Firing Mark Helfrich Is Fool’s Gold

Imagine the horror: your team has patiently built itself from its historically-mediocre origins to become one of the nation’s elite, with a succession of conference titles and high NFL draft picks, when one year suddenly everything falls apart. Your genius coach is gone and his successor is suddenly, after years of riding the coattails, struggling just to post a winning season. No wonder the natives are getting restless.

Coach Shaw smoothing the waters

Craig Strobeck

Coach Shaw smoothing the waters.

I’m speaking, of course, about the 2014 Stanford Cardinal.

It’s easy to forget that while Oregon was busy securing a Heisman Trophy and a second national championship game appearance two years ago, the Cardinal were suddenly questioning everything after a 7-6 regular season. Just one year after winning a second straight conference title in his fourth year at the helm in 2014 (just as Mark Helfrich is this year), head coach David Shaw found himself and his future being openly questioned by Stanford fans who had worshipped him just months earlier. It seemed pretty clear that Shaw was no Jim Harbaugh, and the magic was gone.

A year later, Stanford won the Rose Bowl, with star player Christian McCaffrey finishing second in the Heisman voting.

Don’t get me wrong, my fellow Duck fanatics: I’m worried too. This season has turned out to be Oregon’s worst in more than 20 years, and like you, I’ve wondered with increasing consternation what the future holds. The Ducks have never been a traditional powerhouse with the kind of backyard full of 5-star recruits that has allowed teams such as Alabama, Ohio State and USC to rack up national championships over several eras. It always seemed likely that the Ducks would someday at least decline a little bit, perhaps from Rose Bowls down to Alamo Bowls, as happened in the injury-plagued 2013 and 2015 seasons.

The fact that we’ve been this good for this long – college football’s winningest program from 2010-14 and only one losing season in the last 22 – is a testament to Oregon’s innovation and hutzpah. But suddenly this year it seems the program has potentially taken more than a step backwards. If the Beavers weren’t on the schedule at regular season’s end, I honestly would be wondering if Oregon would win another game this year.

Coach Helfrich greeting Coach Meyer at the National Championship Game

John Guistina

Coach Helfrich greeting coach Meyer at the National Championship Game.

Yet whether it’s the Stanford example above or any number of examples from the Ducks’ own history, there is a very strong case to be made: that the greatest threat to the future of our beloved Oregon football program is ourselves, given fans’ tendency this year to panic the moment the going gets tough.

Keep in mind: this season is less than halfway done. While Oregon’s defensive struggles have been tremendous as the team transitions from a 3-4 to a 4-3, it’s still entirely possible that these players will begin to gel. And even if they don’t, there is a strong argument to be made that if Oregon gives Brady Hoke enough time to recruit his own players (he has proven to be an ace recruiter), this former Michigan head coach will right the defensive ship.

Meanwhile, Helfrich’s offense is mostly as potent as ever, and if it isn’t, we can chalk it up to a very young and inexperienced offensive line more than the coach’s lack of prowess with X-and-O strategy.

Brady Hoke has to make some changes on the defense

Gary Breedlove

Brady Hoke has to make some changes on the defense.

Let’s say Oregon finishes with a losing season, which is pretty likely, or a .500 campaign, at 6-6. If that’s the case, maybe one could argue that a change is necessary with the defensive coaching staff if the unit still hasn’t improved by the last game. Maybe, despite his defensive success as a head coach, Hoke isn’t a natural-born defensive coordinator.

But let us be clear: firing Helfrich at the end of this season would be a huge mistake, no matter how many losses come over the next two months. Even if Oregon doesn’t win another game and finishes 2-10, such a termination would still be a mistake.

Our belief in Helfrich shouldn’t just come out of loyalty to a coach who led Oregon to a national championship game and a Heisman. It should come because of Helfrich’s brilliance and because Oregon’s history shows hastiness is a mistake while faith pays off.

Look at Chip Kelly’s three-plus years in the NFL. He may still prove himself successful with the 49ers, or another pro team after that. But many, including stalwarts such as founder Charles Fisher and “Grizzled Old CoachMike Morris, see Helfrich innovating more with new plays for Oregon’s offense than Kelly has in Philadelphia or San Francisco. Could it actually be that behind the grand vision of a no-huddle blur offense and the ensuing cult of personality Oregon fans and the media have given Kelly, that Helfrich was his secret weapon?

Looking back at how the University of Oregon handled coaching decisions in the past, three of them - Jerry Frei, Rich Brooks and Mike Bellotti – provide arguments for keeping Helfrich.

Coach Brooks and the Oregon Ducks at the Rose Bowl

John Guistina

Coach Rich Brooks and the Oregon Ducks at the Rose Bowl.

