The new frontman hit all the right notes during his first performance on the main stage.
Now Mario Cristobal, who was officially named the 34th head football coach in Oregon history on the anniversary of Willie Taggart’s introductory news conference, will try to keep the rest of the band together.
On Friday, only three days after Taggart exited stage left for a six-year, $30 million deal at Florida State, Cristobal signed a memorandum of understanding with Oregon on a five-year, $12.5 million contract.
If Cristobal, who also has Florida roots, leaves before Jan. 31, 2019, he will owe Oregon $10 million. The buyout is reduced by $2 million after each contract year.
“We feel all-in with Oregon after being here for just a short amount of time,” said the 47-year-old Cristobal, who was joined by his wife, Jessica, and young sons, Mario Mateo and Rocco, during his news conference at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex. “ We want to be here until you’ve got to drag me away kicking and screaming. … I wanted it to be known, I wanted it to be put in writing, whatever had to be done, so that there is no chatter. So there is no, ‘Hey, we’ve seen something like this.’
“Because I get it. I understand how recruiting works and how people want to use things against you.”
Florida State only had to pay a $3 million buyout, plus the rest of Taggart’s $1.3 buyout from South Florida, to take Oregon’s coach away after only one season.
Troy Dye and other Ducks expressed their unhappiness about the way Taggart handled the situation publicly, and several high-profile recruits decided to rescind their verbal commitments.
The promotion of Cristobal calmed the waters and gives the program some short-term stability as Oregon begins preparing for No. 25 Boise State in next Saturday’s Las Vegas Bowl ahead of the early signing period on Dec. 20.
“When coach Taggart left it was hard for all of us because he’s a tremendous friend to all of us and incredibly good to everyone in the room,” Cristobal said. “We’re much better right now than we were a year ago today. And instead of getting angry, instead of getting upset and getting all these things where your emotions get all riled up, you’ve got to look at that as a gift.
“It came and it went. And you know what? Now you take it and you run with it, because anything else is wasting time.”
Cristobal said co-offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo will replace Taggart as the play-caller next season. Defensive line coach Joe Salave’a, safeties coach Keith Heyward and cornerbacks coach Charles Clark are also likely to remain at Oregon.
“We’ve made tremendous progress this year, and the staff and the players are the most important part of this equation,” Cristobal said. “So we are working and we’ll work through the bowl game to make sure we do everything possible to retain as many staff members as we possibly can.”
Jim Leavitt, like all the other assistants, will coach the Ducks through the bowl game, but the defensive coordinator is expected to join Taggart at Florida State.
Left tackle Tyrell Crosby dropped a petition off on the desk of Rob Mullens that more than 70 players signed in support of Cristobal being the next head coach.
Oregon’s athletic director said he factored in the sentiments from the locker room but still interviewed three other candidates before promoting an offensive coordinator from within, just as the program had done before with Mike Bellotti, Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich.
“I had an opportunity to sit down with some phenomenal coaches who all could lead our program to meet the lofty expectations that we’ve set,” Mullens said. “Yet something separated Mario from the group.”
Cristobal, who will continue to coach the offensive line, came to Oregon 11 months ago after spending four seasons at Alabama as Nick Saban’s assistant head coach. The Crimson Tide won the 2015 College Football Playoff and lost to Clemson in the 2016 championship game.
“It was a four-year process of getting my Ph.D. in football under coach Saban,” Cristobal said.
Cristobal compiled a 27-47 record during six seasons as the head coach at Florida International (2007-12). He noted that the fledgling FBS program was hampered by severe NCAA penalties and a lack of facilities during his rebuilding job.
After leading FIU to the Sun Belt title and earning conference coach of the year honors on 2010, Cristobal was fired following a 3-9 season in 2012.
Cristobal said Rich Brooks and Mike Bellotti deserve more national recognition for the jobs they did to build Oregon’s program. He also wants current and future players to aspire to reach the standard Marcus Mariota set three years ago when the star quarterback won the Heisman Trophy and led the Ducks to the national title game.
“I don’t think the country understands the great standard that has been set, and now we carry the weight of that,” Cristobal said. “Our players understand that. We’re borrowing these jerseys. It’s our job to elevate the standards, create that legacy and uphold the legacy.”
The 2017 Ducks (7-5) still have a chance to double last year’s win total and take some of the momentum created by Taggart into next season.
“I think the foundation is strong,” Cristobal said.
Even though Taggart, a Palmetto, Fla., native, returned to his home state just shy of his one-year anniversary on the job, Mullens is confident Cristobal, a two-time national champion as a player at Miami (Fla.), is a man of Oregon now.
“He’s got a vision and a clear plan,” Mullens said. “We’re going to put his Ph.D. to work.”