Evanson: Cristobal is gone, but are the Ducks? We'll see
The thud you heard this past Monday morning was Oregon Ducks fans' jaws collectively hitting the floor as now former football coach Mario Cristobal announced his departure for the University of Miami.
That was likely followed by a fist hitting their desk or breakfast table, some sort of profanity, then a rationalization to ease what could only be described as the type of pain only true sports fanatics can understand.
College football is ugly. Ask now-former Miami head coach Manny Diaz, who spent the past weekend beneath the rumors of his employer courting his replacement — all while he still had the job.
Or one of the high school seniors and their families who hosted Cristobal over the past couple of days and were led to believe he'd be there when they arrived next fall.
Or Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens, who was worked around — not through — by the University of Miami administration and boosters in an effort to secure Cristobal as their next head coach.
I could go on, but in reality, I wish I could just walk away from the game that has become more trouble than it's worth for a guy who used to love what is quickly becoming unlovable.
It's never been so painful to lose a coach. Cristobal, despite his faults between the lines, recruited like very few others. For the past four years, he's built a foundation of talent at Oregon capable of, at the very least, competing annually for a conference championship, and at its best, regularly being in the conversation for the College Football Playoff and/or a national title.
Over the past four years, Cristobal has secured four 5-star players, 52 4-star players, and 35 3-star players. This coming year's class — whose early signing day is Dec. 15 — has two more 5-star players committed, along with seven 4-stars and 10 3-stars — or at least, it did. With his announcement Monday morning, two players have already reopened their recruitment, and with every passing day between now and the Ducks' new hire, more will certainly follow.
Add in the transfer portal — which allows players to transfer once without penalty — and you have the possibility of that foundational talent cracking significantly. That's a scary thought for fans of the Ducks, and an even scarier one for an athletic department scrambling.
Mullens did nothing wrong. Since hiring Cristobal in January 2017, he's provided him everything he's needed to succeed on and off the field, gave him a raise and tried mightily to give him a second one in an effort to combat Miami's recent overtures. But in the end, the South Florida native wanted to go home, and while he and the Hurricanes are winning, Oregon, its fans and current and future players certainly aren't.
The administration has just a few days to find a coach, that coach will have less than a week to salvage a recruiting class, and that recruiting class — along with the current roster — will be left to wonder whether their new and somewhat unknown mentors will provide them with the football experience they thought they were signing up for to begin with. That's not fun for anyone, especially the fans who — right or wrong — invest so much emotional currency in what's become a year-round commitment.
It used to be that a coach would leave after the season, and in many cases, schools would have a couple months to put the pieces of their staff and recruiting class back together. But with the relatively new early signing period, a far more frenetic coaching carousel is becoming the rising cost of doing college football business. In an ever-changing recruiting climate, losing a coach can be a setback of two to three years and in some cases more.
Mario Cristobal isn't Nick Saban. He, in my opinion, is somewhat limited schematically, and his autocratic and somewhat conservative approach to coaching hamstrings his coordinators who have philosophies of their own. We've seen that over the past handful of years in uncharacteristic losses to lesser teams, and more recently in back-to-back defeats to a Utah team that seemed to prey on Oregon's coaching deficiencies.
But while Cristobal the coach had his limitations, Cristobal the man excelled in selling his program to the kids he needed to make it work. And that matters more.
Over the past 20 years, only Auburn (2010) has won a national championship without averaging a top-10 recruiting class over the three years prior to winning, and they defeated the only other team with a chance (Oregon) to do it. So, in a way, they caught a break.
Over that same time span, only three of those teams won without the benefit of who most would consider to be elite-level coaches. Meaning a mediocre coach can win with great players, but mediocre players have very little chance of winning even with a great coach.
That's where Cristobal's bread is buttered, and that's why losing him is such a blow to Oregon and its faithful.
Maybe the Ducks hire a great coach. Maybe they even keep the majority of their great players and they survive what appears to be a pretty significant blow. But maybe they don't — and that's the unfortunate cost of doing business in today's college football world.
How fun is that?
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.