One person’s destination is someone else’s stepping stone, which is as true at Oregon as it is anywhere else.
Oregon has lost coaches to other jobs through the years, just like any other school. Historically, though, this has been a place where people want to put down roots, where they’re willing to sacrifice some of the big-city attractions for the comfort of a lively college town that’s crazy about the Ducks.
Based on the line of moving trucks headed out of Eugene, I’m starting to wonder if that’s still the case.
Oregon has said goodbye to seven head coaches since spring 2017. That’s half of the Ducks’ coaching roster. By my count, five of those left of their own accord, either for other jobs or personal reasons.
Jim Moore was forced out as volleyball coach after 12 seasons. Chelsea Shaw was let go after three years as acrobatics and tumbling coach, and lacrosse coach Katrina Dowd resigned after two years. Football coach Willie Taggart (Florida State), softball coach Mike White (Texas), women’s golf coach Ria Scott (Virginia) and women’s tennis coach Alison Silverio (Notre Dame) left for other jobs.
That’s a lot of experience walking out the door. By my count, those seven coaches combined for 63 seasons as head coaches, either at Oregon or elsewhere. Want to know the sum total of their replacements’ head coaching experience?
Ten seasons. Six for Mario Cristobal at Florida International, four for acro coach Keenyn Won at Hawaii Pacific.
Matt Ulmer in volleyball, Derek Radley in women’s golf and Melyssa Lombardi in softball are all first-time head coaches. That’s a lot of change in a short amount of time, but athletic director Rob Mullens doesn’t necessarily see it as a negative.
“When you have the unprecedented success we’ve had here, people are looking at Oregon and saying, ‘What’s happening with that brand and what can we do to tap into it?’” Mullens said. “It is a little bit unique, but that’s what success brings.”
There’s truth in what he’s saying. If Oregon’s coaches aren’t attracting interest from other schools, its programs probably aren’t performing up to their potential.
That’s not the whole story, though. Oregon’s department-wide success might be unprecedented relative to the scope of history, but it’s not a new development. I’m guessing most of these coaches had other opportunities to leave. Why, now, are so many heading out the door?
Is it money? Support? Administrative pressure? My sense is that all of those things factored in different ways. Each coach had his or her own equation, but they were operating with many of the same variables.
In White’s case, money clearly played a role. Texas offered to double his salary, and Oregon appeared to want no part of a bidding war.
“We’d been through this with Mike a couple times before,” Mullens said. “Obviously he went pretty far down the road with Arkansas (in 2015). In the end, I was a little surprised (he left), but it wasn’t the first time.”
I’m guessing the past 12 months have created a few bruised egos at Oregon. The Ducks would like their school to be seen as a destination, the kind of place that’s more likely to hire someone else’s successful coach than to lose one of its own. But starting with Taggart’s departure last winter, Oregon has had to face the fact that not everyone sees it that way.
It had to sting when White said of Oregon: “They didn’t understand the pull of Texas.” Or when Taggart called Florida State his dream job and waltzed out the door after one season. Those things happen, but when they happen too often, you start to wonder if coaches still see Oregon as a place that offers the best of everything.
“We have good market data. We always find out where we fit,” Mullens said. “We’ve had a really good track record of being able to retain coaches. We put together the best offer that we can for that position, based on the marketplace.”
Mullens didn’t say whether Oregon could have matched White’s reported $450,000 salary at Texas. He did say White’s salary at Oregon ranked in the top 10 nationally, which seems to be the sweet spot for the Ducks.
“That’s right where we want to be,” Mullens said.
Money is a big factor in retaining successful coaches, but it’s not the only one. There’s also quality of life, a supportive administration and a positive workplace environment.
Traditionally, Oregon has scored well in all of those areas. That’s why it’s a bit odd to see so many coaches choosing to work elsewhere.
Maybe this is just a changing of the guard, and the coaches being hired now will become pillars of their programs. The Ducks would love for that to be the case. But while we wait for those answers, it’s worth asking if Oregon is still the destination job we’ve always thought it was.
The greener pastures don’t seem to be in Eugene. And now Oregon’s coaches look pretty green.
Follow Austin on Twitter @austinmeekRG. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.