Oregon athletic director says Ducks were 'aggressive' in trying to retain football coach Willie Taggart


The search is on for a new football coach, and the beat will go on for the Oregon Ducks.

That was the message from athletic director Rob Mullens on Tuesday afternoon, a few hours after Willie Taggart's announcement that he is leaving the Ducks to be head coach at Florida State.

But Mullens made it clear that he and Oregon wanted very badly to keep Taggart — and was very disappointed that the coach Mullens had hired out of South Florida 363 days earlier was now gone.

"We were aggressive," Mullens said, of Oregon's attempts to hold on to Taggart.

A year ago, Mullens recalled, he sat down with Taggart and "there was a pledge for a commitment and a vision for long term, and it was one we believed, and obviously that's not what happened."

Mullens said he was contacted Thursday by Florida State "to let me know they wanted to reach out to him." Later that day, Mullens said, Taggart called him "to let me know they had reached out to him."

Taggart then was coy in separate press conferences in Eugene, saying there was nothing to talk about regarding a possible move to the Seminoles.

When Taggart picked Florida State, "I was disappointed. We sat down a year ago, we made a commitment to him, he made a commitment to us."

Mullens said Oregon offered Taggart a contract extension before the Civil War game and continued talks through the weekend on giving Taggart and his assistant coaches more money.

"We wanted to make sure we did everything we could to retain the staff," Mullens said.

Taggart came to the Ducks after the Oregon AD fired Mark Helfrich following a 4-8 season in Eugene.

Now Mullens is in the market for someone else.

"We have a plan, and we'll execute that plan," Mullens said.

Reaction to Taggart's move to the Seminoles was swift from numerous high school recruits who had committed to sign with Oregon, several saying they were de-committing and now are open to other recruiters' pitches.

Mullens said "it got clumsy at the end" and that he understands also why some returning players were upset about losing their coach and, for some, about having to play for a third head coach in as many years.

"Nobody wants to be in this position," Mullens said, adding, though, that "at the end of the day, they love being Ducks."

Offensive line coach/co-offensive coordinator/run-game coordinator Mario Cristobal has been named Oregon's interim head coach for the Dec. 16 Las Vegas Bowl game against Boise State.

Cristobal is considered a likely candidate for the vacancy created by Taggart, who is expected to take defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt with him to Tallahassee, though Mullens said he hadn't heard about Leavitt and indicated he did not bother asking Taggart about Leavitt.

"It's business as usual, with Mario at the helm," Mullens said.

Many other names from the college ranks could be considered by Mullens, including these (in alphabetical order):

Beau Baldwin, California offensive coordinator; Pep Hamilton, Michigan passing game coordinator; Bryan Harsin, Boise State head coach; Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic head coach; Mike Leach, Washington State head coach; Jim McElwain, former Florida head coach; Les Miles, former LSU head coach; Chad Morris, SMU head coach; Mike Norvell, Memphis head coach; Kevin Sumlin, former Texas A&M head coach; Jeff Tedford, Fresno State head coach; Justin Wilcox, California head coach.

Some, such as Tedford and Wilcox, have ties to Oregon football but have been passed over in previous Ducks coaching searches.

Mullens said hiring a new coach who has ties to the Northwest was just one thing possibly on "a whole long list of criteria. That's a bonus, but that's not where you start … it's not at the top of the list."

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