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UO tries to beef up defense with Leavitt

EUGENE — University of Oregon president Michael Schill should be satisfied with Willie Taggart’s first staffing decision.

Oregon’s new coach has hired Jim Leavitt to be the Ducks’ defensive coordinator after the former South Florida coach and NFL assistant helped turn Colorado’s fortunes around.

According to Fox Sports, the first to report the hire, Leavitt will receive a four-year contract at Oregon that will make him the highest-paid coordinator in the Pac-12.

That would mean Leavitt, whose salary at Colorado this season was $511,900, would earn at least $760,000. Oregon still owes Brady Hoke, who made $400,000 in 2016, $1.4 million over the next two years.

“I love CU, players, Boulder and all alum! Been great to me!” Leavitt tweeted on Wednesday night. “Couldn’t pass up opportunity for family! South Champs! Been a great ride!!”

The Buffaloes ranked 18th nationally in points allowed (20.5 ppg) and 17th in yards allowed (328.3 ypg) this season en route to winning the Pac-12 South Division. Colorado went from 114th in total defense in 2014 to 85th in 2015, which was Leavitt’s first season in Boulder.

The Ducks finished 126th in points allowed (41.4 ppg) and yards allowed (518.4 ypg) under Brady Hoke last season during a 4-8 finish.

During an interview on CBS Sports Radio on Wednesday, Taggart acknowledged that Oregon needs to improve physically to turn things around on the scoreboard.

“I can tell you just watching the film and seeing our guys play, I think that’s a big thing that we’ve got to get accomplished,” Taggart said on The Jim Rome Show. “I do know when it comes to physics, the bigger, stronger, faster team tends to win a lot. We’ve got to get bigger and stronger.”

Leavitt had a 95-57 record at South Florida before being fired on Jan. 8, 2010, after an investigation by school officials found that he had struck a player in the locker room and lied to officials about the incident.

One year later, South Florida settled the wrongful termination lawsuit Leavitt filed by paying him a $2.75 million settlement, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Leavitt was the San Francisco 49ers’ linebackers coach from 2011-14 under Jim Harbaugh, then became Mike MacIntyre’s defensive coordinator at Colorado.

Taggart, also a former South Florida coach, was recruited out of high school by Harbaugh and was an assistant for the current Michigan coach at Stanford.

“Go find a great defensive coordinator,” Schiil said at Taggart’s introductory press conference last Thursday.

Leavitt, 59, was a finalist for the Broyles Award given to the top assistant in college football.

“Trust me, there’s a lot of them that want to be here as well,” Taggart said of big-name assistants. “We need a very good defensive coordinator that can come in and help our young men grow.”