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Scott’s Turf: Is Mark Helfrich a Better Recruiter Than Chip Kelly?

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Scott’s Turf: Is Mark Helfrich a Better Recruiter Than Chip Kelly?

Scott Reed
Reported by Scott Reed on July 1, 2014
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Scott’s Turf: Is Mark Helfrich a Better Recruiter Than Chip Kelly?

Is Mark Helfrich a better recruiter than Chip Kelly? That question has slowly crept into the minds of Duck recruiting fanatics as the early commitments have seemingly poured in over the last few weeks. Earlier this week, writing for Duck Sports Authority, I talked about the change in early commitments not being significantly different for the Ducks. At the time I wrote that, the Ducks had eight early commitments for the 2015 recruiting class. While that is more than average for Oregon, it was not a significantly higher number.

greatwood1

Offensive line coach Steve Greatwood has benefited from Helfrich’s recruiting changes.

Then, a surprise. The commitment of Missouri’s number one rated prospect for 2015, Alex Ofodile, a 6-1, 201 lb. wide receiver, came from out of the blue. Though he had been lightly discussed as a true Oregon prospect, an unofficial visit last week, which escaped the radar of all the major recruiting services, suddenly led to a surprise commit for the Ducks. And then the question was raised: Is Mark Helfrich a better recruiter than Chip Kelly?

Answering that is a very difficult task. First, defining the term “better” is a nebulous chore which almost assuredly leads to disagreements. Nonetheless, we will at least look at the advantages and disadvantages of the two coaches.

Kelly had an aura about him that Helfrich is unlikely to acquire. Kelly was a larger-than-life personality whose “mad scientist” approach rocked the core of college football. Ask Nick Saban and Brett Bielema who, protestations to the opposite notwithstanding, were deeply committed to changing the rules of college football. Kelly’s “blur” pace stuck in their craw. While that aura got Kelly into quite a few more living rooms than he might have otherwise landed, the recruiting itself was not something Kelly enjoyed. He wanted to be that mad scientist, not the glad hander.

Chip Kelly plotting his next move

Kevin Cline

Chip Kelly plotting his next move.

In addition, as part of his mad scientist approach, Kelly was a micro-manager. Nothing, and I mean nothing, was done within the program without Kelly’s approval and that included scholarship offers. Kelly insisted on reviewing every scholarship offer.

That is incredibly time consuming. While the Oregon vetting process for making offers is highly regarded as one of the most thorough around, it was slowed by this micro managing. In an age when more and more kids are making their decisions early, this is a dangerous game of recruiting chicken.

Helfrich has relinquished some of that control, putting a little more trust in his assistant coaches. This doesn’t mean that the assistants have full autonomy, but they do have a little more flexibility in making offers. They also have the ability to do some of that vaunted vetting process on their own rather than having to wait for the head man to get around to each potential recruit. This is enabled by preset standards established by Helfrich in conjunction with one of the longest-tenured staffs in college football. This kind of trust has seen offensive line coach Steve Greatwood flourish on the early recruiting trail. With five commitments in his group already, Greatwood has set an example to be envied by every assistant coach on staff.

Helfrich has another major advantage in that he enjoys recruiting. He enjoys going into a home, establishing the relationships with the family and making lasting connections.  Family and their opinions matter. This is not a necessary evil in his mind, it is the whole point of college football.

College football is steeped in tradition. With all of the television money and huge coaching contracts, we sometimes lose sight of the real value and purpose of college football: taking boys and helping develop them into strong men. Along the way they learn the values of hard work, dedication and teamwork. This is why college football exists and it is something Helfrich values more than any plays he can draw up in a meeting.

De'Anthony Thomas was one of the major recruiting coups of the Kelly years

Kevin Cline

De’Anthony Thomas was one of the major recruiting coups of the Kelly years.

Chip Kelly built a mini-legacy of stealing super-star players late in the recruiting process. Players like De’Anthony Thomas, Bralon Addison and Josh Huff were a few late steals who had been committed elsewhere.

