Oregon head coach Willie Taggart is one coach facing significant challenges in his first year.
Taggart has plenty of talent at Oregon, he just needs to mobilize and motivate one of the most under-performing programs of 2016. With promising quarterback Justin Herbert entering his sophomore year and the surprising return of senior running back Royce Freeman, the Ducks will be equipped to score plenty of points. After poaching regarded defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt from Colorado, the defense should improve after its nightmare season under Brady Hoke (the Ducks finished 126th in total defense in 2016). With a regarded staff compiled (Taggart lured co-offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal away from Alabama along with Leavitt), the Ducks will be in position to win next year. As Taggart told SI’s Lindsay Schnell, he feels like it’s a rebuild even if the rest of the college football world doesn’t see it as one.
What Taggart should probably avoid is starting flame wars with the press. After three players were hospitalized after a workout, Taggart lambasted reporter Andrew Greif from The Oregonian after what he felt was an unfair characterization of the incident. Taggart later declared that he won’t speak to Greif, the lead Oregon football reporter for the state’s most prominent newspaper. The demanding fan base won’t care much about a media beef if the Ducks win, but starting a petty rivalry with a reporter before is, to say the least, a confusing strategy. (Taggart and Greif have reportedly since resolved their differences.)
Taggart, who has been commonly referred to as “the third Harbaugh brother,” has proven his mettle with excellent turnaround jobs at Western Kentucky and South Florida. If he can motivate the Ducks the same way he did his last two programs, the Ducks could skyrocket in a hurry. If he can’t, and fights everyone he can along the way, disaster may strike quickly.