BY JASON VONDERSMITH/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Ducks' new head coach: 'It's always going to be our team'

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - The Oregon Ducks are 5-1 this season with Justin Herbert starting and finishing at quarterback. He missed about a third of the season with a broken collarbone but will start Dec. 16 in the Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State.Fresh off a whirlwind week where players advocated for his hiring after Willie Taggart's departure to Florida State, Mario Cristobal has settled into his new role as the Oregon Ducks' head coach.

Cristobal will continue coaching the offensive line, and he has anointed Marcus Arroyo as offensive coordinator for both the Dec. 16 Las Vegas Bowl game against Boise State and next year.

Cristobal received congratulations from the likes of Alabama's Nick Saban and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, a former teammate at the University of Miami. But Cristobal made it clear that he wasn't soaking up the strokes.

"The focus has to be the players and this game, the opportunity that they've earned," he says. "We want to make sure we do the best for them.

"It's our team. I'm never going to operate under those words, 'my team.' It's always going to be our team. We work with each other. My dad, may be rest in peace, was huge on that. That's part of the DNA. It's genuine."

Says UO quarterback Justin Herbert: "He has all our respect."

Says tight end Jacob Breeland: "Love his passion for the game."

Adds offensive lineman Shane Lemieux: "He loves us and we love him and we have a lot of respect for him."

Cristobal has been a national champion as a player (Miami) and an assistant coach (Alabama). He is "absolutely convinced" the Ducks can win the national title — after being a runner-up twice.

"I want the players here to experience that," he says. "Besides getting married and having kids, that was the greatest experience of my life (at Miami). It's a game-changer, it's a life-changer, so I want that for them."

The Ducks already have started promoting Herbert as one of 2018's top players, a potential All-American. Having Arroyo to work with him is "huge," Herbert says. "We've made a great bond, I'm so thankful that he'll be back next year. Working with him is really awesome."

The Ducks are touting their success with Herbert in the lineup (6-1 record, 52 points per game). Without him, they were 1-4, the four losses by a combined 151-34.

Judging from the previous game (a 69-10 win over Oregon State), Herbert and Dillon Mitchell are becoming a burgeoning big-time hookup.

Mitchell had six catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns in the Civil War game and finished the regular season with 33 receptions for 374 yards and four scores. He led the team in receptions; Charles Nelson led in yardage (392), and Breeland led in TD receptions (five).

Herbert and Mitchell looked sharp versus OSU, especially on 29- and 43-yard TD hookups.

Says Mitchell: "I feel like the chemistry is there (with Herbert). I know the chemistry will continue to get better."

Herbert marked his return from 5 1/2 games out with a broken collarbone by rushing and taking a hit on the fifth play against Arizona and then running 40 yards to paydirt. Against Oregon State, he scored on a 6-yard TD run, on a similar read run to the one on which he suffered his injury against Cal.

Flashbacks to the injury?

"I just try to remind myself to be safe, try not to think about it at times," he says. "The lane was pretty open and I got in, and didn't have to go down at the 1 or something like that."

• Graduate assistants David Gilbertson and Cody Woodiel were helping Cristobal with the O-line, as the new head man adjusts to his job change. Cristobal on his role as O-line coach moving forward:

"I don't trust too many people with the offensive line, I just don't. That is my baby. I'll spend most of my day with the offensive line; I plan on doing that as head coach as well."

Being tough and physical on the offensive line, as well as defensive line, will be THE emphasis under Cristobal.

• Highlights of Cristobal's comments during his announcement as head coach:

Coaching: "Do it every single day as if you're coaching your son. It doesn't make you kinder or gentler, but it's to maximize the potential of every single student-athlete in the program."

Tenure: "We want to be here till you've got to drag me away, kicking and screaming. We let it be known. I want it to be known. So there isn't chatter" about his leaving for another job sooner rather than perhaps later.

Popularity: "We had fun this year, and we got better. If you're doing it as hard and as good as you can, and invest your heart in it, you learn more from players than they do you ... I was blown away, man. Humbled beyond what anyone can explain."

Work ethic: "There is no rest in this particular industry. If you rest, you'll be left behind. What we foster is DNA of being a relentless worker. When you're a champion, you're a champion 24/7."

Vegas Bowl: "Play the best brand of football, set an identity and (cement it) in the bowl game. Be relentless, physical, send a message across the country of what Oregon football is to be moving forward. And send the seniors out right."

• Thirteen true freshmen have played for the Ducks and, until Taggart left, none had been allowed to talk with the media, because of Taggart's policy of not allowing true freshmen to talk with the media — which meant the media couldn't inform fans/readers about them as contributing, adult-age, scholarship members of the public university's football team.

The muzzles were taken off last weekend, as cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. and defensive tackle Jordon Scott shared some of their thoughts on things.


Scott: "We're showing we can get past Taggart. I'm happy he brought us all here to make it happen. Now we'll move forward to Boise State ... It really felt the same (with Cristobal at practice). Everybody was juiced up."

Graham: "I was upset when Coach Taggart left; if he's chasing his dream, I can't blame him. I'm chasing mine by playing college football and trying to make it to the NFL."

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