Like the man in charge today, Frei followed a Ducks coaching legend, Len Casanova, and was the handpicked successor. After two losing seasons to begin his tenure (Cas had handed off a losing squad), Frei’s Ducks finished second in the Pac-8 conference in 1970. By that time, Frei had also recruited two of the greatest Oregon players of all time: Dan Fouts and Bobby Moore (later and still known as Ahmad Rashad). Yet after the team finished 5-6 in 1971, the university fired Frei, much to the consternation of its players and Casanova. Oregon would go on to experience seven straight losing seasons and 10 of the next 12.

The man who finally turned the Ducks’ fortunes around and led the team to its first Rose Bowl in 37 years, Brooks, could have been fired any number of times. In his first two seasons, Oregon won a combined total of five games in 1977 and ’78. Following two winning seasons in 1979 and 1980 (6-5 and 6-3-2), the latter season including wins over No. 2 USC and No. 8 UCLA (as well as a 34-10 upset of 18th-ranked Washington in Seattle), Brooks went on to experience five out of six losing seasons between 1981 and 1986.

Which is to say nothing of the NCAA probation Oregon faced on his watch. It wasn’t until 1989, Brooks’ 13th season in Eugene, that the Ducks finally made it to a bowl game. And even after that, fans were calling for Brooks to be fired as late as the 1994 season – after a 1-2 start – before the team rebounded all the way to a conference title and a Rose Bowl appearance.

No one can know for sure, but I think it’s very possible that if Oregon had fired Brooks at any of those junctures, the transformative 1994 season never would have happened, which means Nike never would have got involved, and likely the Ducks would never have risen to the stratospheric heights of the 21st century.

Coach Belloti

John Guistina

Coach Mike Bellotti

Same goes for Bellotti. Oregon had great success in his first year, 1995, with a Cotton Bowl appearance and a 9-2 record that actually improved on that of the Rose Bowl team the year before. But the next two years saw Bellotti’s Ducks barely able to maintain winning records. He could easily have been fired then, or in the mid-2000s when the Ducks finished 5-6 in 2004 and 7-6 in 2006, ending with an embarrassing Las Vegas Bowl blowout loss to BYU.

It’s true there are legitimate reasons to wonder about Helfrich. His greatest successes as head coach have come with players recruited during Kelly’s tenure – albeit in some key instances, like Marcus Mariota, that recruiting vision was courtesy of Helfrich. It’s also true that Oregon’s recruiting has suffered a bit under Helfrich, especially on the defensive side. After all, the biggest problem with Oregon’s defense this year may be not the transition to a 4-3 but the lack of really good players. It’s not outlandish to suggest Helfrich has squandered an inheritance his predecessors literally spent decades building.

Yet even if Oregon doesn’t win another game this year, the retention of Helfrich is such a no-brainer that in a certain respect I regret even dignifying it with this post. Yet defending Helfrich has to be done, because the clamor for his head has become surprisingly deafening for this early in the season.

Did Stanford fans call for Shaw’s head two years ago? I’m not sure, but I seriously doubt it. And you can say a lot about Stanford University, but those guys definitely aren’t stupid.

The Oregon Ducks and fans

Craig Strobeck

The Oregon Ducks and fans.

Maybe some of us calling ourselves Duck fans feel it’s best to identify the problem before it has time to fester and get worse. Maybe some of us don’t remember just what a long climb it was to greatness.

And maybe some of us forget the man in charge today is one of the key reasons we made it as far as we did. Most of all, maybe we forget that the best teams don’t panic when times become troubled.

We don’t just owe it to Mark Helfrich to keep the faith. We owe it to Jerry Frei and Dan Fouts and Ahmad Rashad. We owe it to Rich Brooks and Bill Musgrave and Kenny Wheaton. We owe it to Mike Bellotti and Joey Harrington and Dennis Dixon.

But most of all, we owe it to ourselves.

Brian Libby
Portland, Oregon

Libby BookFishDuck Note: Brian is modest and does not tell us that he is a professional writer who contributed this for fun, but he did write a wonderful book about Oregon football that I highly recommend as a birthday/Christmas present. Being so busy, he cannot write for us often, but I am a big fan of his work and am very grateful. Charles Fischer

Disclaimer:  Readers: Every writer on is allowed to express their 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

Top photo credit: John Sperry

Print Friendly
Brian Libby

Brian Libby

Brian Libby is a writer and photographer living in Portland. A life-long Ducks football fanatic who first visited Autzen Stadium at age eight, he is the author of two histories of UO football, "Tales From the Oregon Ducks Sideline" and "The University of Oregon Football Vault." When not delving into all things Ducks, Brian works as a freelance journalist covering design, film and visual art for publications like The New York Times, Architect, and Dwell, among others.

  • Lindol French

    When would it be appropriate to fire him, if it would be a bad idea even if they finish the year at 2-10?

    • DuckNV

      In my view if next year is a repeat of this year, then I think you have more grounds to question Helfrich’s ability to right the ship. One of the potential unintended consequences of firing him now could be on recruiting. How will a potential recruit feel about a school that will fire his new coach (if the recruit were to sign) if there is one bad year? When you factor in the economic reality of firing Helfrich now, I don’t think it’s the right time.

