Dateline Monday April 1. It’s two o’clock in the morning’s wee hours and a headline catches my eye: KELLY RETURNING TO OREGON. With my semi-conscious brain sufficiently jolted, it took me a moment to see it for what it was — an April Fools prank. It got me thinking, though. Would I want Chip to return? The answer, emphatically, is, “No.” Chip Kelly’s departure is the best thing for the Ducks since Chip Kelly’s arrival. Oregon was but a stepping stone for coach Kelly. He came, he saw, and he conquered. Many feared his exit would ripple catastrophically for years to come. Who would dare try to take reign of the powerhouse Kelly had built?
The answer came quickly: a man who is, “not going to wear a visor and try to eat more vegetables.” Helfrich showed his quick wit when asked how he will differ from Kelly, and it was the perfect response. Helfrich inherits a successful coaching staff and a star-studded team that includes De’Anthony Thomas, Marcus Mariota, Colt Lyerla, Arik Armstead and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. These players — and many others — are underclassmen, athletes who will help Helfrich as he helps them. This is not to say Helfrich will have all the answers, but he will have some. The cupboard is not bare.
Kelly was getting too comfortable. Yes, he piloted the Ducks to their first Rose Bowl win in 93 years and made it four-for-four in BCS bowl appearances, but then what? His consistent string of one-loss seasons piled up while he alienated the press and left players and recruits hanging with uncertainty.
Helfrich is not the next Chip Kelly. He’s better. He has studied Oregon football for years, watching and waiting while Kelly worked his magic. He knows the greatness Chip brought, and he clearly sees the opportunities to improve. Chip loaded the bases and tossed Helfrich a hanging curveball right down the middle. All Helfrich has to do is swing away.