If you’re Alabama coach Nick Saban, what do you do after going 14-1, winning the SEC, scoring more points than anyone in the nation and playing for a national title?
Go to Disney World?
Sign everyone to lifetime contract extensions?
Or how about blowing up your staff and hiring seven new assistant coaches?
Mario Cristobal, who coached under Saban at Alabama, didn’t go that far in remaking Oregon’s staff this offseason. But Cristobal did make changes, the most significant being his decision to replace defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt with Andy Avalos from Boise State.
Oregon introduced Avalos on Monday at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex. He seems like a sharp guy, and very much in the mold of Cristobal’s other assistants: young, energetic, ambitious and hyper-focused.
“When coach Cristobal reached out to me about this opportunity, I’m not going to lie, I was really, really excited about it,” Avalos said.
Cristobal spoke for about 30 minutes Monday without articulating his reasons for getting rid of Leavitt, other than to say it was “for the betterment of the program and its players.”
For $2.5 million, the maximum amount Oregon will owe in its settlement with Leavitt, the Ducks should be getting a lot of betterment. But hey, it’s not my money. If this move gets Oregon closer to a conference championship or the College Football Playoff, I doubt many fans will object.
Cristobal didn’t explain much of his reasoning, but he also didn’t need to. It’s fairly clear what happened here.
Cristobal was gifted a defensive coordinator he didn’t hand-pick, like getting an expensive painting that didn’t match his taste. He lived with it for a year, tried to make it work, and decided to swap it out for a defensive coordinator he could choose himself.
The guy he chose was Avalos, who comes highly recommended from Boise State. His defenses are known for being aggressive, disruptive and versatile, as Oregon saw firsthand in the 2017 Las Vegas Bowl.
“The thing that really got us fired up about coach Avalos and his scheme is that they’re so multiple,” Cristobal said.
Setting aside the cost of this move, and the curious logic of showering Leavitt with cash when the head coach clearly wasn’t sold on him, you can understand why Cristobal wanted to make changes to his defense.
The Ducks gave up 78 points in two weeks against Washington State and Arizona. They were middle-of-the-road in most statistical categories, including sacks (57th), rush defense (43rd) and pass defense (82nd, 12 spots behind Boise State).
It’s probably time to stop comparing Oregon’s defenses to those trainwreck years of Don Pellum and Brady Hoke and start judging it by the standards of Washington, Utah and teams that fit Oregon’s new mold. When you view it that way, it’s clear the Ducks weren’t where they needed to be last season.
So, yeah, Cristobal had valid reasons for wanting to improve on defense. Honestly, I’d be more concerned if he looked at Oregon’s 9-4 record and decided to keep everything exactly the same.
My question is what the Ducks are doing to address an offense that failed to get the most out of Justin Herbert in 2018. They hired Jovon Bouknight to coach wide receivers and added former USC graduate assistant Prentice Gill as an analyst, but that only scratches the surface of what Oregon needs to address.
Cristobal said the Ducks have looked back at 2018 to find “the meat that we left on the bone.” He mentioned being more efficient in the passing game, limiting explosive plays on defense, cutting down drops and picking up the tempo on offense.
“Overall, we hit the restart button,” Cristobal said.
That’s the direction of college football now. The days of having a staff and keeping it together through thick and thin, the way the Ducks did from Rich Brooks to Mark Helfrich, appear to be over.
Now it’s all about shuffling the pieces every year to maximize your chances of success. That’s what the Ducks are doing, and there’s no doubt they’ll be different in significant ways next season.
We’ll see if it’s a change for the better.
Follow Austin on Twitter @austinmeekRG. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.