By Ryan Thorburn

The (Eugene) Register-Guard

EUGENE — Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, the highest-paid football assistant in the Pac-12 Conference, will not be back at Oregon in 2019.

Head coach Mario Cristobal has decided not to retain Leavitt, who signed a contract extension after the 2017 season that pays him a guaranteed annual salary of $1.7 million through Jan. 31, 2022, a source confirmed to The Register-Guard.

Cristobal is expected to promote safeties coach Keith Heyward to defensive coordinator, according to a 247Sports report.

During a signing-day press conference last Wednesday, Cristobal credited most of his assistants by name for helping land the nation’s seventh-ranked class. Leavitt was not mentioned.

The next day, Leavitt posted a picture of his daughters and star Oregon linebacker Troy Dye on social media.

“My girls had a great time last fall cheering on the Ducks!” Leavitt wrote. “How about these players. The Best! Go Ducks!”

Leavitt, best known in the Pac-12 for his quick rebuilds and penchant for Pepsi, stabilized the Ducks’ defense over the past two seasons after helping Colorado win the South Division in 2016.

Oregon ranked 48th in points allowed (25.4 per game) and 55th in yards allowed (385.9 per game) during a 9-4 2018 campaign.

The season was capped with the Ducks’ 7-6 victory over Michigan State in the Redbox Bowl.

“It was pretty exhilarating just being able to play defense at what I consider a high level and just bonding with my teammates,” outside linebacker La’Mar Winston said after the smothering performance against the Michigan State offense. “We really had been struggling with consistency toward the end of that season, Pac-12 play and whatnot. So just to come out here and play against a Big Ten team like that, it was really fun.”

Leavitt was not made available to the media following the Redbox Bowl win.

Willie Taggart lured Leavitt away from Colorado to fix a punctured defense that finished the 2016 season 126th in points allowed (41.4 ppg) and yards allowed (518.4 ypg) under Brady Hoke.

During Leavitt’s first season in Eugene, the Ducks allowed 29.0 points (81st) and 369.2 yards (46th) per game.

When Cristobal was promoted to head coach following Taggart’s abrupt departure for Florida State, Leavitt was coaxed into staying with the bump in annual salary to $1.7 million.

Leavitt made no secret of his desire to be a head coach again.

The 61-year-old former South Florida head coach interviewed for the vacancies at Colorado, Kansas State and Texas Tech during this cycle.

Leavitt posted a 95-57 record as South Florida’s head coach from 1997 to 2009 before being fired after being accused of striking a player. He was later awarded a $2.8 million settlement from the school.

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