Coach’s Comments: The Oregon Culture Has Troubling Warning Signs


This was a very difficult article to write, as it runs contrary to my core beliefs about the Mark Helfrich/Oregon coaching situation. But like learning football and sharing it with you over the years, as I come into other opinions that make sense to me, I feel compelled to share them. We don’t know the truth, the inner happenings in the Hatfield-Dowling Complex, but we can begin to piece together items from various sources that make logical sense. Charles Fischer

I called a new coaching consultant who is retiring from coaching as an assistant at a very successful high school program and from his profession outside of coaching. I wanted to learn more about linebacker techniques and what Oregon was or was not implementing correctly. What I got was information that, frankly, stunned me.

While we talked about football, we also mixed in discussions of his business consulting background to give us a better picture of what a winning culture and what strong leadership is all about. For ethical reasons, I will withhold his name, and no, it is not anyone I’ve interviewed before, nor is it anyone who has been on the staff prior to this football season.

Brady Hoke

Kevin Cline

Brady Hoke

Charles: Isn’t the linebacker shoulder technique for taking on a block the same in the 3-4 defense as it is in the 4-3 defense the Ducks are currently running?

Coach: Broad generalizations scare me when applied to specific football situations because coaches work out their own exceptions to those generalizations as part of their overall defensive scheme. That said, the majority of the time that is true and you demonstrated this concept in your linebacker leverage analysis last week.

From the Coach:

“I don’t understand why I see things done differently by the Ducks — especially since I teach sophomores in high school these same techniques, and the linebackers recruited to the Ducks had to have known these techniques in order to excel and get recruited.”

Charles: My concern is that if Oregon decides to clean house on defense, it will extend to the head coach, as well. Mark Helfrich was offensive coordinator and then the Ducks HC over the last six years, and thus the incredible institutional knowledge of the Oregon offense resides within him.

We can’t lose that, as it is the identity of Oregon Football. Bring in a new head coach, and the offense could be in the dumpster next year as the defense currently is! Could it work with Helfrich being retained by the new head coach as offensive coordinator?

Coach: As you know, Oregon opens up the football staff certain times of the year for high school coaches to come ask questions and talk football with the Oregon football staff. It was during one of these open periods that I was part of a group that came to the football offices to learn how to improve our own operations. During that time I was able to personally meet and talk to Coach Mark Helfrich.

My friend....I know how you feel.

Kevin Cline

My friend … I know how you feel.

I have a background as a business consultant for companies right up through Fortune 500-sized, and dealt with a number of business leaders. After spending some time with coach Helfrich (and this was within 18 months of his becoming head coach), I recall wondering, “is this man too nice a guy to lead Oregon as head coach?” I was pondering whether he could retain the winning tradition that had been built at Oregon.

While my son and grandsons could certainly play for the accomplished and deeply principled coach Helfrich in a heartbeat, I fear a significant change in the culture of Oregon football since coach Kelly left. I don’t think a significant number of Kelly’s players would be smiling as they left the field after a 49-point walloping.

If a new HC is sought (and we don’t know all from our perspective), it should be to retain a culture of ownership and pride in football outcomes not demonstrated by all team members after the loss to Washington. To accomplish that culture change, the standard-bearer of the old culture cannot be present in my view.

Charles: Readers, I was blown away by this answer, as it was a gut-punch to me. I have personally loved and learned so much about football by studying what Mark Helfrich has brought to the football world. Chip Kelly’s NFL offense is stagnating (there are many articles out there about that), while Helfrich has continued to innovate the Oregon offense.

I am still undecided about the best course for Oregon football going forward.

From the Coach:

“We can not acquire a sustained competitive advantage in recruiting without a competitive vision. And that’s the boss’s first leadership responsibility, as all else supports it and is secondary.  Therefore, there must not be a reminder to the players and more importantly, to the recruits, and the prospects, of the immediate painful past.” 

