Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, the highest paid football assistant in the Pac-12, will not be back at Oregon in 2019, according to a report by 247Sports.
A source confirmed to The Register-Guard that head coach Mario Cristobal is expected to part ways with Leavitt, who signed a contract extension after the 2017 season that pays him a guaranteed annual salary of $1.7 million through Jan. 31, 2022.
Patrick Pierson, Oregon's associate athletic director for communications, said Leavitt was at work at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex on Wednesday but didn't comment further on Leavitt's future with the program. Efforts to reach Leavitt were not successful.
Cristobal's likely choice to replace Leavitt is safeties coach Keith Heyward, according to the 247Sports report.
During a signing day news conference Feb. 6 at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex, Cristobal credited most of his assistants by name for helping land the nation’s seventh-ranked class of recruits, but Leavitt was not mentioned.
The next day Leavitt posted a picture of his daughters and star linebacker Troy Dye on social media.
“My girls had a great time last fall cheering on the Ducks!” Leavitt wrote. “How about these players. The Best! Go Ducks!”
Leavitt, best known in the Pac-12 for his quick rebuilds and penchant for Pepsi, stabilized the Ducks’ defense during the past two seasons after helping Colorado win the South Division in 2016.
Oregon ranked 48th in points allowed (25.4 per game) and 55th in yards allowed (385.9 per game) during a 9-4 finish in 2018.
The season was capped with the Ducks’ 7-6 victory over Michigan State in the Redbox Bowl.
“It was pretty exhilarating just being able to play defense at what I consider a high level and just bonding with my teammates,” outside linebacker La’Mar Winston said after the smothering performance against the Spartans’ offense. “We really had been struggling with consistency toward the end of that season, Pac-12 play and whatnot. So just to come out here and play against a Big Ten team like that, it was really fun.”
Leavitt, however, was not made available to the media leading up to the Redbox Bowl. Heyward, who also carries the title of co-defensive coordinator and is paid $450,000 per year, spoke on behalf of the defensive coaches following the win.
Former head coach Willie Taggart lured Leavitt away from Colorado to fix a punctured defense that finished the 2016 season 126th in points allowed (41.4 per game) and yards allowed (518.4 per game) under then-defensive coordinator Brady Hoke.
During Leavitt’s first season in Eugene, Oregon allowed 29.0 points (81st) and 369.2 yards (46th) per game.
When Cristobal was promoted to head coach following Taggart’s abrupt departure for Florida State a year ago, Leavitt was coaxed into staying with a bump in annual salary to $1.7 million.
But Leavitt made no secret of his desire to be a head coach again. The 62-year-old former South Florida head coach interviewed for the vacancies at Colorado, Kansas State and Texas Tech during the recent cycle.
Leavitt posted a 95-57 record as South Florida’s head coach from 1997 to 2009 before being fired after being accused of striking a player. He was later awarded a $2.8 million settlement from the school.