Three head coaches in one year.
That was how Oregon’s Zach Emerson, a reserve kicker from Bend, summed up the gut punch felt by Ducks football players after Tuesday’s announcement that coach Willie Taggart was leaving the program for Florida State after just one season at Oregon.
Less than a year after arriving in Eugene to replace the fired Mark Helfrich, Taggart officially bolted for the Seminoles, leaving Oregon to promote offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal to interim head coach through the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 16, when the Ducks will play Boise State.
“I’m pretty bummed,” said Emerson, a redshirt freshman from Mountain View High, after being reached by phone shortly after the official announcement. “I got to know the staff pretty well, and we had a pretty good season. I’m bummed he left after one year. But we’ve got a bowl game to focus on now.”
At the same time, Emerson said he understood that Taggart was getting a chance at his “dream job” and the opportunity to move himself and his family back to their home state of Florida. (Taggart was the coach at South Florida before coming to Eugene.)
“He’s a great guy and I’m happy for him,” Emerson said. “His family will be back in Florida. But it sucks he left after only one year.”
Oregon tight end Cam McCormick, a redshirt freshman from Bend’s Summit High, shared those sentiments, though his tone could not mask his disappointment when reached by phone Tuesday.
“He’s doing what’s right for him, and no one can blame him for that,” said McCormick of Taggart. “That’s how it goes. College football is a business.”
Under Taggart, McCormick has played in all 12 of the Ducks’ games this season and has six receptions for 89 yards and one touchdown.
As Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens begins his search for a new head coach, Emerson said he liked the idea of promoting Cristobal permanently, or perhaps defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt — provided Leavitt does not follow Taggart to Florida State as multiple reports have suggested.
“I’d love it if they looked at Leavitt and Cristobal, since they’ve been with this program for a year,” Emerson said. “I think he (Mullens) will look at them. Either one of them would be great coaches, to me. That would just help the transition. All the players love coach Leavitt and coach Cristobal. Transitionwise, it would be a lot smarter than bringing in a new guy and having a whole new staff again.”
Emerson added that he feels bad for Mullens, having to conduct his second coaching search in little more than a year. He also said the Oregon players have been caught up on social media over the past few days as rumors swirled about Taggart leaving, and it was hard to tell what was true and not true.
“We’ll just try to focus on the bowl game, and leave the job searching to Mullens and those guys,” Emerson said. “It’s finals week, and we’ve got a bowl game in two weeks — that’s everyone’s focus right now.”