The Oregon Ducks didn’t have to look far for their next head football coach as the interim title was removed from Mario Cristobal Friday when he was named the new top man in Eugene.
The search was a quick one, wrapping up just three days after Willie Taggart bailed for Tallahassee to take over the team at Florida State University.
Oregon is only eight days from a bowl game and 12 removed from the NCAA’s early signing period, though, and the program looked to keep one of the best recruiters in the country in Duck country.
Cristobal was promoted from offensive line coach and run game coordinator, becoming the 34th head coach in program history and the third in three years.
Prior to his arrival in Eugene last January, the 47-year-old married father of two spent four years at Alabama under Nick Saban, where he won a national title. The Miami-native also has two rings from “The U” where he was an offensive tackle with the Dennis Erickson-coached Hurricanes.
Cristobal was the first Cuban-American head coach in Division I football, and had a record of 27-and-47 in six seasons at Florida International, lifting FIU from a young FBS school to going bowling twice.
The power of the players assisted Cristobal in getting the gig. A petition started by All-American offensive lineman Tyrell Crosby garnered the signatures of more than 70 players in 30 minutes during finals week, positioning Cristobal as the players’ choice.
Cristobal is thought of as a master motivator and was voted the best recruiter in the nation just two years ago. His official hire came ahead of a big weekend where Oregon’s class of 2018 commits and recruits are coming together in Eugene.
Many of the current players see it as a gift for the team to move forward with most of the coaching staff intact.
“It’s all about the players and it’s not about him,” redshirt freshman safety Brady Breeze said. “He emphasized that today he said, ‘Hey, all of this attention is because of you guys. I haven’t done anything, I am just a coach. You guys are the players and you guys are going to take us really far places.’”
“He loves us and we love him,” redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Shane Lemieux added. “We have a lot of respect, and just the last couple of days we have kind of seemed like we were car salesmen. Like, ‘Man, this guy is crazy! He’s the best guy I have, we’ve ever met.’”
Taking to social media, the players pushed the hashtag #CristoBALLIN to show their support for the new top Duck. Now they are rallying to retain Jim Leavitt as defensive coordinator.
Leavitt already makes more than a million dollars a year, and the Duck D jumped from 118th to 58th in the country last season under Leavitt.
For Ducks fans, the hope now is that it was for the best that Taggart left Cristobal behind. Oregon is banking on him being a stabilizing force for the program, allowing the team to again challenge not just for the Pac-12 North title but also national championships.
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