      • Brian Libby

        I agree. If Oregon has a losing record next year and doesn’t seem to be improving, that’s the time to make the change.

        • Your loyalty to Coach Helfrich is to be admired. I hope I have people in my life who are that loyal to me when it is proved that I am in over my head. But, to piggyback on some of what has been said and add my own spin, it isn’t just the losing. The streak against UW had to end some time. But did anyone think it would end by giving up 70 to a coach who could have put up 90? Or 100? We have true freshman calling out teammates who don’t care. Does anyone not care under Saban, Meyer, or Petersen? Did anyone not care under Kelly? Some coaches are good. A few coaches are great. But, only coaches who can’t cut it have a team quitting under their very eye.

          I remember when a criteria for judging Nick Alliotti was “Is anyone else trying to hire him?” Brian, do you believe any right-thinking AD will come calling for MH? And you want to give him this year and next? To…what? When I first started reading your article (well written by the way, I have some experience under the stern gaze of CF) I thought, “Okay, here is someone who wants to wait until the end of the year to can Helfrich’s behind. That’s okay. Brian is patient. Maybe more patient than I am. That’s not a bad thing.” But then I read on. You want to wait until after NEXT year to think about giving him the much-deserved boot.

          I’m sorry. I’m too old to want to go back to where we were in 1983. And that is where we are headed.

          Enjoyed the read.

          • Brian Libby

            Thanks for the kind words, DuckPop22. I don’t have any crystal ball, of course, and I’m just guessing like the rest of us as to what got us to this point and how we move forward. I guess the point I wanted to make above all was that in the past Oregon has benefitted in the long run for not giving up on coaches (Brooks, Bellotti) when they’ve had a losing season, and we have been hurt by firing a good man (Frei). Of course this year’s situation like Helfrich isn’t identical to those, and if Oregon doesn’t improve after the bye week or at any point this season, his firing would be understandable. Even so, I think generally in sports, teams are too hasty about relieving coaches of their duties.

          • Duck78

            Brian, one thing you did not mention is that in all those previous cases where coaches were given more time, none of them had the facilities, recent success or other positives that Helfrich has had. The others may not have struggled had they those assets. Helfrich has the best facilities, Nike, recent success and has still not been able to recruit good talent. Why would his recruiting all of a sudden get better? Especially now that we are losing.

          • Brian Libby

            That’s a fair point, Duck78. If the team does not rebound at all this year, the reasons you cite may be enough to get him fired this year. I honestly don’t know what the right answer is. Part of me thinks this is a guy who if not for Vernon Adams’s injuries would have delivered us another Pac-12 title and possibly a playoff spot last year. But part of me does think this is a sinking ship. My own personal indecision is part of what formed my feeling that we need to give Helfrich a chance to get himself out of this.

          • Duck78

            Brian, I tend to agree that you need to be very careful or you could end up like the UW or other programs that have a coaching carousel and many bad years before turning it around. I think MH has lost this team and I will be shocked if there is improvement the remainder of the year. But I would not fire him until this plays out at least until the end of the season. I don’t think I would give him another year though.

          • Brian Libby

            I’m starting to think what you are suggesting is how it may play out, Duck78. I’m still inclined to think we will be better after the bye week, but even if so, that would likely be an improvement only good enough to beat the Pac-12’s weaker teams and bring us to something like a 4-8 record. I’m not sure if that kind of rebound would be enough. It’s just amazing how things can change. A year ago at this time we had the talent to, when fully healthy, beat nearly any team in the country.

          • Duck78

            That is what whiffing on d-linemen and linebackers in recruiting does for you. Also, how the heck do we end up with 4 freshman on the o-line? Where are the sophs and juniors? Again, the recruiting has been abysmal when we had everything going for us and that is on the coaches.

          • DonealDuck

            I don’t know what happened to Pellum in his life lately or whatever, but after years of having successful linebacker play and recruiting, the last few years has now been atrocious.

          • DonealDuck

            Brian, you keep saying that the Ducks made a mistake by asking for Terry Frei’s resignation. What evidence do you have to support that this was a mistake? What team did Terry Frie ever lead to a winning season after he left Oregon?

            I will give you the answer. None.

            Terry Frei was an assistant coach and later a scout in the NFL. Obviously not one other administration/owner ever thought he had what it took to be a head coach, either.

            That part of your argument, when you actually look at it, does not back up your position whatsoever.

            Not hiring John Robinson was a mistake. Jerry Siefert. Chris Peterson. Their later history proved it was a mistake. Oregon has had many coaches that have proven to be successful head coaches who they should have retained. Terry Frei however does not look to be one of them and doesn’t support your Helfrich theory.

