There are many important factors contributing to the winning tradition of the Oregon Ducks. Some of the more obvious factors are hard to miss. The Ducks have been fortunate enough to have some spectacular players dazzle Autzen Stadium and its fans over the past few years. Names such as Dixon, LaMichael, De’Anthony and that Marcus guy will be ingrained in the minds of the Duck faithful for years.
Yet with the constant influx of top-notch talent, an equally talented coaching staff is imperative for maintaining the winning traditions of Mighty Oregon. Creating a winning environment where players strive to give 100% effort while enjoying themselves is a top priority for Coach Mark Helfrich and the Ducks. This welcoming atmosphere is evident by the annual successful recruiting class full of hungry players trying to leave their mark on the modern day Coliseum that is Autzen Stadium.
Helfrich took the helm as head coach in 2013 after studying diligently under maestro Chip Kelly for four years. With huge shoes to fill and a roster full of talent, it was up to Helfrich to imprint his philosophies on the already-established ways of the Ducks.
A.J. Jacobson of “Ducks Sports Authority” had the chance to interview Defensive Backs Coach John Neal last November about Coach Helfrich. Neal, who is entering his 12th year in the program, attributes much of Helfrich’s success to his intelligence and humility.
“The great thing about Mark is that he has identified with who he wants to be,” states Neal. The transparency Coach Helfrich imprints on his team and builds a strong foundation of trust among the assistant coaches and the players, which is essential in football.
Neal’s thought process regarding upcoming opponents exemplifies the humility that Helfrich instills in the program. “I don’t care what their record is, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care if they have won 11 or lost 11, what I see on film is an opponent who is capable of moving the ball and scoring some points, and that has my full attention.” Neal and Helfrich display a fluid connection and shared mindset that places hard work and strategy at the forefront. The focus that Coach Helfrich demands from his players and coaching staff has played a huge role in his 24-4 record since replacing Kelly.
While Helfrich’s hard-nosed tactics and self-confidence has created success, Coach Neal believes it is his sense of humor that provides a great environment. “Sometimes in the most tense situations, he would make up some funny stuff. As I thought about it, it was perfect timing. Everyone is laughing and getting away from that moment that is going to happen in a few hours.” We all can use comic relief during stressful times, and Coach Helfrich’s ability to lighten the mood before a game creates a relaxed, confident atmosphere that produces winning results.
As fans, we only see a fraction of the strenuous preparation that occurs each week. Yet after gaining insight from Coach Neal, it’s evident that Coach Helfrich has found a balance that ensures his players and staff give their best effort, while still promoting a fun environment where everyone looks forward to contributing.
His self-confidence and “work hard, play hard” philosophy is tangible and infectious. With tough road games this season in East Lansing and Palo Alto, it is essential that Coach Helfrich continues to provide his confident, yet understated leadership.
When he isn’t studying film or devising schemes to score against the top-notch defenses in the country, you may find Helfrich practicing his stand-up routine for open mic nights at Tsunami Bookstore on 25th and Willamette.
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Top Photo by Gary Breedlove