EUGENE — Mario Cristobal’s departure for Miami leaves the Oregon Ducks searching for a head coach for the second time in five years.
Below is a rundown of seven potential candidates to be Oregon’s next head coach, listed alphabetically. This is not an all-encompassing list, as the position naturally generates a lot of interest. Names will be added and removed over time.
Dave Aranda, head coach at Baylor
Aranda just led Baylor to a Big 12 Championship and 11-2 season after a 2-7 campaign in 2020. The Southern California native is one of the best defensive coaches in college football and won a national championship while the defensive coordinator at LSU in 2019.
He’s expected to sign a new contract at Baylor, where financial terms aren’t disclosed because it’s a private school, but until that deal is solidified and signed, Aranda can and should be a prime candidate for a position the caliber of Oregon.
Jeff Grimes, offensive coordinator at Baylor
A two-time Broyles Award finalist, Grimes has been on the rise among offensive coordinators. He turned the No. 100 scoring offense into the No. 37 scoring offense with the Big 12 champions this season, and the No. 3 scoring offense at BYU with Zach Wilson at QB in 2020.
Grimes previously coached at BYU, LSU, Virginia Tech, Auburn, Colorado, Arizona State and Boise State. He has a background as an offensive line coach and would fit well in terms of replacing Cristobal’s program ethos.
Bryan Harsin, head coach at Auburn
The former Boise State coach went 6-6 in his debut season at Auburn and is already angling to get out. Harsin wanted the Washington job. He’ll come back to the Pacific Northwest.
However, much has been made about the lack of clarity regarding his vaccination status. That could be a non-starter at UO.
Chip Kelly, head coach at UCLA
The former Oregon coach had a remarkable run with the Ducks, going 46-7 as head coach from 2009-12. Matching that success since since has been a challenge for Kelly, who is 8-4 in his fourth season at UCLA. He’s never been a strong recruiter, at least by modern recruiting metrics, but there is a faction of the fan base — and undoubtedly the donor base — that would like to wind back the clock.
Bill O’Brien, offensive coordinator at Alabama
O’Brien oversees a Crimson Tide offense that ranks fourth in the nation in scoring, has the Heisman Trophy favorite at quarterback and one of the best receivers in the country, despite featuring a comparatively down offensive line.
O’Brien went 15-9 at Penn State in 2012-13 and then 53-48 over six-plus seasons in the NFL with the Houston Texans. He lacks regional ties, but O’Brien is going to be a head coaching candidate somewhere soon and his offensive prowess isn’t in question.
Kalani Sitake, head coach at BYU
Sitake is 48-28 over six seasons at BYU, which has included back-to-back 10-win seasons. The Cougars are headed to the Big 12, so the urgency to leave isn’t nearly as high as it once was. He spent a year at Oregon State in 2015 and has experience coaching both sides of the ball. He knows the region in recruiting and has done a great job recently with BYU.
Justin Wilcox, head coach at Cal
The Oregon alum is 26-28 is five seasons at Cal. This year’s 5-7 mark was objectively disappointing. Wilcox has gotten a ton out of the limited talent he’s had to work with and appeared to have the Bears on the rise in 2019, but had to navigate the perhaps the worst COVID-19 restrictions of any coach in the FBS the past two seasons. In terms of long-term stability, Wilcox may provide the greatest amount of any candidate. In terms of proven ability to run a top 10 program with vast resources and win on a massive stage, he hasn’t proven that yet as a head coach.