Like It or Not, the Pressure Is on for Mark Helfrich

After just one season in which his team posted an .846 winning percentage, Mark Helfrich is under significant pressure from many fans who doubt his ability to lead the Oregon Ducks to a national title.

Such is the life of a head coach of a perennial top-ranked program.

The intense scrutiny is nothing new for Helfrich, who inherited the impossible task of replacing a coach — Chip Kelly — who led the Ducks to four consecutive BCS appearances and three Pac-12 championships. In his first season in charge of the program, two losses (one of which was to a team that nearly won a second straight Rose Bowl) soured many fans’ opinions of the new head coach.

Helfrich is entering his second year at the helm.

Kevin Cline

Helfrich is entering his second year at the helm of the Ducks.

Many believe that Helfrich doesn’t possess the control over the program Kelly once had. It’s easy to point to things such as his sideline body language or the infamous Rose Bowl comments made by Josh Huff and De’Anthony Thomas last season to argue that Helfrich doesn’t have a strong grasp on the program.

However, it’s just not that simple.

It’s unfair to expect anyone to match the dominating personality that Kelly had in his four years as the head man. The success of soft-spoken football coaches such as Tony Dungy, proves that it isn’t always necessary to have a demonstrative, boisterous head coach.

Even if Helfrich did have a loud personality, it would have been impossible for him to fully reveal it last season. Sticking with the same theme, remnants of the Kelly era, were still prominent last season. Helfrich was coaching a team of players that he, although playing a key role, did not recruit. Furthermore, it would be a major challenge for anyone to completely reign in the senior leaders on the team, many of whom had been in Eugene for four years and were the last of the group of players who had any real contribution to the national title game appearance.

With these players graduated, Helfrich can have a greater influence on the program. Nonetheless, the coach realizes that he will only have complete control of the program in a couple of years when his own recruits begin sliding into starting positions.

“There is another coach in this conference that told me when I first got hired that you won’t feel comfortable for two and half years, and I was shocked by that,” Helfrich said at the Pac-12 Media Day. “But I kind of understand what he meant.”

Fair or not, the pressure to win this year is exponentially larger than when he first took the reigns. Despite much speculation about their first-round draft potential, players such as Marcus Mariota, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, and Hroniss Grasu each returned for a final season with the Ducks.

With these three presumably gone after this season, Oregon’s national title window could close — at least until this year’s freshman talent and incoming recruits develop.

Logic would assume that if the Ducks don’t finally grab a national title this season, it would be wise to wait and enjoy the development of Helfrich’s own recruits for only then can his work be properly assessed.

This isn’t logic, however. It’s college football.

As such, if Helfrich is unable to lead the Oregon Ducks to a National Championship this year, his seat will become progressively hotter with each passing season without a ring.

Top Photo by Kevin Cline

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Jack Heffernan

Jack Heffernan

Jack is a journalism student at the University of Oregon. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Jack has been interested in sports journalism since middle school. He wrote for his high school newspaper, as well as two high school sports websites (prep2prep and Patch). In college, Jack covered both high school and college sports for Lane Today. He aspires to be a beat reporter covering a major professional sports team.

  • Douglas Fur ’74

    What has stuck with me from stories about Chip Kelly’s hiring is Coach Belloti’s comment that Kelly was where the Ducks wanted to be on the spread learning curve and that he was hired to teach the Ducks a specific skill set. Maybe he was just that, an outsider brought in for a specific purpose who has moved on. He was a step up for the program and the program was a step up for him. Quid pro quo et fini. Now we’re back to normal, building on a program that was successful before Kelly and that will continue to be successful.
    The idea that Helfrich is not good enough assumes that the people that hired him are idiots or just gave him the job for old times sake. Yet they were the same people who built a successful program and hired Kelly. It doesn’t add up.
    DRB ’74

    • rcs410

      Disagree. They were okay coaches who stayed together and had marginal success. They hired a coach in Kelly who broke away from their conventions (which led to okay teams, but nothing amazing) and Kelly has shown that if Oregon hires smart in the future they will be rewarded for it. Oregon’s brand has made them a destination just as much as Kelly, and I think these coaches are getting a fair shot right now, but they hardly fit the mold for what Oregon needs. A top ten coach is a top ten coach regardless of personal history. Briles or Rodriguez fits Oregon much better than Helfrich does, and that’s becoming blatantly apparent.

      So no, there is no back to normal. As long as Oregon markets “tradition doesn’t change, champions do” “normal” doesn’t exist. They get with the times or they get left behind in the dust, it’s as cut and dried as that.

      • Joseph

        Do you mean Rich Rodriguez? Are you joking? That is one of the dumbest things I have ever heard. Rich Rod is an average coach at best. He is consistently overrated for having a few good seasons with WVU. Please never comment again.

        • rcs410

          Yes, he must be an average coach to dominate Oregon 42-16. You possess such an acumen for argumentation, it seems, as you let a feeble emotional connection to the status quo translate to my more rational argument and then tell me that I can never comment again. It’s odd how I’m more acceptable of your opinion – seeing as you argue so poorly – than you are of mine. I wonder why that is?

      • Douglas Fur ’74

        Given that MH isn’t a top ten coach, what’s your prediction for the season? I’d put my money on losses to MSU and UCLA ,beating Stanford, beating UCLA for the championship and making the play-offs.
        How does the season look to you?
        DRB ’74

        • rcs410

          I’d say that’s a very likely scenario. I think there is probably three to four losses (max). I’m sort of thinking the Ducks could beat MSU and lose to UCLA and Stanford, but it also sort of feels like another road game could be a loss. At Utah seems like a likely candidate for that. The coaches do make the team, and they were not prepared at all at the end of the last year, which they caught heat for. And they should, as anyone should’ve at Oregon, Stanford, UCLA or USC. Making the playoffs might be tough, as a lot of teams could go with one loss nationally.