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Oregon promotes Mario Cristobal to head coach

UPDATED: Fri., Dec. 8, 2017

In this Sept. 26, 2017, photo, former Oregon offensive coordinator and current coach Mario Cristobal gestures during practice in Eugene, Ore. (Andy Nelson / Associated Press)
In this Sept. 26, 2017, photo, former Oregon offensive coordinator and current coach Mario Cristobal gestures during practice in Eugene, Ore. (Andy Nelson / Associated Press)
By Ralph D. Russo Associated Press

Oregon assistant Mario Cristobal was officially promoted to head coach a year to the day after Willie Taggart was introduced.

Taggart bolted Tuesday for the top job at Florida State, and Cristobal – the co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach – was named interim coach for the Las Vegas Bowl. But after a groundswell of support from the players, that interim label was removed on Friday.

The 47-year-old Cristobal becomes Oregon’s 34th head coach.

“I know this, and I think everyone that knows me will also know this: You’ll receive every ounce of effort, sweat – whatever it takes to ensure our student-athletes have the finest experience, from an academic standpoint, from a football standpoint,” he said at an introductory press conference late Friday afternoon.

Before coming to Eugene, Oregon, with Taggart, Cristobal had spent four seasons as offensive line coach at Alabama. He has six seasons of head coaching experience at Florida International, where he went 27-47, including 20-26 in conference, with two bowl appearances from 2007-12. He was also an assistant at Miami, his alma mater.

Cristobal joined Taggart’s staff just 11 months ago.

Rob Mullens, Oregon’s athletic director, said he interviewed several candidates for the job.

“Something separated Mario from the group,” Mullens said. “His commitment to the full student-athlete experience, his fierce desire to compete, his passion for recruiting, his love for Eugene and this university.”

Cristobal spoke to the team earlier in the day.

“We’re just happy to finally have a coach and have a guy we all love,” Ducks safety Brady Breeze told reporters afterward. “I don’t think there’s a guy on the team that doesn’t like coach Cristobal, and just his knowledge of the game and the way he approaches all of us individually.”

That Cristobal’s “interim” tag was only in place for three days shows the enthusiasm the program has for him. Dozens of players signed a petition backing him as head coach. Some players voiced support by using the hashtag (hash)cristobALLIN on social media.

Left tackle Tyrell Crosby tweeted Thursday night that more than 70 players had signed the petition.

A video posted from the team meeting shows Cristobal raising his arms in victory to cheers from the team.

“I feel like this is a really big accomplishment for everyone, that’s why everyone was so excited,” offensive lineman Shane Lemieux said afterward. “Whereas the last coaching hire with Taggart, it was kind of an administration decision rather than a player decision. So we had a big say in this I feel like. Even though he didn’t really say it I’m sure we had some say.”

Cristobal, whose promotion was first reported early Friday by NBC Sports Northwest, tipped his hat to the players for their support during his press conference.

“Thank you,” he said. “Thank you for your trust, man. You’re awesome.”

When Oregon hired Taggart to replace Mark Helfrich, he was the first Oregon coach to come from outside the staff in more than four decades. Losing Taggart, the Florida native, after less than a year meant another coaching search, but this time the Ducks stayed in-house.

Oregon went 7-5 this season, including 1-4 in games without starting quarterback Justin Herbert, who missed time with a broken collarbone. The Ducks face Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

“The best thing I can communicate is my heart and soul is in this one,” Cristobal said.

The Ducks had also been doing well on the recruiting trail under Taggart and the hope is promoting Cristobal can help Oregon keep a promising class of high school commitments together.

The Ducks wanted to name a successor quickly because of the early signing period, which begins Dec. 20. Oregon is set to host a group of recruits this weekend.

In addition to uncertainty about recruits, it was unclear whether Cristobal would be able to keep his fellow assistants on his staff or if any of them would go to Florida with Taggart.

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