Helfrich has proved no slouch in that category either securing a late commit from Cameron Hunt in 2013 or the even later commitment for the 2014 class of Eddie Heard. Helfrich has not landed the consensus five-star player — yet. Nonetheless, he has taken the recruiting momentum built by nearly a decade of brand improvement nationwide and expanded upon that base. The Ducks have landed early commitments from Georgia  and Missouri as well as the No. 2 player from the State of Washington.

All of this does little, of course, to answer the question as to which of the two is the better recruiter. If we base it on who had the highest rated class, that distinction goes to Kelly’s 2011 recruiting class widely regarded as the best Oregon class ever.

Despite that numerical success, Helfrich has taken the recruiting head on. He has changed a lot of the methodology and is working very hard to change the way Oregon recruits — again. Helfrich enjoys the process more and is likely to make stronger ties with the families.

Coach Mark Helfrich leading the way

Cliff Grassmick

Coach Mark Helfrich leading the way.

Helfrich has one other advantage in recruiting: a lack of rumors. For nearly the entire tenure of Chip Kelly, from that first star-crossed season as offensive coordinator through his rapid rise to the hottest coaching commodity this side of the SEC, the rumors surrounding his inevitable departure were always a weapon against the Ducks in recruiting wars. No such rumors will follow Helfrich on the recruiting trail. I think it is well established by Hefrich’s own words that, for him, Oregon football truly is the pinnacle. He is not leaving for the NFL; he is not leaving Eugene for the “bigger fish” job. He is at Oregon as long as they will have him. Trust me, that is a strong selling point.

Stability. And that may be the biggest difference right now. Hefrich is now synonymous with stability at Oregon.

Is Mark Helfrich a better recruiter? Impossible to say. He does, however, enjoy the process more. And that comes through in living rooms. In the long run that may lead to even more success as a recruiter. It is too early to claim Helfrich is a better recruiter, but with time on his side, this may end up as more of a rhetorical question than intended.

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About Author
Scott Reed

Scott ReedScott Reed has been a fan of the Ducks from his first days listening to Wendy Ray in 1974 on a scratchy AM radio from Oakridge; forty long years of fandom. He has been a long time contributor to Duck Sports Authority and stumbled into formal writing about the Duck program in 2011 when he looked at the “other side” of the Will Lyles investigation. Long known as “Ducks39” on message boards, he branched deeper into writing for Duck Sports Authority covering games and recruiting for the last four seasons. Scott works for Roush Industries in Portland as the Operations Supervisor. He received a Bachelor of Science in Management from the University of Oregon in 1994 with honors. Scott is also a long time power lifter who spent time as an Assistant Strength Coach at the University of South Dakota. He and his wife live in Beaverton. Scott has two grown sons and two step-sons. In what spare time he has left, he likes to read philosophy and lift weights.View all posts by Scott Reed →


 

 

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  • Ned Knees

    So are you using poppers or stink bait? I’ve heard that running a freeway rig with a 5oz weight works well. Try to focus on obstructions and mixed areas. If you pass the flats and get into the sticks and channels, you’ve gone a little too far. I totally agree with this piece, keep the advice coming!

    • Paul Morgan

      This is so absurdly out of place it’s brilliant.

    • 1pac12fan

      Beautiful! I couldn’t agree more. Such a precise and well stated argument for this piece. LOL!!!!

    • Scott Reed

      I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about

    • Godux

      I argee with everything except the placement of this post, even in the local Maine lakes I fish. However, why fish for bass when you can haul in lakers?

  • Jon Sousa

    Wait a few more years and the answer will be obvious.

    • Scott Reed

      I agree, just a fun topic with all of the early commitments this year. Hence this last sentence: “It is too early to claim Helfrich is a better recruiter, but with time
      on his side, this may end up as more of a rhetorical question than
      intended.”

  • Lane MacLeod

    Better recruiter? Possibly, but no where near the coach!

    • SeattleDuck

      Because…?

