Who could replace Willie Taggart at Oregon?
For the second year in a row, Oregon is looking for a new head coach. Willie Taggart has decided to leave Eugene after one season to head to Florida State. The move by Taggart comes as no surprise, as he’s a Florida native and was the top candidate for the job after Jimbo Fisher left for Texas A&M. Taggart finished 7-5 in his only season at Oregon but was hindered by an injury to quarterback Justin Herbert.
Oregon is one of the Pac-12’s top jobs and should have a deep pool of candidates interested in taking over for Taggart. Additionally, the Nike connection and booster Phil Knight certainly doesn’t hurt the level of interest in this position.
Who could replace Taggart at Oregon? Here are 12 names to watch in the coaching search:
12 Coaching Candidates to Replace Willie Taggart at Oregon
Jason Candle, head coach, Toledo
Candle is a longshot, but he fits the mold of a young coach with a background on offense. The Ohio native played at Mount Union and later worked in the program as an assistant from 2003-08. He joined Toledo’s staff in 2008 and was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2012 when Matt Campbell took over as head coach. After Campbell left for Iowa State, Candle was promoted to head coach. In two years with the Rockets, Candle has guided the program to a 21-6 record and won the MAC title in 2017.
Mario Cristobal, offensive line coach, Oregon
In addition to his duties as the offensive line coach, Cristobal is also Oregon’s co-offensive coordinator with Marcus Arroyo. Cristobal has extensive ties to the state of Florida, so he could follow Taggart to Florida State. The Miami native was an offensive lineman with the Hurricanes from 1989-92 and later worked in the program as a graduate assistant and assistant coach from 1998-00 and 2004-06. Cristobal took over a FIU program in need of major repair in 2007 and guided the Panthers to a 27-47 record. During that span, FIU went to two bowl games and won 15 games from 2010-11.
Pep Hamilton, assistant coach, Michigan
Hamilton has never been a head coach at the collegiate level but has previous Pac-12 experience from a stint at Stanford (2010-12). Hamilton worked in the NFL in a couple of different stints, including the Jets (2004-05), 49ers (2006), Bears (2007-09), Colts (2013-15) and Browns (2016). He was hired as Michigan’s passing game coordinator and assistant coach prior to the 2017 season. Hamilton reportedly interviewed for the Oregon job after Chip Kelly left for the NFL.
Bryan Harsin, head coach, Boise State
Harsin is coaching at his alma mater, so it would take an enticing job for him to leave Boise State. After working as an assistant at Boise State from 2005-10, Harsin was hired as Texas’ offensive coordinator for two years (2011-12) before landing the top spot at Arkansas State. The former Boise State quarterback went 7-5 with the Red Wolves in 2013 but left Jonesboro for the blue turf after Chris Petersen left to be the head coach at Washington. In four seasons at the helm in Boise, Harsin is 41-12 and has three years of double-digit victories. The Broncos also have two Mountain West championships (2014 and 2017) under Harsin’s watch. Will Harsin follow the last Boise State coach (Petersen) and head to the Pac-12?
Lane Kiffin, head coach, FAU
Kiffin back in the Pac-12? It's probably a longshot after just one year at FAU, but he would be a standout hire for Oregon. After working as the offensive coordinator at Alabama from 2014-16, Kiffin was hired as FAU’s coach prior to the 2017 campaign. Kiffin has made an immediate impact in Boca Raton, as he guided the Owls to a Conference USA title and a 10-3 record prior to the season finale. Kiffin has two previous stints as a head coach: Tennessee in 2009 and USC (2010-13). He went 7-6 with the Volunteers in his only season at the helm and 28-15 in his stint with the Trojans. Kiffin is a polarizing figure, but there’s no doubt he can develop an offense and is a better coach than his record at USC and Tennessee would suggest.