          • Brian Libby

            DonealDuck, that’s an interesting theory. It’s true given the success Robinson and Siefert had that they could have made even better candidates when Casanova retired as head coach. My point about Oregon being mistaken in firing Frei was based first and foremost on the interviews I did for my Ducks book, such as with Ahmad Rashad and Dan Fouts, who were embittered by the firing and thought it was a huge mistake. The theory is arguably also emboldened by the miserable four years his two successors had with the Ducks had after Frei was fired.

          • DonealDuck

            Lord knows i would not count on winning a debate on football against Ahmad Rashad and Dan Fouts, but the definitive record does not show that it was a mistake. Oregon obviously made mistakes afterwards and hired the wrong people after Terry Frei. That still does not mean that Terry Frei would have been a successful head coach.

          • Brian Libby

            Ultimately neither you nor I can definitively say whether the Frei firing was a mistake. My argument is based on player testimony and the fact that Oregon had worse seasons after Frei than during his tenure. Yours is apparently based on the fact that Oregon’s record under Frei, while initially an improvement on the final Cas years, then took a negative turn and was never exactly setting the world on fire even at its height. There were also some systemic problems with the college game and Oregon in particular that would have hampered anyone. It was pre-Proposition 48, which later was crucial in bringing parity to college football, and Oregon did not place a high priority on facilities. I tend to think under Frei we would have been mediocre, but Frei was also a good man who really earned the love of his players. As much as I want our Ducks to win and win big, I always hate to see a coach go when he’s highly respected by players. If I were Texas, for example, I’d give Charlie Strong another year even though he already seems doomed.

          • DonealDuck

            I actually agree with you Brian. I think a head coach who has the foresight to hire an assistant core of John Robinson, George Seifert, Gunther Cunningham, Bruce Snyder, et al, I would want to keep also, or reshuffle/shape/something. We DO have proof of their success in coaching.

            History DOES confirm that Oregon Athletic Director at the time Norv Ritchey definitely DID NOT know his football coaches, in that he wanted Frei to fire some of these later very successful head coaches as assistants, upon which Frei refused, hence his ‘resignation’.

          • Brian Libby

            I remember the showdown about Frei’s assistants, and his stand in that regard goes back to what I think was his best quality: integrity. Of course in sports there are lots of good people who just can’t produce the necessary results on the football field, so I can’t argue integrity alone was a reason to keep Frei. But as you say, his ability as a leader to assemble good coaching talent around him gives me reason to think he would have ultimately been able to produce a winner. To me Frei seems similar to Rich Brooks or even Casanova: maybe not the guy who will create a powerhouse, but a guy who will win more than lose given time, and is an admirable enough leader that maybe you’re willing to forgive an extra loss or two.

          • DonealDuck

            Integrity. Good Man. But we don’t know if he would be a truly successful head coach or not. Sounds exactly like Mark Helfrich!

          • TMD382

            I realize that this is a late comment, and may never be read, but the Duck coach was Jerry Frei. Terry Frei is his son, who is a writer in Denver.

          • DonealDuck

            yes you are right and i knew that my bad thank you for the correction

  • Matt B.

    Pretty sure David Shaw never finished the regular season worse than 7-5 and ended up 8-5 in 2014 after beating Maryland. That was his low point, during which the worst loss he suffered was 19 points (to Oregon). That year, and just last Saturday, are the only two occasions where Shaw lost back-to-back games. Far as I know, he’s never dropped four in a row or suffered 60 and 70 point drubbings on the Farm. If he did, my money is he’d be out. Quickly. Stanford wouldn’t put up with that. No program with title hopes would. His 8-5 was a rebuilding year to be sure. And that’s exactly what he did. 62-20 and 70-21 home losses in consecutive years are a different nature, especially after the abyss of the 2015 Alamo Embarrassment when Oregon fans were pretty certain it could not get any worse. It has. 2-10, 3-9, 4-8, and even 5-7 is the stuff of second and third-tier programs. These are not numbers title contenders put up even when the going is rough during a rebuild.

    • Brian Libby

      Matt, you make a fair point. I fully admit my 2014 Stanford example is not exactly the same situation as Oregon’s. We are in worse shape than they were! But I still think we need to give Helfrich another year. I think he will keep the offense playing well and that by this time next year the 4-3 will be more fully established and thus more successful. If there’s any coaching change to be made, it should be at defensive coordinator. I think hiring Hoke was a gamble that has come back to bite us in a big way. Having been Michigan’s head coach and taken them to the Sugar Bowl is impressive. Not ever having been a defensive coordinator, though, turned out to be the key fact.

    • themilman

      It’s a dark time, to be sure, but lets revel in others suffering for a moment to make ourselves feel better. Texas still sucks. Notre Dame is 2-4, Michigan State is 2-3, USC and UCLA are only at .500, nine Pac-12 teams have at least two losses. Tennessee and Houston both crashed back to earth this past Saturday. We’re not the only team struggling, even ones that have very recently been great.

