Willie Taggart’s time in Eugene with the Oregon Ducks came and went quickly. He bolted town on Tuesday after a 7-5 record in favor of the Florida State gig. What’s next for the Ducks? This is a program that has played for two national titles this decade and has been one of the most prominent teams in the Pac-12 since it expanded in 2011.
Let’s run down some of the top candidates.
1. Mike Leach, Washington State coach: We’ve all seen the kind of success Leach can have at programs that have it tough. After all, he made Texas Tech and Washington State not only competitive but consistently competitive. Now imagine what he could do at Oregon with top-tier facilities, Phil Knight/Nike backing and a much better recruiting base. Leach is a bit quirky, operates to the beat of his own drum and sometimes can rub people the wrong way. But he can call some offensive ball plays, and dynamic offenses have been a staple of the Duck program ever since it rose to national prominence.
2. Mario Cristobal, Oregon interim coach: If the Ducks choose to go with continuity, Cristobal could be the guy. The interim coach was successful as Florida International’s coach from 2007-12. He led the Panthers to bowl games in 2010 and 2011 and is a recruiting machine. Cristobal would provide stability to a suddenly unstable program that will have three coaches in three years. He’ll get an audition in the Las Vegas Bowl in a couple of weeks.
3. Kevin Sumlin, former Texas Aamp;M coach: Sumlin went 51-26 in six seasons at Texas AM prior to his firing last month, making him one of the most successful coaches in program history. It wasn’t good enough for the Aggies, but his wide-open offensive scheme is a perfect fit for the Ducks, and with his buyout money coming to him within 60 days, he might be attainable for a relatively cheap price tag.
4. Lane Kiffin, FAU head coach: Kiffin is going to get a chance somewhere, so why not Eugene? He led the Owls to a 10-3 record, an unblemished Conference USA regular season mark and the conference title in his first year with the program. The previous three seasons as Alabama’s offensive coordinator, he helped lead the Crimson Tide to three straight SEC titles and the 2015 national title; he also transformed the Crimson Tide offense into one that is capable of being as exotic as it needs to be to win at a high level in this day and age of offensive football.
5. Jim McElwain, former Florida coach: McElwain’s name was tossed out by Sports Illustrated‘s Bruce Feldman; quite frankly, it seemed odd at first. Sure, he’s a former Eastern Washington player and is familiar with the region due to his Montana ties. A move back to the West Coast might serve him well. But despite being an offensive-minded coach, his offenses in his two-and-a-half seasons at Florida were mediocre-at-best, even though he did lead the Gators to back-to-back SEC East titles in 2015 and 2016.
6. Tee Martin, USC offensive coordinator: Martin has been a hot name in the seemingly never-ending Tennessee coaching search, but Oregon should consider giving Martin’s alma mater some competition. Martin is a relentless recruiter, an energetic coach and his offensive style has proven to fit not only on the West coast, but with offensively-driven programs — Oregon’s bread and butter. First-time head coaches are always risky, but Martin has the potential to be a star.