Charles Fischer   (FishDuck)
Eugene, Oregon

Top Photo by Kevin Cline

 Disclaimer: Readers: Every writer on is allowed to express his or her opinion in their articles. However, articles do not represent the views of the other writers, editors, coaching consultants, management, or the principals of  — Charles Fischer

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Charles Fischer

Charles Fischer

Charles Fischer has been an intense fan of the Ducks for thirty years and has written reports on football boards for over a dozen years. Known as “FishDuck” on those boards, he is acknowledged for providing intense detail in his scrimmage reports and in his Xs and Os play analyses. He and his wife Lois, a daughter, Christine, and their dog (Abbie) reside in Eugene, Oregon, where he has been a financial advisor for 30 years serving clients in seven different states. He does not profess to be a coach or analyst, but simply a “hack” that enjoys sharing what he has learned and invites others to correct or add to this body of Oregon Football! See More...

  • DonealDuck

    I am sure the AD and boosters are similarly conflicted. Do you try to hold on to the part of the good you have and give time for a good person to hopefully grow into the job or do you quickly get a PJ Fleck before he accepts another of the many coaching vacancies out there now and soon to be in the future?

    Many see change as a gamble. The problem is, it has already changed. Personally i see demonstrated success like a PJ Fleck as less of a gamble. The muddled middle may be the worst place to be. Financial realities may end up being the decision-maker.

    Outside of like Saban and Meyer, there are no guarantees. Chip Kelly’s lack of similar college level success in the NFL, as you already stated, proves that. I am not even positive that Kelly would again have similar level success in college now, as the whole college landscape has changed now in response to or because of Kelly’s Oregon.

    There are obviously huge holes and lack of ‘buy-in’ now in the program. Pharaoh Brown’s tweet Sunday I think was all too indicative of that.

    Is there any Duck fan alive who isn’t happy U of O switched from Kent to Altman, even though Kent had two elite eights on his resume?

    If the Ducks can’t beat Cal (and Cal can be tough at home) on Friday, is it too soon to run a ‘which coaches would you like to see stay or go’ survey column?

    • Your last sentence is an “ouch” to me…and I like your well-reasoned comments. Funny how the Ernie Kent removal was much easier for me than this….and it is probably due to how long Kent had been here.

      Tough stuff.

      • DonealDuck

        It is HARD, because, on the flip-side, Belotti lost 5 games in a row in ’96 and i think every Duck fan is happy he was retained. The problem is, Oregon history at that time was still as a loser to middling program with only one good not great year (’94 RB), not the hugely financially invested, elite record the last 9 years program it is now.

    • Dylan

      It seems obvious to me that Mark Helfrich just doesn’t have “it.” I would be more optimistic than most, seemingly, if Kelly were to come back because I think his biggest strength is his strategic/tactical mind and his ability to find small advantages. Although his struggles in the NFL could indicate that he just had the right system at the right time in college and he’s just as static with it as other coaches are with their schemes. My biggest problem with Kelly would be that I couldn’t trust him to stay around long if he had any success.

      The biggest concern, when I think about a new coach, is maintaining Oregon’s (now-former? ouch) offensive identity. I have to wonder, in the event we bring on a good coach who doesn’t run a similar offense, whether the recruits will still want to come to Eugene.

  • MarcTheDuck

    I have had a hard time making up my mind about which direction to follow too. I like Helfrich – he has good qualities, recruits guys with good qualities and I hear that he knows his Xs and Os (I’m not personally well versed enough to judge that – but a lot of people who are so it’s true). But when he was first select to replace Kelly I thought it was a mistake for the same reason as in the article. I didn’t think he had a field commander personality and I think that it is requisite characteristic of a successful head coach. My gut told me we’d be good for a couple of years after Kelly left, with his guys who he had trained, and then we’d see the effect of Helfrich being HC – which I feared would be a significant fall off… although I didn’t expect this much of a fall off. I have made up my mind now. I don’t think Helfrich has the personality to be a highly successful head coach. I like him, but that’s my feeling about his ability to keep us at or near elite status. I just don’t believe it will happen. And the sooner it is addressed the better for everyone. (I do not mean mid-season, however.)