      • Godux

        I’d urge my new coach to watch the what, rather than question the ‘because’ if I was a Husky fan (never happen) :)
        That being said, I think that’s what’ll happen up there.

    • 1pac12fan

      Time will decide how good a coach and recruiter Helf is. 2015 will reveal more accurately the answer to these questions.

    • Michael Oaks

      11-1 is not too shabby. Apparently the players don’t agree with you, they help do a lot of recruiting for the ducks also. So, “no where near the coach” is pretty harsh!

      • Scott Reed

        To be fair, the team was 10-2 losing to Stanford and Arizona

      • MAITAIDUCK

        Agree about not being too shabby, and I believe Helfrich will be the 1st HC in the history of this program to WIN the NATTY. Oregon isn’t going anywhere besides their winning ways. Thay have possibly the BEST Coaching staff in the whole country. If Marcus wouldn’t of had the injury the Ducks probably play FSU in the NATTY. This years Team barring any significant injury’s is actully probably the most Talented Team on both sides of the Ball to ever wear the GREEN. Seems like people also forgot about a few players that brought some NEGATIVITY into the Locker room, and in College no coach should have to be worrying about star players saying STUPID QUOTE’S to Writers or their Teammates. Helfrich is a VERY Intelligent MAN. He will get the job done.

        • maddogsfavsnpiks

          Maitaiduck writes : “If Marcus (hadn’t been injured) the Ducks probably play FSU in the NATTY”.
          Every top 10 team that didn’t get there has their “ifs”, Maitai. And like most shoulda-coulda-wouldas, “ifs” are just excuses for those in denial about their team’s failures, about getting flat-out beat.
          Marcus’s injury (at least the one I saw) didn’t come until well into the 2nd half vs Stanford, when the Tree was already dominating and *shutting out* the feathery, web-footed ones.
          That’s a goose egg.. umm.. make that a duck egg for a team that up til then was averaging 55 points per game !! Time to give credit where credit is due to the Cardinal D.
          Meanwhile, the Tree OL dominated. Admit it. Donald couldn’t stop it on multiple occasions when the “Chips” were down, and MM doesn’t play D anyway.
          In fact, it was the Tree’s swarming D that caused the injury — 3 very large men surrounding him, all over him, Parry@303lbs, Lancaster@232lbs (Skov’s back up), and Tarpley@237lbs, that’s alotta lumber, causing a fumble, and in the scramble his knee was strained.
          To MarioTA’s credit, he and some others led a spirited come-back (despite Huff’s premature tears) when they got a break with the blocked FG turning into a duck TD, but in the end, it was too little, too late. And from what I saw, Hogan out-played the Heisman frontrunner.
          Two years in a row is no fluke.
          Seeya Nov 1st, in Duckville.
          No excuses. Man.. ur…uhh… Duck up !

      • maddogsfavsnpiks

        Helfrich’s record is 11 – 2. Loss #1 = Stanford. Loss #2 = Arizona. And that’s not “shabby” at all, unless your expectations are blown way outta proportion.

    • Godux

      Way to early to judge him as a coach. I think he learned enough from Kelly and will add his own understanding to produce and even better team. I will grant he would not have brought as much to the team as Kelly did, if he started when and where Chip did when he was hired as OC.

  • Michael Oaks

    I too think it’s too early to tell! First of all Chip brought success beyond words to the University of Oregon but the writer failed to mention that he didn’t do it on his own, his other coaches did the job also. Now that Oregon’s offense is pretty well established and regarded as fun to watch and that fact is far reaching. Comments from as far away as the east coast has solidified that fact. Coach Kelly was the touchstone for this offense, Coach Helfrich I suppose learned from Chip! and was the reason why Helf stated upon being named head coach after Chip’s departure, “if it ain’t broke, why fix it”? Helf has continued the exciting brand of ball enough so to land the ducks in a pretty fair bowl his first year. This year there are no “can the guy coach” questions out there, so when the name “Oregon” shows up on a high profile recruits list of schools, it is no accident, Long exposure started by Chip, and carried forward by Helf, plus the stability of assistant coaches, in my opinion makes the University of Oregon a destination not to be taken lightly. Sure, there is the “tweet” by Black Momba about how Coach Kelly used him differently than coach Helf, but I can’t help but think that Momba had never been hurt until his ankle sprain that sidelined him this past year. But it seemed to me that Momba became a little gun shy after his first ever ‘side-lining’ ankle injury. I personally didn’t notice that Momba was used any differently all that much. Go Ducks!

