Oregon Ducks coach Mario Cristobal addresses Auburn “rumors” as signing day looms

The good news, perhaps, for nervous Duck fans is Mario Cristobal says it does not compare to the situation three years ago.

That’s when Cristobal was elevated to replace head coach Willie Taggart — who left Oregon after one season for a lucrative contract at Florida State — before attempting to prepare the team for the Las Vegas Bowl while also trying to salvage a promising recruiting class.

This year Cristobal is preparing for Friday’s Pac-12 championship game against No. 13 USC after having the regular-season finale against Washington canceled and throwing the original game plan to play Colorado on Saturday in the wastebasket.

The coaching staff is also trying to close on what could be the best recruiting class in program history ahead of signing day on Wednesday.

Cristobal has been mentioned by various national media outlets as a possible replacement for Gus Malzahn at Auburn; Cristobal is negotiating a new contract at Oregon.

“I don’t think it’s any comparison, even though this does have its challenges,” Cristobal said of comparing 2017 to 2020 before Monday night’s practice. “That was tough. Not only did you have to pull that class together, half the staff was in, half the staff was out. Your operational staff … you didn’t know who was doing what.

“And we had our entire team in Las Vegas trying to prepare for a really good opponent.”

Cristobal, who has a $2.7 million salary this season but took a 10% pay cut due to the pandemic, would owe Oregon an $8 million buyout if he leaves for another job before Jan. 14, 2021.

However, money doesn’t seem to be an issue in the SEC, despite the losses in athletic department revenue during the pandemic.

Malzahn — who was fired Sunday after posting a 68-35 record with six bowl games and an appearance in the 2013 BCS national title game at Auburn — will reportedly be paid a buyout of $21.45 million.

“We seem to get a lot of rumors at this time of year,” Cristobal said when asked about the Auburn job. “This is what I can say: I can say that I haven’t been contacted, OK. I don’t know if my agent is being contacted and I talk to him every single day.

“And I trust Phil Knight, I trust (athletic director) Rob Mullens, I trust our administration and I trust the people here at Oregon.”

According to the USA Today coaches salary database, six of the top 10 highest paid FBS football coaches are in the SEC, including Alabama’s Nick Saban (highest salary at $9.3 million) and Malzahn (seventh-highest at $6.9 million).

Cristobal ranks 57th nationally and 11th in the Pac-12 ahead of only Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith ($2.4 million).

Mullens projects the Oregon athletic department will lose $65 million during this fiscal year.

“We were working on something when the pandemic first hit and things kind of stalled,” Cristobal said. “Things have picked back up. … Hopefully in the next couple days there’s more to talk about as it relates to that.”

Cristobal, a former assistant to Saban at Alabama, is 24-9 overall and 16-7 in Pac-12 games at Oregon.

The Ducks’ 2021 recruiting class is ranked third nationally by Rivals and sixth by 247Sports.

“I know that we have an awesome thing going, we’ve got an unbelievable class going,” Cristobal said. “And I think that when people speculate and start putting rumors out there, a lot of times people try to take that and get it to fit their narrative, which is to try and affect recruiting classes at Oregon, try to spin a story.”

The Ducks (3-2) are coming off back-to-back losses but will represent the North Division with a chance to repeat as Pac-12 champions after rival Washington (3-1) had to back out of the title game due to COVID-19 issues.

A victory over the Trojans (5-0) at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum would give Oregon, which has the highest percentage of underclassmen on its roster in the FBS, even more momentum entering what Cristobal hopes is a less turbulent 2021 season.

“I think it will be worked out and I’ll be coaching here,” Cristobal said. “That’s where it’s at.”

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