The Past Is the Past: How Chip Kelly Comparisons Are Useless

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.

High-Octane Offense

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.

An increased passing attack lead to Josh Huff having a career year

Photo by Craig Strobeck

More passes thrown by the offense than in the Kelly regime allowed Josh Huff to have a career year.

Kelly’s Players

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.

Recruitment and development is a group effort lead by the coaches

Photo by Cliff Grissmack

Recruitment and development is a group effort led by the coaches.

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.

Mark Helfrich had the foresight to offer Marcus Mariota a scholarship on-spot

Photo by Kevin Cline

Mark Helfrich had the foresight to offer Marcus Mariota a scholarship on the spot.

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

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Steven Holstad

Steven Holstad

Originally from San Diego, Steven decided to take a shot on attending a school over 1000 miles from home, and he’s been happy ever since. Steven graduated from the University of Oregon in 2013, and his passion for sports has followed him into his post-college life. A huge fan of both basketball and football, Steven enjoys incorporating both statistics and his own personal beliefs into his writing. When he’s not watching sports, Steven is currently training for his first half-marathon, and is looking to run a few more in the future. You can follow Steven on Twitter at @StevenHolstad

  • Gary McAuley

    It’s not useful to the football program for Helfrich to carry this monkey on his back called Chip Kelly. The truth is he was a rookie coach last year and certainly can make his bones in years to come IF the fan base will allow it.
    Kelly won an obscene 88% of his games; a feat only 4 other college coaches IN THE ENTIRE HISTORY of college football has duplicated.
    Bellotti won 62% of his games and that’s good enough for the Hall of Fame.
    The good news about Helfrich is he is a native Oregonian and this is the job he really, really wants. That was not true with Chip Kelly who had one foot out the door the last 2 years of his stay at Oregon (which hurt recruiting, by the way).
    If we allow Helfrich the space to grow as a Head Coach it can be an extraordinary additional run to what Bellotti and Kelly cooked up.
    Let the guy breathe.

    • hokieduck

      I concur 100%, Gary. Helfrich had a few bumps in the road last year. I imagine if he had to do it all over, he would change the way he went about some things and some of the playing decisions he made. But all in all, he scampered to a top ten ranking and a good bowl win and did so while dealing with some major injury issues and some personnel problems, shall we call them (although it could well be argued that those personnel problems were due at least in part to his inexperience).

      My biggest concern with Helf last year was he did not seem to have the same in-game adjustment acumen that Chip did; then again, who does? I fully expect him to really grow into the position and I think we will see a much better coach this season than last. More in control of his team.

      I will always, always, always love and follow Chip Kelly and be forever grateful that I got to be a Duck fan during his tenure. There will never be another Chip Kelly. But he hand-picked Helfrich as his successor for a reason. We all need to step back and give him the time and support to make this team his own.

      Go Ducks. WTD.

  • Dan

    I agree, although I believe that Devon Allen was offered after Chip Kelly left for Philly, so technically he is Helfrich’s recruit.

    We should all give Helfrich more time before we judge him. That said, if the program starts to fall off the cliff (non injury related) the AD should be prepared to act quickly and decisively. The question is who else would Oregon be able to land that would be guaranteed to be better than Helfrich & company?

    • Anthony Joseph Gomes

      oregon has always promoted within its ranks and that system has worked well for the last 20+ years. i think uncle phil is sold on chips version of the spread so dont look for the ducks to try and poach nick saban or something. it will never happen.

  • funnytoes

    The issue with rating Helfrich isn’t recruiting, it’s wins. Because of poor scheming last season, Mariota was forced to run a lot more than wise on a team with no replacement of note. The result, of course, was a hobbled QB with disastrous results for a team picked to win the PAC-12 and be a strong contender for the Natty.
    Helfrich used a 170-pound DAT as a RB instead of the TAZR and slot threat he is; that was a massive mistake. Massive.
    Stanford destroyed us by always playing the back, stuffing him, and forcing MM to run or throw. Helfrich never came up with an answer to it and MM couldn’t evade the fleet Cardinal LBs and safeties.
    First year: C+, considering the talent of the team.
    This year, NO excuses about newbie. Helfrich AND Frost better step up because more than a couple other PAC teams have upped their games. If we tread water, the current is going to carry us downstream, and fast.
    No way should ANY team, considering our wealth of offense, be able to stop our run game this year. Period. Seasoned linemen, 2 veteran RBs plus a new Rolls “in the garage” and ready to show off, and veteran TEs. Add to that the fastest WR in the league who shined at the spring game, Dwight Stanford who showed good skills before last season’s injury, and several very promising new guys: we’re loaded.
    NO excuses for the offense this year.

    • Thomas J Brown

      its not the offense we need to worry about…I will take 11-2 forever…a National Championship would be incredible—-but the incredible amount of fortunate events that must happen—-its illogical to think that ONLY [caps suck.. :)] a Natty means success…fans like you worry me

  • Anthony Joseph Gomes

    helfrich went 11-2 last year…i hardly think he has anything to apologize for. still i am unhappy with a few things hes done. i dont like all the players that are transferring out of the ducks system. i dont want to accuse anyone but i suspect he may be too harsh in enforcing discipline. i didnt like using DAT as a running back either but chip did it too the year before. i give helfrich a B+…he could have really fell flat on his face but he has kept the legacy going so far in the face of a lot of pressure…but with players mostly recruited and coached by CK..the master. chip kelly is and was a football genius or near genius…so far what i am seeing with helfrich is a pretty intelligent steady guy with a solid work ethic. bottom line i think oregon football will fall off a little with him at the helm and then the natives will get restless. i hope i am wrong about this. helfrich has some pretty big shoes to fill though…and the real test comes later.

    • hokieduck

      I understand your angst re the transfers, AJG; however, the truth of the matter is that increased student athlete transfers come with being an elite program. Yes, some of the kids leave due to disciplinary issues (and I personally have no problem with that), but others leave because highly sought after recruits come into the program, do not make the starting lineup and decide to leave so as to get playing time elsewhere. In effect, this “problem” is indicative of the success of the program.