  • Brian–Your article makes us ponder about how the other great Oregon coaches made it through their horrendous trial, as Helfrich is going through now. Fantastic research and work and we are grateful to you taking time from your busy writing schedule to help us see another perspective.

    The key component is the administration being patient enough to allow the coaches time.

    Advocates for firing Helfrich do not give us a viable option to replace him…other than Art Briles, or Lane Kiffin! Starting over with a new coach and new offensive system could put us on offense, where we are with our defense.

    Anyone else want Aliotti back?

    • Brian Libby

      Thanks Charles. I think of it this way: over his three and a half years, Helfrich has NEVER had an expert defensive coordinator specializing in an attacking 4-3. Helfrich made the right move to go to that kind of scheme, but after making a huge mistake to hire Don Pellum at DC, he made another huge mistake hiring someone who has never been a DC despite having impressive head-coaching experience. But this is a correctable mistake.

      If Oregon DOES make the ill-advised move to fire Helfrich before next season, I just hope with all my heart it’s not Kiffin who replaces him. The best scenario would be getting Houston’s Tom Herman, but there may be too many other top programs going after him.

      • themilman

        Brian, I called out Pellum’s defense before even Charles finally got fed up with it, and I wonder if Pullum isn’t still a significant problem. Before the Husky game it seemed like our linebackers were the weakest link. Look back at the 2015 Rose Bowl (the stats show they ran successfully against us, if you ignore the turnovers) and National Championship game (Pellum kept dropping 8 on 3rd and long and got plain out-coached, according to several national articles), I’m still seeing a lot of the same mistakes and bad scheme calls. This makes me wonder if Pellum, in the new system, isn’t making everything worse, thoughts? Against the Husky it seemed like Washington new exactly when were were going to blitz and ran screens.

        • Brian Libby

          Milman, I’m not an expert on Xs and Os, but it’s possible that Pellum is part of the problem. The complicating factor for that theory in my mind, though, is the fact that prior to the last couple years we have produced some very good linebackers on Pellum’s watch, people like Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger. I wonder what they might say.

  • Illa Kotilla

    The problem isn’t losing. I think most duck fans can deal with some losing. It’s more the manner in which they are losing and the constant rumors of a cancerous locker room. Those are all concerning and are a direct function of the person leading the charge, and easily the most damning evidence that there is a major problem with MH’s leadership.

    Chip didn’t have the best relationship with all his players and I heard from a few former “star” players who didn’t feel like Chip was a ‘nice guy’, but nobody every questioned who was running the show. There was never wide spread dissent on Chip’s teams.

    If MH can rally the troops and get everybody on the same page and make these games competitive, that will be a vote of confidence. It’s not the losing, it’s the way we’re losing.

    • Brian Libby

      Illa, you make some fair points here. We are not just losing but getting embarrassed. However, I might add that the same thing plagued Mike Bellotti’s early tenure. In 1996, for example, just a year after he took the Ducks to the Cotton Bowl, Bellotti made a disastrous defensive coordinator hire that saw numerous teams blow us out. He changed DCs and the team started rising again big-time in the second half of 1997 and in 1998 (which would have seen us win the Pac-10 if not for Ruben Droughns getting injured). Ultimately you and I seem to agree: that we need to see if MH can rally the troops. I think we need the rest of this season at the very least to make a determination. If we’re not better by the end, I’d fire Brady Hoke and Don Pellum. If we’re not better by end of next season, then that is the time for Helfrich to go.

  • DonealDuck

    Just some thoughts:

    1. Helfrich was definitely not the ‘genius’ behind Chip Kelly, or 2007 would never have happened. Case Closed.

    2. It is very difficult for fans of the team with the winningest record in the first half of this decade to study our roster and the hated Dawg’s roster and discover that not a single player on the Ducks’ defense would start for Washington this year. Not one. Is this a deficiency in recruiting or player development or both? Either way it is a coaching issue.

    3. Some are frustrated because it is exactly Chris Peterson with the hated Dawgs that is so very upsetting. Some of us wanted Peterson to be the hire after Kelly departed and believe that if Oregon would have offered the amount paid Peterson or Helfrich now or maybe a very worth it even more, and allowed Chris to bring in some of his coaches with him, including his highest rated defensive coordinator west of the Mississippi, Oregon would have gone from the Kelly years to the Peterson years and mostly remained at an elite level after a couple years transition time. I think the proof of that theory is clearly evident now up in Seattle, unfortunately.

    4. That said, a rash decision and a bad hire can be even worse. None of the possibilities for a new head coach that I know of would be a sure-fire ‘better’, in my opinion. I doubt Oregon will pay Tom Herman the 6 or 7 million a year it would take to get him here, if he would even come at all. And his team just got 46 racked up on them by Navy…. yes Navy… in a loss, so is that really any ‘better’? I think Oregon would have to find ‘lightning in a bottle’ again, such as finding an offensive coordinator – never been head coach out of some little school like say New Hampshire with a plan haha, or a we’ve been turned down by everybody we thought we wanted, they say this Dana Altman is a good coach wow we got so lucky there again hire. And probably more fans would be screaming about that than about Helfrich now.

