Mike Merrell’s Three-and-Out
Over the past week or so rumors have swirled that Ohio State’s injured quarterback Braxton Miller may be transferring to Oregon. David Piper of SB Nation thinks it would be great for Oregon, but risky for Miller. Agreed, on the surface Miller’s services would be a sexy hire for the Ducks. But don’t hold your breath, because Oregon has its own brand of “sexy” – and that brand of Oregon Sexy is the subject of this week’s Three-and-Out.
1. Chip Kelly. If one person other than Marcus Mariota or Phil Knight defines “Oregon Sexy” it is Chip Kelly. Yet I remember distinctly the day that Kelly was announced as the hire for Oregon’s vacant offensive coordinator position. “New Hampshire?!” I exclaimed. “The best Oregon can do is to steal the offensive coordinator from New Hampshire? What about an offensive coordinator from one of those I-A schools that aren’t as good as Oregon? What about a position coach at some powerhouse program? New Hampshire?! What are they thinking?”
That was the last time I second-guessed a decision made by the Oregon football program. Somehow, they seem to be among the many who know things that I don’t.
And as we all know by now, Chip Kelly turned out to be the sexiest hire the Ducks ever made from outside their own program. But whatever sexiness he had coming in was well-hidden — it was only after he got to Oregon that Kelly and the Ducks brought out the sexiness in each other.
2. Mark Helfrich. When Kelly bolted for the NFL, a lot of fans thought it was time for an outside “sexy” hire. Everybody knew that Oregon was one of the few schools that could pry the highly successful Chris Petersen away from Boise State – and Petersen had Oregon ties. Or how about other successful head coaches who would see Oregon as a step up? But instead of looking outside, the Ducks promoted Mark Helfrich from within – Mark Helfrich, who had no head coaching experience. Mark Helfrich, who had previously been offensive coordinator for the offensively-challenged Colorado Buffaloes. Not sexy. Not sexy at all.
So why did Oregon go with Helfrich? The answers are more obvious now than they were at the time of the hire, although Helfrich certainly had his doubters after the third loss of his career put him at a mere 15-3 as a head coach. The answers: First, Helfrich is an excellent coach. Second, despite all of Oregon’s flashiness, Oregon sexiness isn’t about picking up the hot number after midnight at the night spot. It’s about continuity and faithfulness to the family that is Oregon football.
The result: Nearly two years have passed and Mark Helfrich is 22-3 as a head coach and the Oregon program is possibly the most cohesive in the country. Petersen has moved on to Washington where he is a respectable 8-5 for the Huskies, but this includes a 45-20 shellacking from Helfrich’s Ducks. This brings us to …
3. Braxton Miller. Bret Bielema had great success bringing in Russell Wilson for a one-year stint at Wisconsin, so why wouldn’t Oregon want to do the same with Braxton Miller, broken wing aside? First off, Mark Helfrich is not Bret Bielema and Oregon is not Wisconsin. A one-year quarterback project might work in a system where you have your team huddle up before every play while you step out to lobby the rules committee to slow the game down. In Oregon’s fast-paced system … probably not so much.
Second, Wisconsin was on the ropes for a starting quarterback. Oregon? I doubt it. Assuming Mariota leaves for the NFL after this season, the Ducks are still left with a number of candidates, some committed to come in and some who have already spent time in the system — and all are more than one-year fixes. The names Jeff Lockie (19-25, 194 yards passing), Morgan Mahalak, and Ty Griffin come to mind — not to mention a walk-on or two and a current recruiting class.
And again – Oregon sexiness is about continuity. Bringing in a flashy outsider as a one-year stand would be an affront to those who committed to the program from the start. Had Oregon replaced Chip Kelly with an outsider, the continuity that goes all the way back to the hiring of Rich Brooks in 1977 would have come to a screeching halt — thirty-five years of continuity flushed down the drain.
On the surface, bringing in a one-year quarterback from the outside might not be as disruptive as bringing in a head coach from the outside – or would it?
Oregon football is a trusting family. What effect would Braxton Miller have on the team culture? Would Locke, Mahalak and Griffin feel betrayed? How would their friends on the team take it? Would they accept a Buckeye turncoat as a team leader?
With or without Marcus Mariota, Oregon has tremendous talent going forward. Recruiting is going well. The pieces are in place to continue the climb toward long term dominance. Would the Ducks risk it all for a flashy one-year stand? I don’t think so.
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