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The Sun Also Rises

Head Coach Willie Taggart Has Brought Optimism Back To a Program And Fan Base That Needs Hope

NCAA Basketball: Alabama at Oregon Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Willie Taggart is Oregon’s new head coach and is recruiting as much as possible as recruiting “duck hunting” season comes to a close. Taggart has already hired a staff so impressive that even sportswriters like Bruce Feldman have been surprised. The biggest challenge that Willie Taggart has in his first few months as head coach is to ignite fervor amongst the Oregon fan base. So far he has exceeded all expectations, which will surely carry through spring ball before the games actually matter.

All coaches who have led the Ducks have had to deal with the inherent problems the program has. The program does not have a rich history, the state doesn’t produce top football talent, and with the relative struggles with recruiting pose issues when it comes to depth and sometimes which side of the line of scrimmage people will line up on.

Taggart gave off the vibes of a transformational leader at his press conference with some inspiring words. His goal is to be the first African-American head coach to win a college football championship. When it comes to the assistant coaches on talking about recruiting on Twitter or players like Royce Freeman saying they’re coming back after talking with Taggart, the hype train has left the station and is careening through the landscape. I’ve done my best to be an optimistic realist but even I have found my seat on the train. A transformational leader is really needed based on some of the articles that have recently come out about last year.

I try to not focus on recruiting as much as possible, because a lot of thought and energy can go into something with no guaranteed results and at the end of the day I’m reading about what 17-year olds think about colleges. However, it has been hard to not notice some of the early impacts Taggart has had. As soon as he was able to, Taggart flew to Hawaii to talk with a 5-star quarterback from Mariota’s high school who is currently committed to Alabama. He then sent out scholarship offers at a rate that rivals how fast Oprah gives out cars. With the recruiting period nearing an end he has already flipped multiple players, including a 4-star quarterback.

There is an obstacle that Oregon football will always have to overcome. Oregon doesn’t produce a lot of in-state talent. In response, Taggart hired some of the best recruiters in the country with connects throughout the Pacific, the southeast, and the southwest. And we know they are recruiting. The coaches’ Twitter feeds consist entirely of vague hints at recruiting success and motivational phrases. With the rest of the coaching staff he has in place we will know for sure how well Oregon can do recruiting. If this coaching team can’t get it done then it is unlikely that any coaches will.

Often with coaching staff changes there is the challenge of bringing in entirely new systems. There should not be huge learning curve for the Ducks this spring. Taggart ran an up-tempo, run-heavy offense at USF. While Taggart did not have the best defensive track record coming into Oregon. Oregon’s defense ranked 119th according to Football Outsider’s S&P+. USF’s defense ranked 100th. So Taggart went out and got one of the hottest defensive coordinators in the country and then got my favorite defensive line coach in the country.

Player development will also be a key factor to watch for over the course of the season. However, the greatest measure of player development will be seen in the fall of 2019 and 2020. This year, Taggart will have the benefit of taking over a team that had a lot of young talent go through growing pains last year. Some of the most impactful players on last year’s team were freshmen. The Ducks also dealt with an unusual number of injuries, most notably in the defensive front seven. But the burden of inexperience and injuries has become a strength with so much experience returning with valuable lessons learned. Cristobal has led some of the best offensive lines in college football and Salave’a turned the Cougar defensive line into a force in the PAC-12. The defensive backs coaches coming in have led some great defenses with Leavitt in the past.

There are a lot of different ways to solve the problems that Taggart will be inheriting and the problems that are inherent to the Oregon program. It is similar to how when there is a problem in a business environment that could be fixed there are often even different companies competing against each other to be the beneficiary of solving the problem. In college football, success is a zero-sum game. With so much at stake there are some intensely dedicated people who are all trying to solve enough problems to win a national championship. Most times, the company that wins the competition is the one with the better leader.

There’s a common phrase in investment and entrepreneurship that says you bet on the entrepreneur more than the idea. There are not any real red flags with him but there are also no guarantees that he will be able to succeed as the head coach at Oregon or instantly remedy some of the difficulties that automatically come with the position.

The most powerful thing that Willie Taggart provides is hope and optimism about the program. Last year the sellout streak ended and attendance dropped sharply in the second half of the season. There is a buzz and this is a feel-good time right now because we as a fan base have found someone who could help Oregon achieve its goal of winning a national championship. Taggart also sees Oregon as the place that could bring him the national championship he so desperately wants.

The problems are clear and Taggart has done his best to ensure that the team has those covered at the start. Everything looks to be in place. The only thing that can derail the hype train is poor performance in September. I feel an odd sense of comfort in knowing that a 4-8 team with an entirely new coaching staff will make a bowl game in 2017. Both the school and Taggart’s staff need each other. While college football has adopted many of the traits that took Oregon to its first national title game, Oregon has made changes. In a zero-sum game there is only one winner. Oregon decided that it could not compete with the way things had been. It had to adapt or die and so far it looks like the school picked the right leader to take them into the future.

[Note: Written before the weekend]