself and came back and ran really hard.”

The lights weren’t too bright for Travis in his college football debut. He was one of six running backs that totaled 212 rushing yards with an average of five yards per rush. Once pac-12 conference play starts, Oregon will likely shrink its rotation. Dye has put himself in the position to contribute to Oregon's power-tempo offense this season and for many to come.

“He’s going to be really, really good for a long time here,” offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo said. “We are really excited about him.”