Can You FORGIVE Mark Helfrich?
We, as loyal and dedicated Oregon fans, are all still going through a mental transition from Chip Kelly to Mark Helfrich, and for most of us it has been difficult and even illuminating our true nature of being an Oregon fan, learning about ourselves within this conversion. Never has Oregon had such a charismatic and successful coach who went on to storm the NFL and turn it on its head, and our feeling of loss and natural comparison to Coach Helfrich can become quite the internal struggle. Is it fair? Can we as fans move beyond it and forgive Mark Helfrich for NOT being Chip Kelly?
How many of US are in the top 1% of our profession? Can we really expect Coach Helfrich to be that good? Yet, dammit, we want our wins! What a dynamic of conscience between being fair, or succumbing to our passion for Oregon winning it all. I would welcome your thoughts as this one is really tough on ALL of us. We try to separate reality from emotion, a blood-thirst for wins versus a forgiveness, an acceptance of a fellow human being who is a good man. This is interesting stuff to kick around …
We as fans could really ruin Oregon’s future with the wrong reaction to our seasons of the future. One group would say, “you must nip this in the bud. Look what happened to the Huskies!” Ah yes, our neighbors to the north went from an elite program under Don James, to slowly descending to the bottom of college football as they went through the Lambrights, the Neuheisels, the Gilbertsons and finally Mr. Willingham. The Washington example is the epitome of a tolerance for losing, as you MUST stop the bleeding immediately.
Or are we going to run off Coach Helfrich the way Nebraska fans ran off Frank Solich, who succeeded the legendary Tom Osborne and actually performed better than the other Cornhusker HCs since? The problem is that he followed the legend and could not deliver National Championships the way Tom Osborne did, thus these fans over-reacted and subsequently hurt their program with their unreasonable demands.
So the question is — which IS the right way to address this as Oregon Die-hards? Fire a coach and the new one brings in a completely new staff to cleanse things of the “old” way of doing things? What happens to the strength of Duck Football over the years in the continuity of coaches in Eugene? As fans — could we save the program or destroy it?
We just learned from FishDuck.com History Writer Joey Holland, that Coach Helfrich had the best first year record of any Head Coach at Oregon, and yes — better than Chip’s! He lost the Stanford game, as did Chip, but perhaps Mark’s learning curve emerged in the only other loss, to Arizona.
My friends, that is not much of a step back for Helfrich to be learning how to be a Head Coach for the first time, as Chip took more licks during his first year in 2009. Two of the biggest weapons on offense for Coach Helfrich — in Colt Lyerla and De’Anthony Thomas — were MIA the majority of the season, yet we witnessed an explosion on offense and a scoring machine that showed much more balance than any time under Coach Kelly.
It struck many of us as odd how Coach Nick Aliotti was much more vocal than years past — to the point of having to make a public apology to our team and the opposition. Was Coach Helfrich dealing with other internal issues unknown to the rest of us in his first year?
Throw an injured QB into the mix and we begin to re-access the coaching job that this newbie performed as he and his rookie Offensive Coordinator Scott Frost, struggled with the nuances of the Red Zone Offense. This is tough stuff if you’ve never been in the Big-Chair before, but this was clearly NOT a Lambright-level drop off.
Coach Helfrich explained in a recent interview how “part of our brand is innovation,” thus I would expect to see improvement in many areas of the offense this fall. Chip Kelly demonstrated in the NFL how you can have an immobile QB, and still run plays that attack a defense from four or five directions.
I anticipate seeing more of those this fall to diminish the need for our QBs to become a running threat, and hence, exposure to injury. The concept of these packaged plays with multiple methods of attack began to materialize later in this last season, and I believe was a tremendous adjustment that few fans understood or gave the coaching staff credit for. We know how players improve enormously from their first game to the second, and I am looking for Coach Helfrich to improve in his second year, just as Chip did (2010 WAS a memorable season).
As I ponder the job that Mark Helfrich has done, I reflect upon the other aspects of his job such as the hiring of assistant coaches. His hires last year of Matt Lubick (receivers) and Ron Aiken (DL) were recognized as home-run hires, while his hires this year may have raised some eyebrows.
I personally listened to a presentation given by Eric Chinander – the Ducks’ new OLB/Drop End coach – a few years ago and came away asking, “who IS that guy” as I did not know him, but was extremely impressed with his confidence and expertise. The new DC hire — Don Pellum – has puzzled many, but given Mark’s track record with hiring thus far, I expect to see good things on defense this fall.
Coach Helfrich’s aggressiveness in recruiting allowed us to maintain the high standard we had under Coach Kelly; many wanted more from this last group of recruits, but the fact remains that this class is as good as any under Chip Kelly. This component of coaching is so vital to any program, as recruiting is one of the first places to see decline and send a program downward, as we witnessed to the north.
Mark is the first Oregon coach to take the entire staff on the road to visit recruits as a group, and the first Oregon coach to respond to the trend of recruits deciding sooner by offering scholarships for a future year before signing the current year LOIs. His energy in this area has been remarkable, and the trend bodes well for this coming year.
Fans of Oregon have been adjusting to their new “elite” status in the college football world over the past four years as they learn what the big-boys have known for a long time. Great coaches at college football powers often go to the NFL or retire, and this is another major aspect of being in the rarefied air of the elites that Duck fans must react to.
As our program continues to succeed, our coaches are natural targets for other programs, and learning to accept the “new guy” might become a more usual occurrence than at any other time in the life of a typical Oregon Duck fan.
Many Christians are going through a period of “Lent” where we turn inward to examine our soul, and make sacrifices during this period leading up to Easter. Are Oregon fans going through their own examination of conscience at this time? How will this dynamic be settled internally for most followers of Oregon Football? Are YOU ready to forgive Mark Helfrich and give up Chip Kelly for Lent?
The future of Oregon football could depend upon it.