Some of the best defense of Oregon's 2017 season was played this weekend by UO administrators, who have helped retain prized defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. Rather than follow former UO coach Willie Taggart to Florida State or go elsewhere, Leavitt will remain on staff under new head coach Mario Cristobal as part of a reworked deal that will pay Leavitt an average of $1.7 million annually through the 2021 season, a source confirmed to The Oregonian/OregonLive Sunday night. The deal was first reported by Sports Illustrated's Bruce Feldman. Oregon's defense took major strides forward this fall, during Leavitt's first season in Eugene. He inherited a unit that ranked 126th in total defense in 2016 and improved it to 46th. The Ducks allowed 41.4 points per game in 2016; this year, UO allowed 29.0. Leavitt was already one of the country's highest-paid assistants this season, earning $1.15 million. That ranked 12th-highest nationally among assistants, per USA Today's coaching salary database. His new deal, however, will propel him into an even more elite tax bracket. Only two assistants made $1.7 million or more in 2017 -- defensive coordinators Brent Venables at Clemson ($1.7 million) and Dave Aranda at LSU ($1.8 million). The salary was the cost of keeping up with college football's exploding market for assistant coaching compensation. Just two years after UO paid $755,000 to Scott Frost in what was then a record salary for a Ducks assistant, Leavitt will earn an average of $1 million more than that over the life of his deal. Oregon was able to pay up in part because it saved money on Cristobal's contract compared with Taggart's -- Cristobal will rank among the Pac-12's lowest paid head coaches -- and because Florida State is paying UO the $4.3 million buyout that was necessary to lure Taggart away. Leavitt made no secret upon his arrival last winter that he wants to be a head coach again before his career ends. Leavitt built South Florida's program from 1995 until his firing in 2009, and has since burnished a reputation as a sterling defensive coordinator, first with his rebuild of Colorado's unit, followed by Oregon's improvements this fall.