Photo courtesy of Oregon athletics
College football’s coaching carousel is slowing down.
At the center of it, Oregon Athletics Director Rob Mullens is at a crossroads. Mullens is facing possibly the biggest hire of his career in replacing Mario Cristobal. Cristobal left to become the head coach at Miami.
Hiring the wrong coach could taint what has been considered a stellar career as Oregon’s athletics director — one that has been celebrated across the college football landscape. Unlike previous hires Mark Helfrich, Willie Taggart and Cristobal, this one feels different.
With the landscape of college football in flux, from conference alliances and realignment to NIL, Oregon’s next hire needs to be the right one. What that entails has been greatly debated by the Oregon faithful.
Mullens is being pressed from four different directions:
The obvious is “Uncle Phil”. Nike’s Phil Knight has always been quiet about his involvement in coaching searches. Yet, we know that he is always very much a part of the process. We can only speculate about what direction he and other powerful donors such as Pat Kilkenny are pushing.
Duck fans hope that they are willing to pay top dollar for what they believe to be a premiere job. Knight, despite the Nike money, hasn’t been willing in the past to support paying a premium for coaches. Now that Knight is 83 years old, has that changed?
Former Players and Coaches
There has been strong sentiment from this faction that a coach with strong ties to the university, who will show loyalty and potentially longevity at the position, is paramount. They are endorsing names such as Justin Wilcox, Chip Kelly and Chris Petersen.
All are good options, but wouldn’t top most lists for other top-tier programs. Oregon believes it is in that category. Many schools have gone the route of alumni or close ties; it hasn’t always worked out for the best.
This is a trip into the fantastical at times. Fans at Oregon cover the whole spectrum. The old-school, who still believe it is 1995 and are OK with 8-4 most years with run at a Rose Bowl every so often, are more in line with former players as far as head coaching prospects.
Then, you have your fanboys. They are dreaming of the Urban Meyer’s and Ryan Day’s and starting the Lane (Kiffin) Train. The last one on that list doesn’t seem all that crazy, but Mullens seems to have no interest.
God bless these fans! They want it all and who can blame them? Oregon has played in two national championships, won numerous Pac-12 championships and Rose Bowls. They want a coach who can continue this and potentially bring a national championship trophy to Eugene.
Alas, we come to the “realist” fans: Floating names like Dave Aranda, Matt Campbell and Dan Lanning. These are tough hires, but realistic considering Oregon’s stature, money, facilities and support. If you want some good entertainment over the next couple days, tune in to Duck Twitter. It’s literally a 24-hour circus.
Last but not least, we have those left behind by a coaching staff that has been gutted thoroughly. Last time around, Oregon players signed a petition supporting Cristobal being promoted to head coach. There has been a Twitter campaign from the current players in support of interim head coach Bryan McClendon being made permanent.
McClendon is a good recruiter and thought of highly. He did lead Georgia to a bowl win as interim head coach. It however, doesn’t seem likely that Oregon will hire someone with no real head coaching experience. Current reports say that McClendon will follow Cristobal to Miami after the Alamo Bowl.
Where does this leave Mullens? If he is as good of an athletics director as advertised, he will be able to make the right hire, regardless of the pressure being applied. A decision undoubtedly must be made by Friday if salvaging the current recruiting class is a priority.
Expect to hear something soon. Will it be one of the names above? Or will it be someone that no one is thinking of?
Mullens’ hires of head basketball coach Dana Altman and Taggart, the former football coach, were not leaked until after they had agreed to the jobs. Neither names were floated by the media or fans. Expect this to be the case this time around, also.
Until then, be wary of any name that gets rumored. It’s Mullens M.O. to keep things close to the vest. For his sake and the future of the program, one hopes it is the right choice — even if it makes one or more of the groups above unhappy.
As we all know, winning solves most all things in football.