Keith Heyward wanted to be Oregon’s new defensive coordinator and was a likely choice after the program parted company with Jim Leavitt last month.
Coach Mario Cristobal did his due diligence during the “national search” Oregon announced after agreeing to pay Leavitt as much as $2.5 million not to coach.
Andy Avalos was hired away from Boise State to be the Ducks’ fourth defensive coordinator in the last five years.
After Oregon’s third spring practice Wednesday, Heyward said he still aspires to run his own defense, but he is also on the same page with Cristobal and Avalos as they prepare for a promising 2019 season together.
“Obviously it didn’t happen this time around, but I’m confident I’ll get my time and I’m excited for our program,” Heyward said. “I’ve known Andy for a long time, we’ve crossed over in recruiting. I was happy for him to come in and do it.
“Once he got it, I was a little disappointed, to be honest, in myself. But this is a team, and coach Cristobal did what was best. So we’ve got great defensive coaches on our side of the ball, and I’m excited for the direction that we’re going.”
Heyward had “assistant head coach” added to his title and will continue coaching safeties. Defensive line coach Joe Salave’a and cornerbacks coach Donte Williams also return.
“His influence and his impact on this program have been tremendous. I don’t want that to get lost at all,” Cristobal said of Heyward’s role. “In this conference, this guy is such a valued member and important member of the program. He’s very involved and will be more so involved in some of the heavy decisions we make as a program.
“I look forward to his continued development as well. He’s done some great things and he’s on his way to some more.”
Ken Wilson, an assistant at Washington State the past six seasons, is the latest Mike Leach staffer to be stolen away by Oregon. He will coach inside linebackers, the position Leavitt was responsible for during his two seasons coordinating the Ducks’ defense.
“I don’t really know what coach Leavitt was doing (before). I told all these guys they’ve got a clean slate and I’m evaluating everything, even Troy (Dye),” Wilson said. “I’m giving them a clean slate, letting them play, letting them compete and earn jobs.
“So if a guy was back down on the depth chart last year, doesn’t matter to me. If they’re at the top, it really doesn’t matter. With me, if I can trust them, I’ll put them on the field.”
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.
Cristobal said Avalos, who will coach outside linebackers, was an attractive candidate because his experience and leadership style will better connect the communication between the front seven and the secondary.
“I think everything that we’ve done has done just that,” Heyward said of the chemistry among the revamped defensive staff. “I’ve known Andy for a long time and he was a guy that I leaned on. So with that, it’s just going to connect the front end, the back end, and I feel like everything we’re doing is complementary and it’s going to work out just great.”
The Ducks return seven starters on defense but must replace highly productive players in defensive end Jalen Jelks, outside linebacker Justin Hollins and safety Ugo Amadi. All three will audition for NFL scouts during Oregon’s pro timing day Thursday in the Moshofsky Center.
Sophomore safety Jevon Holland said Avalos has asked the players to “open their hearts” and form strong bonds to strengthen the team.
And that seems to be the approach Heyward has taken since being passed over for the defensive coordinator job.
“He’s got a really big heart to be able to step back from that potential role and open it up for somebody else and listen and also give knowledge to (Avalos),” Holland said of his position coach. “That’s really big from him.”
Oregon wide receiver Demetri Burch announced his intention to transfer out of the program Wednesday.
Burch, a redshirt sophomore, was a member of Willie Taggart’s first recruiting class in 2017. He played in six games last season but did not have a reception.