    5. Notre Dame. Michigan State. Texas. now Stanford. The U of O is not alone in struggling or having ‘down’ years. There are many with a far more prestigious football heritage than the Ducks.

    I wanted Peterson. I think we could have had him. I could go into a long explanation as to why we didn’t or thought we ‘couldn’t’, and more in depth on coaching ‘issues’, but i won’t bother unless someone really wants to know. Thank you for allowing me to post.

    • Brian Libby

      Doneal Duck, I completely agree that, in retrospect, Chris Peterson may have made a better choice than Mark Helfrich. But we also went to the national championship game and won a Heisman on Helfrich’s watch, and it might have taken Peterson a couple years to build the kind of team he wanted, which could have eaten away into Mariota’s last two years. It made great sense at the time to continue what Chip started by hiring his offensive coordinator. If I suggested that Helfrich was the genius behind Kelly, I’m sorry. That was not what I meant to say. Rather, I questioned the genius theory at all. What I’d try to say was that Kelly + Helfrich equaled genius from 2009-12. In other words, Helfrich had a role in the genius we ascribed to Kelly. But of course Kelly had certain qualities that Helfrich lacks.

      One potential side benefit to keeping Helfrich for another year, by the way: I think after the end of next season Chip Kelly will no longer be San Francisco’s coach, and chances are he’ll be looking for a college team. How about a return to Eugene?

      • DonealDuck

        MM8 would have been a star for Chris Peterson, also. If Kellen Moore would have played at Oregon during MM8’s time, instead of previously at Boise State, he would have won the Heisman, too, and he was small and not fast.

        Kelly came to Oregon at a unique time in the game. Kelly and Oregon completely changed the game throughout the nation as can be seen any Saturday now. Kelly has shown to be a mediocre coach in the NFL having to play on the same level as everyone else. He would now be at the same level as everyone else in the college game and have no advantage. Plus, Kelly hates recruiting, and Nemec already showed how defensive recruiting, especially at the linebacker position, has been one of the main culprits in the Ducks’ fall from grace. I am sorry, but Kelly is now a fond memory of a wonderful time in Oregon football, but is not the answer for the future.

        The more important question is, why did Don Pellum’s performance as Oregon’s recruiting coordinator and linebacker coach go from having good linebacking play to basically zero or atrocious linebacker play in only a few years? I know he has been here a long time with success in the past, but surely his PERS retirement is big enough now he can do the ducks a favor and find someone else to actually do the job from here forward.

        I know i am crying over 4 year old spilled milk, but one of the greatest advantages of hiring Chris Peterson back then would have been his outstanding defensive coordinator coming with him! sigh….

        Oregon’s best hope may be that Helfrich spends LOTS of time with his buddy Chris Peterson over the summer! Helfrich is supposedly a very smart man, so maybe osmosis and learning from his buddy…. I realize that leaves us shouting ‘we’re number 2!’ to our hated rival, but i don’t see any concrete ways Oregon can get on top of Washington at this point now…. double sigh…

        • DonealDuck

          if you want someone ‘back’, get Azz back! A fire and brimstone coach may be what is needed to bring some fire back to this sad defense.

          • DonealDuck

            so… that leads to the next thought…. is Pete Kwiatkowski head coach material?…..

          • Brian Libby

            When I suggested bringing back Chip in ’18, that was mostly in jest. And given Helfrich’s sub-par recruiting performance, it may be that he will have to go. I’m just saying that we shouldn’t be hasty, and that in the past Oregon has benefitted from not firing their head coach at the first sign of a losing season.

          • DonealDuck

            i totally agree with you about not being hasty. But i am also totally serious in my new thought that it would be interesting to find out if Kwiatkowski would make a good head coach! :-)

          • Brian Libby

            He probably would make a good coach. But to me hiring a defensive specialist as a head coach would risk losing what we have built on the offensive side of the ball. I’d rather see Helfrich stay and find a proven defensive coordinator to replace Hoke and, with perhaps the exception of John Neal, clean house with respect to the defensive coaching staff.

          • DonealDuck

            I am totally ok with that suggested direction, Brian. I would keep Neal also, even though our defensive back play has been mostly inept the last year and a half. (Daniels for example has regressed from his sophomore season in my opinion as example) I thought Neal has been the most honest and forthright during all of this – “Hey, look; we recruited these guys” was his quote, on video in fact.

