Former Boise State DC replaces Jim Leavitt with spring practice set to begin Saturday

While Jim Leavitt was enjoying a Pepsi-fueled road trip, which included a stop by the Boise State football facility, Andy Avalos was getting comfortable in the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex.

Second-year Oregon coach Mario Cristobal opted not to detail the reasons why Leavitt didn’t work out as this long-term solution at defensive coordinator before Avalos’ introductory news conference on Monday.

“It is what it is. Changes are made, people move on, and I think it’s as simple as that,” Cristobal said. “There’s nothing more to it, and nothing ever will be more to it, than the betterment of the program.

“Every single decision is always going to be about the betterment of the program.”

Oregon and Leavitt agreed on a separation package that will pay him up to $2.5 million. Avalos, who was Boise State’s defensive coordinator the past three seasons, signed a three-year contract worth $2.45 million in guaranteed salary last week to join the Ducks.

“We feel real strong about the person that’s going to be at the defensive coordinator position,” Cristobal said of Avalos. “His use of personnel, his ability to develop other staff members, we see this as a big-time hire and a plus for everyone.”

  

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. Statistically, it was a slight step back from Leavitt’s first season rebuilding the unit under Willie Taggart.

Avalos, who played linebacker at Boise State and was an assistant at his alma mater the past seven seasons, is planning to bring the versatile scheme to Oregon that confounded Marcus Arroyo’s offense during the Las Vegas Bowl.

“Initially, that’s how I met coach,” Avalos said of spoiling the start of the Cristobal era. “Just getting to know coach and having conversations with him and things like that, being able to expand our relationship out on the recruiting trails when we’d run into each other and stuff like that. So yes, I think it did (play a role).”

When Avalos was hired to coach Boise State’s defensive line in 2012, Chris Petersen was the head coach. Before turning the Broncos into “BCS busters” and leading Washington to Pac-12 championships, Petersen was a young assistant at Oregon.

“When coach Cristobal reached out to me about this opportunity, I’m not going to lie to you, I was really excited about it,” Avalos said. “From the standpoint of the tradition and the brand here and where this program is going and what the leadership here is doing, you can see just in the last week that I’ve been here the effect it’s had on players. So I’m really excited about the opportunity.”

Keith Heyward was thought to be the favorite to replace Leavitt. Instead, the co-defensive coordinator and safties coach has added another title — assistant head coach — to the business card.

“I think Keith is an unbelievable coach and person. Certainly a decision like this, these things are always hard,” Cristobal said. “ But the decision comes down to how can we get the best five guys together. You look at it almost like when you’re putting together your offensive line.

“(Heyward’s) extremely impactful, he’s extremely valued and he’s a big part of this equation as well.”

The defensive staff also includes defensive line coach Joe Salave’a, cornerbacks coach Donte Williams and new linebackers coach Ken Wilson, who was hired away from Washington State.

Avalos will coach the “stud” position, an outside linebacker/rush end hybrid, in addition to coordinating the defense.

Boise State was 12th in sacks (39), 20th in forced turnovers (24), 30th in scoring defense (22.1 ppg) and 39th in total defense (355.9 ypg) last season.

“Getting after the quarterback is at a premium,” Cristobal said. “Andy certainly brings that to the table.”

Avlos will inherit a talented group that returns seven starters, including senior linebacker Troy Dye and junior nose guard Jordon Scott. Defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, rated by ESPN as the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2019 recruiting class, is on campus and expected to have an immediate impact.

Justin Herbert was sacked four times and the Ducks were held to 280 total yards by Avalos’ defense in the Las Vegas Bowl. Boise State also scored on an interception return for a touchdown to take a 24-0 lead en route to the 38-28 win.

“His ability to dissect and match personnel is what was really impressive to us,” Cristobal said. “A great example is when we played Boise, it was as diverse as being in an odd front (three down linemen) pre-snap, a quick stem, and all of a sudden they are in four down.”

Oregon has moved the start of spring practice from Thursday to Saturday to give Avalos 48 extra hours to get the players more comfortable with his plan of attack.

The Ducks’ defense is at another crossroads, but Cristobal is confident in the direction this is headed.

“We have a great opportunity to continue to evolve as a program, and in this particular case, as a defense,” Cristobal said.