Mike Leach, head coach, Washington State
Leach doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to leave Washington State. However, the athletic director who hired him in Pullman – Bill Moos – left to take on that same role at Nebraska this season. Could he make the jump to another program in the Pac-12 North? Leach is 38-37 since taking over at Washington State in 2012. After a 12-25 start to his tenure in Pullman, Leach has won at least eight games in each of the last three years, recording a 26-11 record in that span. Prior to Washington State, Leach went 84-43 at Texas Tech, guiding the Red Raiders to a winning record every season from 2000-09. Leach is known for his wide-open, pass-first offenses. However, defense isn't an afterthought, as the Cougars rank third in the Pac-12 in scoring defense this year.
Jim Leavitt, defensive coordinator, Oregon
Oregon probably hires a coach with a background on offense, but Leavitt would ensure some continuity. Under Leavitt’s watch, the Ducks showed considerable improvement on defense in 2017 and have a strong foundation in place for 2018. Leavitt was previously a head coach at USF (the first in program history) from 1997-09 and accumulated a 95-57 record during that span. He also has stops on his resume from a stints as Colorado’s defensive coordinator (2015-16), along with jobs with the 49ers (2011-14) and Kansas State (1990-95).
Jim McElwain, former Florida head coach
McElwain was dismissed at Florida earlier this year. Could he resurface as a head coach before the 2018 season? The former Florida head coach has ties to the Pacific Northwest from his career as a player at Eastern Washington and later with the school as an assistant coach. Additionally, McElwain is from Montana and has spent time as an assistant at Louisville, Michigan State and Alabama. McElwain went 22-16 in three years as Colorado State's head coach from 2012-14 and 22-12 in three seasons at Florida.
Mike Norvell, head coach, Memphis
Norvell's name has popped up in the ongoing search at Arkansas, so there could be competition for this rising star. The Texas native has previous Pac-12 experience after working under Todd Graham as the offensive coordinator at Arizona State from 2012-15. During his stint with the Sun Devils, Norvell’s attack ranked in the top five in scoring offense of the Pac-12 in all four seasons as the play-caller. He left Tempe to take the top spot at Memphis in 2016 and has picked up where Justin Fuente left off. The Tigers went 8-5 in Norvell’s debut and are off to a 10-2 start in 2017. Overall, Memphis is 18-7 under Norvell and claimed the AAC’s West Division this season.
Kevin Sumlin, former Texas A&M head coach
Sumlin’s tenure at Texas A&M ended after the 2017 regular season finale against LSU. However, his name was mentioned for openings at Arizona State and UCF, and it’s only a matter of time before he returns to the sidelines. While Sumlin didn’t quite meet expectations in College Station, he went 51-26 during his tenure with the Aggies and won 11 games with Johnny Manziel leading the way in 2012. Prior to Texas A&M, Sumlin went 35-17 at Houston. Sumlin is known for producing high-powered offenses and is a good recruiter. He has previous Pac-12 coaching experience, working from 1989-90 as a graduate assistant at Washington State.
Jeff Tedford, head coach, Fresno State
Tedford is another former Oregon assistant who could get consideration for this job. He worked as the offensive coordinator from 1998-01 under Mike Bellotti, before becoming California’s head coach in 2002. Tedford has a successful stint with the Golden Bears, going 82-57 from 2002-12. During that run, California went to eight bowl games and finished No. 9 nationally in 2004. Tedford was dismissed at the end of the 2012 season and had short stints as an assistant with the Buccaneers and in an off-field role with Washington last year. Tedford returned to the sidelines at his alma mater (Fresno State) in 2017 and guided the Bulldogs to a 9-4 record – an eight-game improvement from 2016.
Justin Wilcox, head coach, California
Wilcox is an Oregon native and played his college ball with the Ducks from 1996-99. Would he leave after just one season as California’s head coach? Oregon is a better job than California, and the home factor has to be appealing. The Ducks have to at least inquire about his interest. In his first year as California’s head coach, Wilcox guided the Golden Bears to a 5-7 record. Additionally, his arrival helped to improve a struggling defense. California allowed 42.6 points a game last fall but cut that total to 28.4 in 2017. He also has previous stints as an assistant at Wisconsin, USC, Washington, Tennessee and Boise State. Even though he just finished his first season at California, Wilcox should be on the list of replacements.