Helfrich: The Human One

Mark Helfrich 2, Spring Game,14,KC
Coach Kelly

Gary Breedlove

Coach Kelly

Many people liked to talk about Chip Kelly by describing him as very cold and dry. Many would compare him to Bill Belichick, with his often short, to-the-point answers and dry wit. On top of this Kelly is known for being very businesslike in his management of his football program, maybe even somewhat aloof at times. And even though they were winning, it seems there have always been murmurings about how Kelly drives players too hard at practice, especially late in the year.

Now, I just want to explain this isn’t trashing Kelly; the man is a great coach and helped make Oregon what it is today, but these are the complaints people had about him. You can’t say the same things about Mark Helfrich, however.

Where Kelly was usually very dry at press conferences, Helfrich often jokes openly. Likewise the football program has evolved more toward Helfrich’s personality. Helfrich does something Kelly was known for not doing — asking for input from his players. Because of this, Helfrich heard his players’ concerns and scaled back practices some in order to keep his team fresh for the end of the season. On top of this, the environment and atmosphere has changed a bit; as Oregon’s offensive coordinator Scott Frost said, ”I think there’s more enjoyment and laughing in our football building than almost any football building in the country.” This enjoyment and ability for the team to have fun, along with the players being fresher, has led to Oregon’s unparalleled sense of camaraderie; out-teamed them indeed.

Coach Helfrich

Kevin Cline

Coach Helfrich

But don’t let Helfrich’s leaning toward being a players coach mislead you. The man is an outstanding coach. It would have been easy for him to keep running the same exact playbook that Kelly used, and just kind of phone it into 10 wins and a bowl game every year. Instead, Helfrich has continued innovating and evolving the Oregon offense. One of the biggest differences under Helfrich has been the balance of the offense, with the passing game not being an afterthought or only a change of pace the way it sometimes was under Kelly. The only question about that passing focus: is it strictly taking advantage of Marcus Mariota’s ability, or is this a concerted effort to balance out the offense? That question will soon be answered, as this is likely to be Mariota’s last year as an Oregon Duck.

For all the talk and notoriety Kelly gets, Helfrich could very soon do something his predecessor never did; win a championship game. If our beloved Ducks do beat Ohio State for the championship, who’s to say in a few years we won’t be talking about Kelly as “the guy who was here before Helfrich?”

Top Photo by Kevin Cline

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Noah Smith

Noah Smith

Noah is an undergraduate student from just outside of New Orleans, Louisiana. Noah is currently pursuing a communications degree with the goal of becoming a sports journalist. Noah is a die hard Duck fan, mainly because of his obsession with football's X's and O's. In his free time he enjoys watching both pro and college football games,playing and listening to music, and drawing up his own playbooks.

  • maddog48

    Sorry, but I am not a Helfrich fan when it comes to his announcement to disipline thos players who chanted “no means no”. Helfrich is either a martinet like Kelly, or he doesn’t care about sex crimes committed by athletes. There should be no discipline imposed on those players who protested Winston’s off the field actions.

    • Jon Sousa

      Disagree. The Men of Oregon should be encouraged to stand up to sex crimes, but there is an appropriate time, place, and way to do it. This is a teaching moment and I trust MH to do the right thing.

      • maddog48

        Sorry, but the University of Oregon and its athletic department is a public institution. Therefore it is subject to the First Amendment.. If Helfrich is punishing these players for exercisiing their freedom of speech, it is Helfrich who is out of line. We can disagree about the place where the players exercised their right to speak out on a significant issue, but the fact is they have that right whether Helfrich, or you, like it.

        • Noah James Smith

          They have that right, but just as an employer has the right to fire you for making statements that reflect poorly on a company a coach has the right to penalize his players for saying things that make the team look bad. The coach is right to punish players on character and being classless. Just glad the punishment came from Helfrich and not the NCAA.

          • maddog48

            You obviously do not understand the First Amendment. It does not apply to a private employer. That’s why your employer can fire you for statements you make. We are talking about speech here, not criminal acts. Neither Helfrich or the University of Oregon is a private employer. What the players said was absolutely correct with respect to Winston and they should not be punished for it.

    • Noah James Smith

      I agree with the internal punishment even though I found the whole thing funny. It was lacking a certain amount of class and it made the team look bad in the public eye. I’m just glad it was internal punishment and not the NCAA taking action.

  • dogucks

    I found the chant “No Means No” to be quite funny…but definitely tasteless. We, as Oregon, need to be above that. You lose with class. You win with class. Over 3/4 of FSU players didn’t shake hands before going into the locker rooms. Winston, in his interview after losing, stated that Oregon couldn’t stop him and didn’t give Oregon any credit for the beatdown. We do need to stoop to their level. I have no problem with Helfrich disciplining our guys internally. If he didn’t do or say anything regarding the matter, I would actually question Helfrich’s leadership. GO DUCKS! #WonNotDone #OneMoreWin

    • Noah James Smith

      Same here, I’m glad Helrich said something about it even though I found it hilarious myself. I hope the punishment wasn’t anything more than some extra wind sprints or something though, nothing too severe.

  • Nate

    While i loved Mike Bellotti and Chip Kelly, I have been taken with Helfrich’s deportment in the interviews I have seen and with his side-line affect; that and the individual player’s stories of their experience on this incredible football team show that there are special people leading this group. Mark comes across to me as a guy who is emotionally mature, and EQ is the #1 indicator of success in life. He doesn’t take himself too seriously; he’s smart and talented, but not full of himself; he’s calm and unflappable and he is task-focused. Listen to what he talks about during his half-time speeches and how people describe the half-time talks. It is not stirring rah-rah Knute Rocke speeches about giving your all.

    As a retired Army officer, I can tell you it is critical for the leader during stressful times to communicate and model calm through his demeanor. Mark does that. He is completely unflappable and it shows in the interviews and more importantly, on the sideline. As a high school soccer coach, I know that I need to focus my guys on things they can control… their task-performance, and to take their eyes off the outcome. If Oregon is going to win against Ohio State, they have to stay task-focused, and play how they know to play. If Oregon plays to their potential, they will play very, very well against Ohio State.

    • Noah James Smith

      All of that is why I think fairly soon Helfrich may be considered one of the top head coaches in College Football. On top of that, Helfrich’s personality lends itself more to Oregon than Chip’s did, with his very down to earth manner.