            BUT, i think in this day and age in the game, it is actually easier to find offensive coaching talent than on the defensive side, so that is why I suggested to find out about Kwiatkowski from the Peterson tree, retain/hire the right offensive people, and weaken the Dawgs maybe just a little at the same time…. ;)

  • douglas fur

    What changes have we seen in the last few years? We’ve had 3 years of recruiting sanctions post Kelly. We’ve lost a DC with a fat rolo-dex for California recruiting. We’ve lost an OC and DC, and brought in a new DC and QB coach. How can we reach a valid conclusion that this season is all on Helfrich? Bringing in a new Head Coach with his posse would not be a quick fix.

    Peterson is doing great at UW in his third year but that’s after decades of awful seasons. He also had the advantage that Sark was copying Oregon”s offense so Peterson’s transition didn’t involve a drastic change of style.
    USC looks like it might finally be on an up swing post Carroll.

    I think our watch word should be “Be careful what you wish for because you might get it.”
    Instead of focussing on the W&L column we need to look at the facts behind those outcomes before wishing for radcial change.


    and DuckPop, I’m too old to want to go back to the late 60’s and 70’s…

  • Mike Green

    you can prove anything with statitistics…

    here are problems that I see:

    after the 2014 starters and key backups disbanded (a few still here now), the replacement players have almost always been not nearly as good

    there are some freshmen (true and redshirt) playing now who have potential, but it is a far cry from how the 2010 team came into being after the 2007 team moved on.

    and the 2012 team was just as potent

    and the 2014 team was a couple of good linebackers and a few key injuries late in the season short of winning a championship

    the difference between then and now is the physicality of the players — ducks don’t have players to beat a 500 team

    as far as righting the ship, the writing will be on the wall with the 2017 and 2018 recruiting cycles…

    if ducks can’t recruit like they did with Chip, then NOTHING ELSE IS GOING TO WORK

    USC is in the toilet, so ducks SHOULD be getting any west coast player they want, instead it is Peterson who is getting the west coast talent

    that tells me EVERYTHING I need to know about Helfrich

    • Mike…you make a lot of good points, but lost some credibility when you suggested Lane Kiffin as a substitute in another comment thread.

      Nonetheless–you present your thoughts reasonably even if you do not believe in punctuation.

      Thanks for writing.

  • Ron

    Brian, no offense toward you but you are wrong. Mark Helfrich was rewarded when handed the keys to the Mazeratti that was the Duck football program. His job was to keep in going in the right direction.
    I knew we were in trouble the fall of his first season as head coach when he gave the team an afternoon off because they had practiced well up to that point. That was 180 degrees from what Kelly preached and what got them to where they were. It says to the kids, ” that’s good enough”!
    The play from then to now is sloppy, unprepared and unndisaplined relative to what it had been, and has gotten progressively worse since.
    It incenses me when I hear any coach put it on the kids. It’s always coaching when teams are not prepared.

    • Brian Libby

      That’s a reasonable point, Ron. I wish I had your confidence with respect to rendering verdicts on right and wrong. I honestly don’t quite know what the answer is. My point above all else in writing this post was to remind my fellow Duck fans that Oregon got to where it is today in large part by being patient with its head coaches. Rich Brooks and Mike Bellotti each could have been fired numerous times, and not firing them ultimately benefitted the program. We also fired Jerry Frei too hastily. Having said all that, I can see the point that you and others are making about Helfrich inheriting the players that allowed him to be successful initially. I can’t say you’re wrong. Just want people to remember what Oregon’s history tells us.

  • dr hilarius

    I really appreciate your loyalty, Brian, and I held onto hope even after the Nebraska debacle. But the last straw came when Helf defended the pass into the end zone that was intercepted by Colorado to finish the game… “We thought it was a safe play.” Right, it was just as safe as Russell Wilson’s interception to end the Super Bowl a couple years back.

    I’m sure that according to their models, it was a safe play. Just like the swinging gate 2-pt conversions are safe plays. But football, especially college football, can’t be predicted with models.

    Helf and Lubick might be geniuses, but ask the folks from Long Term Capital Mgmt ( what good genius does when applied to an irrational system.

    I hear/read quotes from Lubick about % probabilities of x and y, and it makes me cringe. If I hear “Trust the Process” one more time I’m going to puke. As another commenter put it, “it used to be Win-the-day, now it’s trust the process.”

    Helf just seems like a bundle of nerves, and the team comes out every game with a bundle of nerves. He *might* be a great recruiter and OC, but the team takes on the attitude of the head coach. And there’s no arguing that the team is anything but tough.

    • It is always amusing to see fans question the calls that don’t work….the TDs you don’t hear a thing.

      The mark of a great armchair coach is calling the play BEFORE it occurs–not as a critic afterward. Anyone can question anything after they know the result.

      I have read tons of fans questioning that play call….yet that play, the fade pass, was executed for THREE touchdowns by the Huskies this last weekend. The play call was fine…

      As good as Carrington is in catching that type of pass–it WAS a good call as Washington showed us 3 times, but it was not the coaches who threw a poor pass.

      You can blame coaching on a number of levels, but implying you know more about offense than Helfrich? Please.

