Can You FORGIVE Mark Helfrich?

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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 …

Do fans let it slip this far?

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Do fans let it slip this far?

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?

Getting them ready to score.

From Video

Getting them ready to score.

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.

Oregon HC Mark Helfrich

From Video

Oregon HC Mark Helfrich

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.

Can the fans truly give him up?

From Video

Can the fans truly give him up?

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.

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Charles Fischer

Charles Fischer

Charles Fischer has been an intense fan of the Ducks for thirty years and has written reports on football boards for over a dozen years. Known as “FishDuck” on those boards, he is acknowledged for providing intense detail in his scrimmage reports and in his Xs and Os play analyses. He and his wife Lois, a daughter, Christine, and their dog (Abbie) reside in Eugene, Oregon, where he has been a financial advisor for 30 years serving clients in seven different states. He does not profess to be a coach or analyst, but simply a “hack” that enjoys sharing what he has learned and invites others to correct or add to this body of Oregon Football! See More...

  • hoboduck

    Damn Charles. You really know how to put it into perspective. Now I sit here reevaluating myself regarding things I may have said or not said. I consider myself a die hard fan and still (well into my 60’s) a student of the game but I also on occasion have knee jerk reactions without addressing the issue like fair weather fan who has lost his way.
    If I truly am a die hard fan then I [must] support the team…..the entire team which means the coaches (all of them) and support the decisions made by coaches (all of them) because I surly might not understand why a particular decision was made. YES I can give up my hero CK and move on to the current era of Duck Football.

    I would like to thank you again for writing such an enlightening piece. Nice job Charles.
    Go Ducks WTD

    • FishDuck

      Still Old Duck & hoboduck….

      It is responses like yours that keep me going, and I thank you. It is an issue that I personally have wrestled with and regret some of the things I’ve said in the presence of others–and now trying to work through it.

      I figured other Oregon fans might be going through it as well, and you confirmed that. Thanks again Guys.

  • SOD

    Charles…WONDERFUL article and spot on, too. I don’t visit here as often as I should; and this article brings that point to the fore.

    Keep it up!

  • Kliff

    I think Helf could grow into a Bellotti-type administrator eventually. He’ll need to find the right offensive coordinator that hides his weaknesses better than Frost does now. But anyone that thinks this program is gaining latitude, or even staying on course, under Mark Helfrich is sorely mistaken.

    I like Helf & Frost. They’re good guys and I’m rooting for them to succeed. However, Helf is just not a strong leader of men and Frost is an average playcaller at best. How long will the country’s top playmakers want to come to Oregon out of high if the Ducks continue to squander their abilities on the field like they did last year with De’Anthony Thomas?

    • SeattleDuck

      Hey Kliff, I think the Belotti comparison is a good one in the sense that, as you said, in his first go-round he has made an effort to put decisions in the hands of his fellow coaches.

      What I’m less onboard with is your assertion that we aren’t “staying the course.” How are you determining that? Recruiting is better than it’s ever been, Oregon lost to Stanford again but dominated a Big 12 opponent in a bowl game (sounds par for the course). Is it the Arizona loss? The Pac-12 has improved drastically. If from only a statistical standpoint, it was bound to happen eventually. Stanford lost to both Utah and SUC.. I mean USC. My point is even the best teams have an off day, and if you were judging the status of the program on the 20 most important factors, 18 would say things are going well (loss to Arizona and fan morale being the two negatives).

    • Oh my god Becky

      Couldn’t of said it better myself! Spot on

  • Casey Fluegge

    Fabulous read, Charles! I’ve never been a coach-basher anyway, but I think it’s ridiculously fickle of some fans to already start dissing Helfrich for “only” going 11-2. The only real shame of last year was the debacle in the desert, and I’ll put that on the players.

  • geoduc

    Excellent article. I do hope we have the grace to let Helfrich grow into the job. I think in some areas he will exceed Chip, such as recruiting. His confidence will grow, his communications skills have already improved, worst thing we could do is not let him find his own path…

  • 1pac12fan

    I am, and have been, critical of Helf and Frost. I like both coaches very much, but, winning has changed how fans look at Oregon. Gone are the days when Bellotti era 9 win seasons are a success. Unfortunately, I, we, have put unrealistic expectations on the new coaching staff. I have a feeling that history will prove this to be a very good head coach…

  • d_king

    Thanks Charles, great article.

  • Leo

    Chip was a better coach. Helf started with a better roster and should be a better recruiter (personality and early recruiting). Dealing with Marcus Mariota’s vs Dennis Dixon injury provides similarity (both teams without a backup at QB position). IMO, Helf success will come down to effectiveness of ‘updated’ system with limited mobility QB keeper i.e. Nick Foles at Philadelphia to keep Mariota healthy all season.