    • Mike Green

      I think if they still had Frost or Allioti, a midseason change might have happened – because they would have someone to be interim coach

      But now, its going to be dealt with after the season

      How they handle it will effect the recruiting class

  • Platypus

    Is culture established by each university or by each head coach that comes and go’s? The present culture seems to have started under coach Bellotti, Chip Kelly and Nike. There was a distinct change in philosophy and marketing that took place and the changing of that guard brought us the ‘Win the Day’ culture. At what point do you decide that this will be our culture moving forward or continue to innovate and change.

    • Mike Green

      win the day, cheering fans, uniforms…

      ducks won with talent – the other stuff is filler

  • Matt B.

    No easy answers, to be sure. My gut says Oregon is too fearful of evolution and the idea that it will lose its identity. I say the program must evolve to stay relevant. Kelly himself brought a revolution. Few would lament its impact and many lament its loss. Tradition is a wonderful thing but it is also comfortable and dangerous siren. I think we’re in a position were we have to evolve past the Kelly era to compete. Where and how, that’s up for debate.

    Cal is always a tough home adversary and has looked real tough this year. This weekend may provide more tough medicine for Ducks. Saturday is a big test to see how Oregon deals with adversity in a way that is a bit unprecedented as of late.

    • Rod Nelson

      afraid to lose their identity? It’s lost my friend.. there is no longer any consistency! Even the uniforms.. it used to be they all had the same basic theme, just the colors were switched up.. Now other than the colors, i couldnt tell you whether it was an Oregon uniform or not.

  • MarcTheDuck

    Just took a look back at a couple of articles from back in August, before the season began.

    1. A direct quote:
    Oregon haters and the PAC-12 media writers all think the Ducks will finish third in the PAC-12 North this season, behind Stanford and Washington in various order.
    Today the preseason Coaches Poll came out, and picked UO 22nd.
    That is a bunch of decroded Beaver scat.
    [Aside: At the time we were offended. Now we’d all love for that high of a finish!]

    The other was from John Canzano saying this year would be the moment of truth for Mark Helfrich – could he keep the team going…
    [Aside: Guess he was right this time. Wonder what he thinks of AD Mullens?]

    • Mike Green

      Canzano is as right about the ducks as a broken clock – he keeps saying that Oregon football is over – he will never give praise, even if the ducks win a championship

      • bbb

        Got that right… “Clickbait” Canzano has been repeating that mantra since the Kelly years.

        It amazes me at the suddenness of the fall. It is not like the Ducks don’t have talent. One of the things that made Oregon was it’s execution, and execution made Kelly dominant against lesser teams. “Win the Day” from what I know was about excelling in preparation, that translated to excellence in execution – that is how the Ducks were able to do what they did without a stable full of blue chip recruits.

        Now… its like BB King is playing on Lucille… the thrill is gone, and so is the on-field execution.

        I hope the coaching staff can turn it around, otherwise, I don’t see a reason to keep the coaching the same. They have 6 weeks to get it done.

  • Mike Green

    the freshman coach at Parkrose HIgh (in Portland) could win with Alabama’s players…

    When judging a head coach, it is all about recruiting.

    This season, when I watch games on tv, I see the opponents with better defensive linemen – every game except for maybe the first two.

    I see opponents with better QBs, even the Colorado backup outplayed Prukop.

    I see teams covering the duck receivers while their receivers can get open.

    I see Oregon running backs running into a wall, while the opposition’s running backs have a hole that you could drive a truck through.

    The only really, really, really good Oregon players will soon be gone:

    Freeman, Crosby, Carrington – when they leave, ducks will be lucky to go 4-8

    Unless they make a great hire at head coach, its over, its back to non-relevance

    I am thankful for what we had, but I feel that Oregon’s time is done.

    That will make the civil war relevant once again – as the loser will be in last place in the pac12 north.

  • George Nash Khier

    Helfrich innovations the has taken the Ducks in the wrong direction….the offense has lost its tempo, starts slow and sputters. Oregon looks like a different team. Time to consider hiring a energetic innovative head coach who can get the Ducks headed in the right direction, and there some good candidates out there.

  • beautifulportland

    Finally someone that’s not afraid to speak the truth outside of C. Hunt.
    We can not rebuild a winning culture with the current HC, period, it’s not in his blood.

    “We never talk about winning, just improving” MH.