Turns out, there may well be reason for Oregon fans to celebrate this weekend after all.
After an uninspired performance against an amped-up Boise State team in the Las Vegas Bowl that left Oregon with a bitter taste to end a season that appeared to be salvaged, athletic director Rob Mullens was able to sling a metaphorical buoy around prized defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt to prevent him from “jumping ship” as former head coach Willie Taggart had done just a couple weeks prior.
There had been rumblings abound regarding Leavitt packing his bags for Tallahassee to rejoin Taggart after the Las Vegas Bowl, but thanks to a new contract that will pay Leavitt an average of $1.7 million annually through the 2021 season, the defensive guru will be staying put in Eugene for now.
The contract deal, first reported by Sports Illustrated’s Bruce Feldman, will propel Leavitt into truly elite company financially among coordinators as only defensive play callers Brent Venables (Clemson), and Dave Aranda (LSU) made 1.7 million or more in 2017. It’s quite a bump from the $1.15 million Leavitt was currently garnering at Oregon, which was already significant.
New head coach Mario Cristobal’s current contract being exponentially lower than Taggart’s and the $4.3 million buyout Florida State had to pay Oregon to lure Taggart away aided in the ability to offer Leavitt such a deal.
The offer was not without warrant of course. Leavitt has been a constant source of praise amongst many Duck faithful, and for good reason. A quick rundown of Oregon’s FBS defensive ranks from 2016 as compared to 2017 help tell the story:
- Total defense: 126th to 46th
- 3rd down defense: 122nd to 11th
- Sacks: T-69th to 3rd
- Interceptions: 81st to T-23rd
- Tackles for loss: 102nd to 17th
Leavitt also has a track record of success elsewhere, having helped take Colorado from 4-9 in 2015 to 10-4 in 2016 as well as leading University of South Florida of the American Athletic Conference to a #2 national ranking in 2007.
The move should also help tremendously from a recruiting standpoint as both Leavitt and Cristobal can now sell potential Ducks on the idea of the two continuing to work in tandem as opposed to the potential of Leavitt being on borrowed time at Oregon, which became a topic of discussion following Leavitt being passed over for the head coaching vacancy at Oregon in favor of Cristobal. Leavitt’s defense provided some of the few high points for Oregon on Saturday as an 86-yard fumble return and a 100-yard interception return within 30 seconds of each other (both for touchdowns) had Oregon within striking range at halftime.