Jim Leavitt is a great choice to lead the Oregon defense. Under his guidance, the Duck D will get back to where it was under longtime defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti.
Make no mistake about it: Oregon’s defense has declined rapidly ever since Aliotti retired at the end of the 2013 season. Sure, the Ducks played in the national championship in 2014, but the defense dropped from 37th to 89th. The Oregon D gradually got worse over the next two seasons, ranking 117th in 2015 and 126th in 2016, allowing a whopping 518.4 yards per game.
With numbers like that, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Oregon president opened Willie Taggart’s introductory press conference by saying, “Go out an find a great defensive coordinator”.
That’s exactly what Taggart did. Leavitt is one of the more experienced coaches in college football, starting his career back in 1978. He was the head coach at South Florida from 1996-2009, transforming the Bulls from a 1-AA independent startup into a team that competed for the Big East title. He also has experience at the professional level, coaching linebackers for the San Francisco 49ers from 2011-2014.
While those credentials are impressive, the reason that Oregon fans should be excited about this hire is Leavitt’s stellar resume as a defensive coordinator. He had plenty of success as the co-defensive coordinator at Kansas State – a title he shared with Bob Stoops – helping the Wildcats improve from 5-6 in 1992 to 10-2 in 1995. He did an even better job at Colorado the last two seasons, transforming a Buffalo D that finished 114th in 2014 into a top 20 unit in 2016.
It’s also worth noting that the Colorado defense improved immediately under Leavitt’s leadership. In his first year, the Buffaloes allowed 40 fewer yards than it did the year before. The following season, Colorado doubled its improvement, giving up 88 fewer yards than the previous campaign. As a result of this turnaround, the Buffs advanced to the Pac-12 championship game for the first time.
There’s no reason to think that he can’t do the same thing at Oregon. Yes, the Duck D has struggled the past few seasons, but there’s still plenty of talent to work with, including Troy Dye (95 tackles, 13 TFL, 6.5 sacks), Justin Hollins (9.5 TFL), and Brenden Schooler (4 INT). Given Leavitt’s successful track record, it shouldn’t take him long to transform this young — but talented — group into one of the better defenses in Pac-12.
If that doesn’t qualify as an outstanding hire, I don’t know what does.