The Ducks have taken the interim tag off Mario Cristobal, who was elevated to replace Willie Taggart.

By Bruce Feldman
December 08, 2017

Mario Cristobal will be the next head coach at Oregon, sources confirmed to SI. The Ducks’ co-offensive coordinator and run-game coordinator will replace Willie Taggart, who left Eugene to become the new head coach at Florida State earlier this week. Cristobal was elevated to interim head coach for the Ducks’ Las Vegas Bowl appearance earlier this week. Cristobal’s contract is a five-year deal with a base salary of $2.5 million annually, according to a memorandum of understanding obtained by SI.

The 47-year-old Cristobal has been long regarded as one of the nation’s top recruiters. As assistant head coach and offensive line coach at Alabama, he won National Recruiter of the Year honors and helped the Tide reel in, among others, Calvin Ridley, Da’Ron Payne and Minkah Fitzpatrick, and he has helped the Ducks put together a top recruiting class as Oregon prepares for the early signing period later this month.

In 2015, Cristobal’s Alabama O-line proved to be the best in the nation, winning the inaugural Joe Moore Award given to the toughest, most physical line in the nation, and helping pave the way for a national title run. Senior captain Ryan Kelly, a first-team All-America selection, was also honored with the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center. Alongside Kelly, that line featured left tackle Cam Robinson, left guard Ross Pierschbacher, right guard Alphonse Taylor and right tackle Dominick Jackson. The Tide averaged 199.9 rushing yards per game, and the line’s protection of the Jake Coker-led passing attack helped them average 227.1 yards per game through the air.

Prior to his time under Nick Saban, Cristobal was the head coach at Florida International, where he led what had been a program in disarray before he took over to its first Sun Belt Conference championship and a bowl victory over MAC champion Toledo. For his efforts, Cristobal was named the Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year. Cristobal’s teams were fast and physical. They beat eventual co-Big East champion Louisville and then C-USA power UCF, two programs with much greater resources. Things went bad in a hurry in his final season at FIU, and he was forced out after a 3–9 finish.

Just how bleak were things at FIU when he took over? There was no infrastructure. No film library. No academic support system in place for the players. Everything had to be built from scratch when Cristobal's staff arrived. “Our first month of official visits, we didn’t show them the locker room or the weight room,” a former staffer once told me. “We were running smoke and mirrors. Everything focused on the campus and the city of Miami. We’d just show them plans of what we were building.”

At the time FIU also had administrative issues where players had a hard time even getting their Pell Grant money. In addition, Cristobal also inherited a woeful APR rating and the program was going on academic probation, so they couldn’t even go after full recruiting classes. He was about to unearth some big-time talent. One of those sold was speedy WR/kick returner T.Y. Hilton, now the Colts’ leading receiver. Hilton had visited a few FBS programs but bought in to Cristobal’s vision and wanted to stay close to home and his family. 

Cristobal also has a good eye for coaching talent, having hired Scott Satterfield, Geoff Collins and Todd Orlando—now three of the more respected up-and-coming head coaches in the college game—and played a key role in helping Greg Schiano flip Rutgers from laughingstock status.

Aaron Fentress was the first to report the hire.

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