For Oregon football fans, the past season has been a unique time. For starters, in the last season of the BCS era, Oregon’s incredible four-year streak of playing in BCS bowls was snapped. It was also the first year for new head coach Mark Helfrich. While he had the best debut season ever for an Oregon coach, some fans still grumbled at the way the season ended, with losses to Stanford and Arizona.
Now this may just be an assumption on my part, but I noticed that there was a collective angst amongst Duck fans, one that was convinced that the season would have played out differently if Chip Kelly was still the coach. Comparing a new coach to the one he replaced is not uncommon, especially during his first season; however, it’s officially time to drop all Kelly-Helfrich comparisons.
Now I know what you’re going to say, that as long as Helfrich runs a similar offense to what Kelly orchestrated at Oregon, then he could and should be compared to Kelly.
Think of it like a home. If someone builds a home, and then sells it to you, who does the house belong to? The house might be someone else’s vision, but it’s your call if you want to add a pool. The famous Oregon offense and “Win the Day” mentality may have Kelly’s fingerprints all over them, but Helfrich is entering his second year and has made significant changes to the team, notably an increased passing attack. He’s effectively made the team his own.
While all of the upperclassmen on this team originally committed to play at Oregon under Kelly, Helfrich had a hand in bringing them in and keeping them. Take Marcus Mariota, the star quarterback and Heisman hopeful of Oregon. Many know that Mariota was a diamond-in-the-rough type of recruit, receiving scholarship offers only from Oregon and Memphis, along with a late attempt by the Washington Huskies to steal him away with their own offer.
Helfrich was the one who saw the potential in Mariota, a two-star recruit according to ESPN. Helfrich convinced Kelly that they needed to offer a scholarship to a player who wasn’t even starting! Yes, Mariota committed to playing for Kelly, but without Helfrich bringing him in and developing him, Mariota’s future at quarterback may not have had the same trajectory as he is currently enjoying.
That said, bringing players into the program is a team effort. Position coaches and coordinators put just as much — if not more — work into recruiting than the head coach.
Take, for instance, running backs coach Gary Campbell, who has been with the program for more than 30 years. In that time, he has brought in, developed and greatly impacted the lives of countless players. To get a good idea of the kind of impact he has within the program, read this incredibly touching article and try to keep your eyes dry.
Speaking of recruitment, Kelly’s departure allowed any of the then-incoming recruits to switch allegiances to other schools. Players such as Thomas Tyner, Tyree Robinson and Devon Allen were free to play for other teams. Of the 20 potential Ducks, only one decided to not play for Helfrich.
Kelly certainly deserves credit for bringing in current stars such as Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Hroniss Grasu. But keep in mind that his assistants such as Campbell, John Neal and then-Offensive Coordinator Helfrich were just as instrumental in those players’ recruitment and development. Helfrich retained a large portion of the previous recruiting class, and any freshman that contributes this year has been brought in on his watch.
Brand New Job
Everyone has had a first day on the job. While it may be a field you have experience in, no matter who you are, it’s going to take some time to find your bearings.
Last year was Helfrich’s first as a head coach. When transferring from one boss to the next, there’s going to be a bit of an adjustment period. If last season was Helfrich’s time to learn, he did one heck of a job, leading the team to 11 wins and another bowl victory. Just remember that Kelly wasn’t always Chip Kelly — he, too, was once a first-year coach, and his first game was the infamous Boise State defeat.
Overall, I’m not saying that we should lower our expectations for this upcoming season. Oregon brings back a talent-laden team that has a realistic shot of making the inaugural College Football Playoff. I’m also not saying that we should forget about Kelly – he made a significant impact both on and off the coaching field.
I am pointing out that not only is it unfair to continuously compare these two coaches, it’s also a waste of time. Kelly isn’t walking through the door anytime soon, so it’s time to stop lamenting about what could have been. Helfrich is the man with the job, and he’s the man for the job. And as Oregon fans embrace the football program’s mindset of looking ahead, the best way to do that is to accept Helfrich for his own contributions.
Top Photo by Kevin Cline