Cal Football: Hype for Heyward with Addicted to Quack

WFC North hypes up California's new outside linebackers coach, Keith Heyward.

In the great Pac-12 Coaching Switcheroo of 2021, California co–defensive coordinator, associate head coach, and outside linebackers coach Tim DeRuyter joined the Oregon staff to become their defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach while Oregon co–defensive coordinator, assistant head coach, and safeties coach Keith Heyward came down just outside the city of Hayward to become our outside linebackers coach.

That’s quite the mouthful, so we turned to our mighty friends at WFC North (f.k.a. Addicted to Quack) and Mariotasmoustache to learn all about the addition to our staff.

How would you assess Heyward's recruiting performance at Oregon?

ATQ: The fact that he brought Kayvon Thibodeaux into the program gives him an automatic “A” grade, in my opinion. He has contributed to Oregon’s top two recruiting classes in program history and was the primary recruiter for NFL-bound Jevon Holland and Sean Dollars—whom coaches regularly mention as a player to watch for in the future. Pepper in his role in bringing JuJu Smith-Schuster to USC and I’d say that Cal got themselves a great home-state recruiter. 

What do you think was the best team performance from the safety position during Heyward's time at Oregon?

ATQ: Oregon’s thrashing of USC in the Coliseum in 2019 comes to mind. In that game, Brady Breeze and Verone McKinley III each had an interception—the former returning it to the house to put the Ducks up 21–10 in the second quarter. Breeze also recovered a fumble that ended a promising Trojan drive while tallying a team-high seven tackles, followed closely by fellow safeties Nick Pickett and Jevon Holland with six apiece. 

Why do you think Heyward was not given a closer look by Oregon as the next defensive coordinator?

ATQ: His lack of experience as a DC seems like the obvious answer. It’s clear that Coach Cristobal really values his skill as a coach and recruiter considering he’s been promoted after every season he’s been here; he started as a safeties coach under Willie Taggart, then added the roles of Co-DC in 2018 and Assistant HC from 2019 to 2020. Basically, Cristobal had no more titles to pin to him and he’s far too aggressive on the coordinator-hiring front to consider someone without any previous DC experience.

Are there any notable examples of players who really seemed to have been coached up by Heyward?

ATQ: When Heyward arrived at Oregon, Brady Breeze was primarily a special teams player. But in 2019, Breeze put together a junior campaign that far exceeded his physical limitations, becoming just the eighth FBS player since 2000 with two fumble returns for a TD and a pick-six in a single season. Those scores came in three of Oregon’s most-watched games of the season (2020 Rose Bowl, 2019 Pac-12 Championship game, USC @ Oregon), which makes his decision to focus on the 2021 NFL Draft make a lot more sense—it’d be hard to top those stats. 

Heyward clearly is more than capable of improving upon established talent, as Ugo Amadi (currently of the Seattle Seahawks) became an elite prospect during 2018 when he switched from cornerback to safety and finished a Lombardi Award winner and Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist. Jevon Holland is another example of what Heyward can shape from marble, though time will tell what he can do with cheaper clay in Berkeley. The Ducks had a pretty uninspiring run of play at safety in 2020 after our best defensive backs opted out, so it seems unfair to judge Heyward on that strange season.

How did the fans and players respond to the news of Heyward leaving?

ATQ: I think I speak for the majority of Duck fans when I say that we would’ve liked to keep him, but it felt inevitable that he would eventually have to leave to take the next step in his career. Many fans would have been furious if Oregon promoted from within after the Don Pellum years, so this coaching swap truly feels like a win-win for both programs. 

Ducks seem pretty positive about the DeRuyter hire. How would you describe the fan response?

ATQ: Overall, happy with the hire. Outside of the fans that would only accept a “known name” as a successful hire, there were two camps that Oregon fans fell into: one group that wanted to find the best available defensive strategist that money can buy and another that wanted to double-down on recruiting by hiring an elite recruiter over all else. The feeling with DeRuyter is we went with the former and that Cristobal is confident in the rest of his staff’s ability to maintain Oregon’s current historic level of recruiting. 

Also, it helped sell his case that he has made a recent career of humiliating the Huskies!   

Are you enjoying your time as WFC North? What can we do to serve you better, as your overlords?

ATQ: Not gonna lie, feels pretty bad. Watching Cal lose in spectacular fashion before our game added to the bitter feeling when you pulled off a win against us. Careful! Teams that hand us humiliating losses usually will have their best coaches hired away to Eugene. And if Cristobal bails on us, I have a feeling Justin Wilcox would suddenly find his wardrobe exploding with green and yellow… and gray, and white, and black, and even pink sometimes.

Looks like the ceiling should be pretty high for Heyward, presuming he can take to Berkeley like a duck takes to water. (Groan.)

Our many thanks to ATQ and Mariotasmoustache for taking the time to educate us (and then throw in a little shot at the program and a dash of pessimism about Wilcox’s future). As one poster here would like to remind you, ATQ is a tremendous site and now the best site on SBN.