    • Godux

      Momba’s size limited the ways in which he could be used. The injury highlighted it. He’ll be much more effective, in the NFL, as a receiver than as a runner. He’ll be used even more ‘differently’ there, probably about like Mark used him.

  • Godux

    At this point, it looks like Helf could challenge that 2011 class with his first real go at it. Last year. when Chip thankfully departed, he had little other than the splash and his offense in his favor. The staff had to spend valuable time to mount a well planned shotgun effort to keep all of the recruits who bought into Chip, as much as they did the program. Had Kelly stayed I kind of think the penalty for recruiting ‘problems’ might have been a little harsher, and we’d be fighting innuendo. if not truth, about his practices. The recruits would be hearing they might not be bowl eligible for their entire stay.
    This year he can point to MM’s injury as the only significant barrier to last years ‘failure’ to be in the national championship game, though I think there might have been more. What I call the USC syndrome, when you recruit such great classes the team becomes hard to coach because it already thinks it is at the peak, might have begun to infect the team.
    The stability at the head coach you point to is going to be a major advantage, a la Penn State until the explosion. Gone is the highlighting of ‘s ‘almost going to the NFL’ the year before he went. There was a lot of truth in that presentation by other recruiters.
    Beyond that, Helfrich is a more personable guy, more of a soft sell salesman in the living room, rather than a big name, taking a moment (and probably, effectively, not much more) to deliver his high pressure spiel. Just the fact that he insisted commitment was an end to the recruiting process for the athlete showed a more ‘me’ than ‘you’ approach. He didn’t want to have to come back to secure the deal. Helf showed last year that he would be back to mend relationships, secure them.
    With much of the football world adapting Kelly’s high intensity in practice and on the field, recruiting Oregon style guys is getting tougher, yet the staff has continued to bring in the speed they need to run it. I think the Oregon track program and football player success, along with the baseball and basketball team establishing themselves near the tops of their sports is added juice to offer multisport (which translates to multi position) talent.
    Possibly the QB position is a plug and play spot in Oregon’s game style, but Marcus has set a new level of the guy who needs to be plugged in, That none of Oregon’s QB’s have made a splash in the NFL (yet) seems evidence of that. Helfrich has kept, then brought in those players, or at least seems to have.
    As to Chip’s vetting process, I can’t say he was a master of that when I look at some of the off the field and on the field problems with his players during his tenure. Cudos to the string of not losing players to academic standards in his incoming classes but, other than that, he didn’t show himself to being great at vetting. We’ll see how Helf does. It’s a tough go with today’s athletes whose heroes and mentors too often end up in court or disgraced rightfully or wrongly. By taking all of the responsibility by the head man, other coaches may begin to think of it as less their job to supervise the standards.
    That Pellum was able to bring his linebacker cadre disciplinary standard to the entire defense, possible the entire team, under Helfrich, but not under Kelly is a real good sign of group management. Helfrich, among others, noticed Pellum’s standard but never pushed it, possibly because it had to Chip’s idea to begin with. His whole approach might have been a little too much ‘hurry up’, something great on the field but dangerous in the organization.
    To me, the Helfrich was a golden hire, providing that one addition to the Oregon image, the earlier mentioned stability, that is needed to keep the program at the top. Nobody else in the conference has it, except OSU. That will make the biggest difference, in the long run, among the intangibles which effect recruiting and add a little edge to it.
    What he does in living rooms, as well as on the field, remains to be seen but the early indications are good.
    Win the day was the right attitude and shouldn’t be dropped but emphasis on how it is done is going to add to the image, which will bring recruits into the fold. I think Helf puts a little more into the entire package rather than just the mechanics than Kelly did. I have to wonder how much more approachable Chip was to the players than he was to the press. I think Mark completes that, which makes him a better recruiter in the long run.

