Remember when Chip Kelly took over the Oregon program? Many didn’t know what to expect. How would the program and its fans react to a new coach? After 14 seasons of Mike Bellotti, who is the winningest coach in Oregon Ducks football history, and who built the Ducks into a college football powerhouse, one thing was certain: Kelly had enormous shoes to fill.
The visor-wearing coach had no problem implementing his run-and-gun style, though. Despite the Ducks’ prosperity under Bellotti, Kelly was able to achieve success that had never been seen at Oregon. Not only did he lead the Ducks to a Rose Bowl appearance in his first year as head coach, but he also led the Ducks to their first ever BCS National Championship game the following season. On October 16, 2010, for the first time in its program’s history, Oregon was ranked first in the AP Poll.
For a while things were great. The Ducks were winning, they had a great coach, and Oregon’s “Win The Day” slogan was spreading all over the country. However, the marriage between Kelly and the Ducks only lasted four years, and many Oregon fans around the country wondered what would happen next. Who would come in and save the day? Two words: Mark Helfrich. On January 20, 2013, Helfrich accepted the university’s offer, and he became the 32nd head coach in Oregon’s football history.
Kelly handed Helfrich the baton and he has never looked back. Since Helfrich’s first day on the job, he’s preached dedication, discipline and hard work. His players have responded, and an old friend has watched closely as well.
“He’s done a great job of keeping that group together,” Kelly said this past Sunday about Helfrich. “He’s a great person, good communicator. Very grounded.”
While Kelly and Bellotti achieved great success during their tenures at Oregon, in just his second season, Helfrich has accomplished something that neither of his predecessors ever achieved: coaching the program’s first Heisman winner. Also, in exactly one week, Helfrich will lead the Ducks to the first-ever college football playoff championship game against Ohio State. Oregon is a seven point favorite in next week’s game. Not bad, right?
Even if Helfrich was an unknown commodity before he became the head coach of the nation’s flashiest team, none of that matters anymore. The Oregon native has shown the country that he belongs; despite being one of the most underpaid coaches in college football.
Now it’s Helfrich’s turn to etch his name in the history books. Bellotti did it, and so did Kelly, so who’s to say that Helfrich can’t do it, too?
Top Photo by John Sperry