New Oregon head coach Willie Taggart is likely to find out fairly quickly about the recruiting paradox that is Oregon, as perhaps no program in the country offers more unique positives or unalterable negatives.
The issues for Oregon right now are significant, and it will always be a job where it’s more important to recruit right than to recruit big. Most notably, the flash that elevated Oregon toward the top of the college football world has been copied across the country, and its home state simply doesn’t produce enough quality recruits to form the backbone of an elite roster -- to say nothing of recruiting following a 4-8 season.
As the first program to introduce infinite uniform combinations, majestic facilities and a revolutionary offense, Oregon had the attention of every recruit in the country. But as other programs have caught up -- the entire Pac-12 has sunk big money into facilities upgrades and even the most staid programs will where alternate uniforms -- that huge head start Oregon had with recruits is now just a small step.
“It still is a program that can easily catch the eye of any recruit,” said four-star defensive tackle Rutger Reitmaier, who committed to Oregon over offers from Louisville, Ole Miss, Penn State, Tennessee and West Virginia, among others. “It caught my eye and I live in Tennessee.”
That is something that Taggart can use with every recruit between now and signing day.
Taggart’s history at Western Kentucky and South Florida should give him a huge benefit when it comes to recruiting for the Ducks. In the 2016 class, a terrific year for talent in the state of Oregon, the Ducks signed just four in-state recruits, while the Ducks also reached into Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee and Maryland. That means Taggart will have to continue Oregon’s broad approach. His Florida connections will also help as the state is home to Oregon standouts such as Tony Brooks-James and Charles Nelson, as well as 2017 ESPN 300 tight end commit Tre' McKitty. It also happens to be home to 17 of the 18 commits who pledged to Taggart and South Florida in this class.
Taggart also has experience battling power programs for elite recruits, as he signed ESPN 300 wide receiver Darnell Salomon in the 2016 class and earned a commitment from ESPN 300 athlete Bruce Judson in the 2017 class. Both had offers from Florida, Florida State and Miami. The recruiting ground just got a lot bigger for Taggart, as he now needs to find for prospects from Southern California all the way up to Seattle. But the goal is the same: beating regional rivals such as UCLA, USC and Washington for elite prospects.
The hill facing Taggart and the Ducks, however, is incredibly steep without getting a significant upgrade on the field. Even after playing for the national championship in 2014, Oregon’s 2015 recruiting class -- its most heralded in recent years -- featured just seven ESPN 300 prospects. By comparison, USC signed 16 ESPN 300 prospects that year following a 9-4 season.
Taggart also has the unenviable task of needing to introduce himself to a majority of the prospects already committed to Oregon. With the dead period running from Dec. 12 through Jan. 11, it doesn’t offer much time to lay a foundation with committed prospects and reach out to other targets.
So, in short order, Taggart will need to retain as many of its already committed recruits as possible and perhaps even jump back into the mix with ESPN 300 cornerback Deommodore Lenoir, who decommitted from Oregon shortly before Mark Helfrich was fired. Then, as word spreads to West region recruits through coaches who formed relationships with Taggart during his three years at Stanford as running backs coach under Jim Harbaugh, Taggart and the Ducks will have more doors opened to them.
Then all he has to do is win. Because luckily for Taggart, Oregon is still one of the schools whose brand is established enough that recruits use the school name in its own definition.
“Oregon is Oregon,” said wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins, who committed to Oregon State over Oregon. “As long as they’re doing good, any national recruit would go there.”