  • Godux

    At this point, it looks like Helf could challenge that 2011 class with his first real go at it. Last year. when Chip thankfully departed, he had little other than the splash and his offense in his favor. The staff had to spend valuable time to mount a well planned shotgun effort to keep all of the recruits who bought into Chip, as much as they did the program. Had Kelly stayed I kind of think the penalty for recruiting ‘problems’ might have been a little harsher, and we’d be fighting innuendo. if not truth, about his practices. The recruits would be hearing they might not be bowl eligible for their entire stay.
    This year he can point to MM’s injury as the only significant barrier to last years ‘failure’ to be in the national championship game, though I think there might have been more. What I call the USC syndrome, when you recruit such great classes the team becomes hard to coach because it already thinks it is at the peak, might have begun to infect the team.
    The stability at the head coach you point to is going to be a major advantage, a la Penn State until the explosion. Gone is the highlighting of ‘s ‘almost going to the NFL’ the year before he went. There was a lot of truth in that presentation by other recruiters.
    Beyond that, Helfrich is a more personable guy, more of a soft sell salesman in the living room, rather than a big name, taking a moment (and probably, effectively, not much more) to deliver his high pressure spiel. Just the fact that he insisted commitment was an end to the recruiting process for the athlete showed a more ‘me’ than ‘you’ approach. He didn’t want to have to come back to secure the deal. Helf showed last year that he would be back to mend relationships, secure them.
    With much of the football world adapting Kelly’s high intensity in practice and on the field, recruiting Oregon style guys is getting tougher, yet the staff has continued to bring in the speed they need to run it. I think the Oregon track program and football player success, along with the baseball and basketball team establishing themselves near the tops of their sports is added juice to offer multisport (which translates to multi position) talent.
    Possibly the QB position is a plug and play spot in Oregon’s game style, but Marcus has set a new level of the guy who needs to be plugged in, That none of Oregon’s QB’s have made a splash in the NFL (yet) seems evidence of that. Helfrich has kept, then brought in those players, or at least seems to have.
    As to Chip’s vetting process, I can’t say he was a master of that when I look at some of the off the field and on the field problems with his players during his tenure. Cudos to the string of not losing players to academic standards in his incoming classes but, other than that, he didn’t show himself to being great at vetting. We’ll see how Helf does. It’s a tough go with today’s athletes whose heroes and mentors too often end up in court or disgraced rightfully or wrongly. By taking all of the responsibility by the head man, other coaches may begin to think of it as less their job to supervise the standards.
    That Pellum was able to bring his linebacker cadre disciplinary standard to the entire defense, possible the entire team, under Helfrich, but not under Kelly is a real good sign of group management. Helfrich, among others, noticed Pellum’s standard but never pushed it, possibly because it had to Chip’s idea to begin with. His whole approach might have been a little too much ‘hurry up’, something great on the field but dangerous in the organization.
    To me, the Helfrich was a golden hire, providing that one addition to the Oregon image, the earlier mentioned stability, that is needed to keep the program at the top. Nobody else in the conference has it, except OSU. That will make the biggest difference, in the long run, among the intangibles which effect recruiting and add a little edge to it.
    What he does in living rooms, as well as on the field, remains to be seen but the early indications are good.
    Win the day was the right attitude and shouldn’t be dropped but emphasis on how it is done is going to add to the image, which will bring recruits into the fold. I think Helf puts a little more into the entire package rather than just the mechanics than Kelly did. I have to wonder how much more approachable Chip was to the players than he was to the press. I think Mark completes that, which makes him a better recruiter in the long run.