Ranking the Best Oregon Coaches of the 21st Century: Chasing the Chip Kelly Era
It's rankings week here at Ducks Maven, and as the team goes on the mend during their bye week, we want to take the chance to look outside of the box and dive deeper into what got the Oregon program to the level it's at today. Today, we take a look at the men who brought the Ducks to where they are today and one man who almost destroyed everything they had grown to be. Here are our rankings of Oregon's head coaches in the 21's century.
No. 5 | Willie Taggart (2017)
The Willie Taggart era in Eugene probably made many Duck fans feel about the same way that the dinosaurs felt when watching that final meteor crash down to Earth, killing everyone in its path. That may seem a bit hyperbolic, but us Oregon fans are still salty about the situation, and it can be felt every Saturday afternoon while Taggart and Florida State find a new way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Taggart started with the Ducks in 2017 after Mark Helfrich was canned, and his infectious personality instantly grabbed the heart of Eugene. His bright smile and happy-go-lucky catchphrase, "have a great day, if you want to!" was hard not to get behind. And then he took the field and proved to be less than was bargained for. Much less. The Ducks finished the year with a 7-5 record, and they lost to the Boise State Broncos in the Las Vegas Bowl, a cherry on top of what was a disastrous first season away from the Chip Kelly coaching tree. To cap things off, Taggart announced after the season that he was leaving to coach at his "dream school," Florida State, after denying all questions about his interest in the job during the weeks leading up to the end of the season.
His entire tenure at Oregon has left a bad taste in everyone's mouths, and at this point, Duck fans are just happy to see him failing at a program other than their own. Taggart is by far the worst coach that Oregon has employed this century, and his failures will be celebrated in Eugene for years to come.
No. 4 | Mario Cristobal (2018-present)
Take this ranking with a grain of salt. This is not to say that Cristobal is a bad coach, by any means. Rather, it just shows the talent that Oregon has had at the coaching position so far this century.
Cristobal came to Oregon as a part of Taggart's staff, and he stayed on to take over the head job after Willie the Snake skipped town. In his wake, Cristobal has done a great job of implementing his own persona into the team, and he has made a group of players that were once thought to be flashy showmen into a hard-working pack of blue-collar dogs. In 2018, his first season at the helm, he led the Ducks to a 9-4 record, capped off by a 7-6 win over Michigan State in the RedBox Bowl.
Cristobal's background as a lineman for the University of Miami, as well as his time spent learning under Alabama head coach Nick Saban, makes him a breath of fresh air in Eugene. Unlike coaches of the past, he is not fixated on flashy gimmicks and a get-rich-quick type of mentality. He has brought Oregon back to the basics, rebuilding them from the line out, and making sure that they are sound at the foundation.
While his tenure in Eugene is still young, Cristobal has the Ducks on a trajectory that could seat them near the top of the rankings in college football, and his recruiting prowess is unmatched as he's brought in two of the highest-ranked recruiting classes that Oregon has ever seen. If things keep going in the current direction, Cristobal will quickly move up to the No. 3 spot, though it might take some time to rise higher than that.
No. 3 | Mark Helfrich (2013-16)
The Helfrich era in Eugene was complicated. It started out on a high note with a trip to the inaugural College Football Playoff and a win in the Rose Bowl, but by the end of his tenure, he missed a bowl game and was fired shortly after. While the high-points in his coaching career are arguably better than any other coach in Oregon history, many think that he was just benefiting from the success of Chip Kelly, who virtually handed him the keys to a Corvette and told him to drive.
In the end, Helfrich finished with a 37-16 record, and he went 24-12 in conference play. He had a 2-2 record in bowl games, with wins in the Rose Bowl and Alamo Bowl, and losses in the National Championship game and the Alamo Bowl. While Oregon fans might be quick to wave off Helfrich's accomplishments due to the poor ending to his coaching tenure, there were a couple of years in there where he was considered to be one of the best coaches in the nation.
An Oregon-bred boy who made it big on the national stage, Oregon was quick to call him their own and feel good about what they produced. And then it all came falling down and signified the start of what would be considered the dark ages in Eugene. Still, we have to remember him for what good he did bring, and that was a brief, but glorious, two years in the sun.
No. 2 | Mike Bellotti (1995-2008)
If Chip Kelly goes down as the greatest coach in Oregon history, then Mike Bellotti is the man who made it possible for him to succeed. Ahead of Bellotti's tenure at Oregon, the Ducks were a middling program in the Pac-10 who struggled to reach the post-season each year. Then came Mike, and things started to turn.
Taking over for the famous Rich Brooks, Bellotti went 116-55 in his 13 years with the Ducks, and his 6-6 record in bowl games shouldn't detract from the fact that he led Oregon into the postseason during 12 of his 13 seasons. It was highlighted by a win over the University of Colorado in the 2001 Fiesta Bowl, as well as a Joey Harrington Heisman campaign early in the millennium.
At long last, the Ducks were no longer just another program. They were a football school up in the Pacific Northwest who had a chance to make waves across the nation, and they declared themselves worthy of conversation. All of the successes that Oregon has seen this century would not be made possible without the help of Mike Bellotti, and though he doesn't have the accolades to compare with other coaches, his legacy will last longer than any of them.
No. 1 | Chip Kelly (2009-12)
What can you say to describe the Chip Kelly era in Eugene? A small-time coach with a big-time offensive mind, Kelly came to Oregon from New Hampshire and took the college football world by storm, using the Oregon Ducks as his canvas.
In his four years with the program, Kelly went 46-7, with a 33-3 conference record. Though he finished his tenure with a 2-2 bowl record, Kelly brought Oregon their first Rose Bowl victory since 1916, and he led the Ducks to a BCS Title Game in 2010. Kelly's high-flying, electrifying, jaw-dropping, fool-making, awe-inspiring offense made him a highly-coveted name across NFL circles, and he eventually left to coach the Philadelphia Eagles, where he was quickly run out of town. A quick stint with the San Francisco 49ers went poorly as well, and he currently resides in Pasadena, struggling to get a young UCLA team off of the ground.
While the Chip Kelly era in Eugene was the pinnacle of success, it's hard not to look back at this time with some disdain. What if Kelly had stuck around and coached throughout Heisman-winner Marcus Mariota's college career? What if he never fled for the NFL and decided to deeper-plant his roots in Eugene. How many championships would be sitting in the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex on MLK Boulevard right now? These are all interesting thought-experiments, though unanswerable questions. While Bellotti laid the groundwork for the program to succeed, Kelly demanded success in a captivating way that was impossible to ignore. Chip Kelly gave the Ducks a seat at the table and declared them one of the best teams in the nation. Ever since he left, Oregon has been scrambling trying to get back to that level of dominance, and so far they haven't quite put the pieces together. Because of that, it's a no brainer; Chip Kelly is the best head coach the Oregon Ducks have ever had.