The big news yesterday morning that resonated nationally was Oregon’s hire of Willie Taggart as the next Ducks football coach. There was also another significant move locally in the annual coaching carousel, with the announcement that Oregon State wide receivers coach Brent Brennan will be the new head coach at San Jose State. While both hires are important, it’s the next hires that really matter, in both Eugene and Corvallis.
Taggart takes over for Mark Helfrich with a track record of elevating both the program and its win total at both Western Kentucky and South Florida. Oregon State fans will also recall him as an assistant to Jim Harbaugh at Stanford, and as the guy that possibly had the most to do with Andrew Luck landing in Palo Alto. That track record has worked out for who Taggart has been working for much better than those competing against him.
But Taggart is an offensive guy, and the biggest issue with Oregon has been the decline of the defense, though recruiting has been a factor in that, and is becoming a problem for the Ducks on offense as well. Taggart is a first rate recruiter though, and charismatic enough to sell both investors and high school kids on his vision, something that Helfrich struggled with. Get some good players who are enthusiastic about your program and good results usually follow.
Questions about whether anyone from the long line of the Oregon coaching family, and the impact on the climate in Eugene, are valid, but Taggart’s hires as assistants on the defensive side of the ball are what will determine whether the Ducks fly back to the top of the Pac-12 North and Conference, and into national prominence.
To be fair, the refinery fire that is the Oregon defense wasn’t the result of neglect by Helfrich, who tried twice to find the right defensive coordinator. One tried the until recently successful Oregon model of promoting from within; the other the bring in a big name with a different perspective approach. Neither fit the talent on hand though, and you can’t make a 100% style makeover work if you don’t have the right personnel to run it right.
And Helfrich had a 5-star d-line recruit; unfortunately, he wound up a medical retiree before ever seeing the field.
Taggart has to get the D right to get the Ducks right.
Closer to home, Oregon State coach Gary Andersen has a strategic decision to make about how he wants to organize his staff as he gets ready to hire a replacement for Brennan. There will be a new hire, but its not a given that it will be as close to a plug and play replacement for Brennan as possible.
Brennan’s departure shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a red flag; he is from the Bay Area, and was an assistant at San Jose St. under both Dick Tomey and Mike MacIntyre before joining Mike Riley and the Beavers. Hid dad played for the Spartans as well. So this is as much about an up and coming assistant taking advantage of an opportunity to further his career and go home all at once. A special case not unlike Kalani Sitake taking the head job at BYU.
But the loss of Brennan is a hit to Oregon State. Brennan’s forte was advancing elite receivers, and James Rodgers, Marcus Wheaton, and Brandin Cooks are proof of that. Also a key element in his landing the SJ St gig.
He’s also one of the best recruiters the Beavers have had, both in the Bay Area (another reason the Spartans targeted him), and also in Texas, impressive given his lack of roots and connections there, at least until he cultivated some. It’s the biggest reason he was the sole assistant (other than some students) that Andersen retained from Riley’s regime. Andersen needs talent, and lots of it, and he knows it.
But there’s also the larger question of what to do about coaching the receiver position. Brennan split the position up with Dave Baldwin this past season, working with the “outside” receivers while Baldwin was in charge of the “inside” receivers. How that worked with receivers that operated from both locations is up for debate, but for much of the season, the results were a source of frustration.
Baldwin, demoted after a disastrous 2015 season as the Offensive Coordinator, but with a 2 year contract, seemed to be destined to collecting the second half of his contract, and possibly headed elsewhere. And while Brennan’s track record with elite talent is strong, the results when working with players starting with talent a step down was much spottier, and several players left the program in frustration during both the Riley and Andersen eras as a result.
The inexplicable regression of Jordan Villamin, not to mention Rahmel Dockery and Xavier Hawkins, shouldn’t be overlooked either.
Throw in the possibility that Brennan may take someone with him (another example of who is hired next being even more important than who was just hired), and you have a situation where Andersen has a chance to make a great hire, and implement a reorganization of a position group that went from being expected to be a strength of the program to a problem much of the season. But he also has the risk of winding up with a real problem if he makes a mistake.
Head coach hires are crucial, but it bodes watching the impending assistant coach hires to get a real feel for where things are headed all around the area.