The Pac-12 championship football game was still an hour away from kickoff Friday night in Las Vegas and here’s Phil Knight wading through a sea of red outside Allegiant Stadium.
The 83-year-old Nike co-founder was easy to spot amid the swathe of red-clad fans from Utah. Knight only wore one color – hat, sports jacket, mask, jeans, sneakers – all black. His wife, Penny, took a few steps in front of him. His trusted friend, Ken O’Neil, was a few steps behind. Utah fans who recognized the sneaker mogul turned around when they saw Knight walk past, pointed at him and whispered to each other.
What no one could have known was that the in-game play was already underway.
Last week, a source said, Knight signed a 10-year, $ 85 million extension offered by the University of Oregon to football coach Mario Cristobal. Year # 1 would double Cristobal’s base salary and put him at over $ 7 million per year. It escalated from there and was by far the most lucrative deal ever offered to a football coach in Eugene.
Phil and Penny have funded a number of important football-related projects at UO over the years. They constructed buildings, expanded Autzen Stadium, helped increase the recruiting footprint and even participated when Cristobal said he needed to retain assistants.
Now, with Miami about to pounce, they were planning on writing the check that would hold Cristobal.
However, at kickoff there were some issues.
Cristobal did not sign the Oregon contract extension before the title game. Instead, he planned to speak with his agent the next day. Then, his team was ejected from the field by the Utes: 38-10. The Ducks coach took the loss hard. He only spoke for six minutes in the post-match press conference. Then, on Saturday, Cristobal boarded the private plane owned by longtime Oregon booster Ed Maletis and embarked on a blitz recruiting trip that would include multiple states, more than 25 recruits and s ‘would spread over 14 days.
This trip is now cut short.
Cristobal may be just hours away from the end of two days of savage speculation. He could be close to taking on the head coach job in Miami. Or maybe he rushes over to Eugene to try and save a few awkward days and a seemingly faltering recall relationship. Right now I’m not sure how much Cristobal has left to return to Oregon as I suspect he may have lost the only donor he has ever needed.
This 10-year contract extension?
“He was taken off the table when Mario didn’t sign him and got on the plane,” a source familiar with the situation said.
Oregon Sports Department officials and Cristobal officials have not confirmed this detail. Maybe it’s a matter of semantics (did he refuse or was it withdrawn when he didn’t sign it?) Knight isn’t speaking either. But those familiar with the booster tell me he doesn’t like to be played and doesn’t appreciate those who see the job of head football coach at Eugene as a stepping stone.
Remember, just four years ago, Oregon was heavily exploited by Willie Taggart’s agent Jimmy Sexton. The Ducks rushed in and offered Taggart a contract extension. They expected Taggart to sign on the spot. Instead, he boarded a college-funded plane to go recruit and made a pit stop where he interviewed for the position in the state of Florida. Sexton used the Ducks’ contract extension offer to secure Taggart a six-year, $ 30 million contract in Tallahassee.
It doesn’t look like Oregon wants to be used a second time. Either that or the Ducks were expecting Cristobal to fall and stomp on the ceiling at the prospect of a decade-long extension and when he didn’t they were annoyed. Knight also couldn’t have been pleased with Oregon’s no-show performance on the field against Utah.
Cristobal in Miami?
Sounds like that’s where it can be heading at sunrise, doesn’t it?
Oregon fans are frustrated. The boosters are annoyed. Cristobal appeared briefly at a press conference on Sunday promoting the Alamo Bowl game with Oklahoma, but questions from the media were not allowed. Meanwhile, the Ducks players have a week off, but the coaching staff has asked them, “Don’t read Twitter. “
It was the best advice of the day.
The Miami Herald reported on Sunday night that Cristobal agreed to terms with the Hurricanes but did not sign the contract. Sports Illustrated said Miami has imposed a deadline on Monday at noon. Other news agencies said nothing was official and Cristobal’s “decision” would extend until Monday morning or even longer. I am told that nothing has been decided but I wonder about Knight’s support for Cristobal.
It’s entirely possible that the Oregon coach is in agony over two contract offers – similar dollars and years but in different zip codes. But the longer this soap opera lasts, the more unlikely it seems to me that Cristobal can return to Eugene without alienating the one person he needs in his corner to be successful.
Basically, Phil Knight.
A UO insider said, “What happened to loyalty?
Another said, “How does Mario come back to Oregon without Phil in his corner?”
I have to think Oregon’s # 1 booster would love to see UO win a national football title during their lifetime. He and his wife have invested $ 1 billion in the university over the years. Brian Kelly ditched Notre Dame for a boon to LSU. Lincoln Riley moved from Oklahoma to USC in the name of generational wealth. The rest of us spend the week bemoaning how serious and lucrative the business of college football is, but it probably was a long time ago for the Knight family.
Cristobal needs to do what’s best for him and his family. No one should blame him if he decides he needs to be closer to his mother, alongside his older brother, and back to Miami. But now I wonder if he misinterpreted the Oregon contract extension so badly that he really didn’t give himself a choice.
I could be wrong here. Maybe Cristobal will do what former Ducks coach Chip Kelly once did when he verbally accepted the Buccaneers job late one night in Eugene and then decided everything was wrong. In the morning he was coming back for another season. The “Chip-Flop” didn’t cost him a relationship with Knight and didn’t cause him a grudge. This one is different in part because Cristobal isn’t armed with Kelly’s record in Oregon.
I keep replaying this scene with Knight outside of Allegiant Stadium. He was looking for her front door. His entourage was at his side. The Ducks were inside, preparing for a game that could have sent them to a Rose Bowl and rematch with Ohio State. As it turned out, there was so much more going on.
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