      • Brian Libby

        I think Dr. Hilarius [sic] and George make a fair point that I hadn’t completely considered: the fact that Helfrich may lack the temperament to motivate the team. I do think there’s something to the notion of a team taking on its head coach’s personality. Oregon seemed laid back and confident under Bellotti in a way that allowed us to win a lot of close games and grow the program. Chip Kelly brought a fire and a certain fearless gusto. Helfrich is more cerebral. I still want to give him some more time to see if he can coach his way out of this. A rebound in recruiting and some coalescence on defense is really all we need. But that may be easier said than done now that we find ourselves on a slippery slope and descending with more and more velocity.

      • dr hilarius

        Thanks again for your passion and loyalty–those are definitely appreciated! Your reply, however, has a few flaws.

        First, I actually did say *before* the play that we should run. I said something to the effect that we had 3 plays to run ~10 yards and take ~35 seconds off the clock. If we didn’t make the end zone we were still in field goal range and wouldn’t be giving CO the ball back w/time to score.

        Second, WA was never down by 3 on the ~10 with ~40 seconds left on the clock.

        Third, the Prukop to Carrington connection hasn’t been particularly strong this season and wasn’t great against CO either. Plus, Carrington’s advantages are his height, reach, and ability to find openings, none of which do a lot of good against CO’s unusually tall CBs in a tight red zone.

        Fourth, I’m not claiming to know more about offense than Helf. I’m claiming that Helf and Lubick seem to be so committed to putting the pedal on the gas (apparently based on statistics) that they’ve driven the Maserati off the cliff.

      • Mike Green

        I agree. As fans, it is hard if not impossible to call plays.

        Fans are critics of calling the fade. Remember when fans were critical of Chip’s decisions?

        As fans, we can’t call plays. We just don’t have that knowledge. We don’t study the opponents game films. We barely even know the schemes of the opposition.

        But it was reasonable to criticize the 2 point tries in the Nebraska game.

    • DonealDuck

      I agree totally on this ‘Win the Day’ vs ‘trust the process’ comment.

      ‘Win the Day’ implies that success depends on ‘me’ and what i do. It also says I can succeed on this day today no matter what else around me is happening and no matter what happened yesterday.

      ‘Trust the process’ seems to imply that ‘success’ happens because of something exteriorly to ‘me’ and not what i do, that i don’t really matter or have power to make a positive impact, and that i have to wait for this success until sometime in the future when the ‘process’ matures.

    • Michael Ostrom

      Spot on

  • George Nash Khier

    I don’t know football to depth of Oregon’s coaches but I see a lack of fire and determination that started last year when Jeff Lockie replaced an injured Vernon Adams. With Adams at QB Oregon was a different team. This year with no Adams I have not seen any fire or determination at all. This never would have happened under Kelly. Helfrich lacks the leadership skills that Vernon Adams had to inspire others to play at a higher level. Oregon can never be an elite under Helfrich, he lacks personality to make it happen and has depended on others. Scott Frost seems to have what it takes, too bad he went to UCF. Oregon needs to find a quality head coach or be content to be on par with the Beavers as best.

    • Mike Green

      I disagree. I see fire and determination – even on defense.

      I saw it with Jelks when he was playing.
      I saw it with Dye and a few plays from Swain last game.
      I saw it with Springs and Daniels.

      I also have seen a lot of hesitation in some players – they hesitate because they do not have the football instinct.

      And I see a lot of linemen getting handled because they just aren’t physical enough.

      I see a mixed bag.

      What you are seeing is a lack of rah-rah from the players and that is because they are losing.

  • Brian Libby

    We agree far more than we disagree, Doctor.

  • goducks58

    Thanks Brian, for a nice parallel reminder with the StanTURD example. I do have some reservations about the demeanor of the team amongst these 4 straight losses. I am also tired of hearing “it’s on me” and want to see better results on the field in terms of effort and scheme. But I don’t think it’s time to panic.

  • Platypus

    Canzano interviewed ‘Softy’ from Seattle the other day and although I think he’s a big turd, he did say something worth noting. He said all the coaching changes that U of W has had over the last 20 years have had the same things in common…#1 Culture Collapse #2 Infighting of Players #3 Recruiting Regression. Those are the same exact things that are happening at Oregon. He also mentioned that none of those coaches could turn the program around once it started sliding. I’ve been a supporter of MH but now i’m reevaluating that support.

    • Brian Libby

      That’s a very thought-provoking point. Which is surprising given the show on which it appeared.

  • Michael Ostrom

    This adversity is a true test of Oregon football. After getting knocked down do we battle back like a champion or fade?

  • How brilliant was Helfrich’s lack of any plan for not having Adams healthy in a bowl game (i.e. with a month of prep time)? How brilliant was his not avoiding kicking the ball back to Nebraska when up 20-7 with 1:00 to go in the half? Answer, both times: The massive opposite of brilliant.