Who is the greatest coach in Oregon history? That answer is obvious isn’t it? It’s the man who went 11-2 in his first year as head coach and then lead Oregon to a National Championship in his second year as a head coach only to lose to an SEC coach running the spread option. No I’m not talking about Chip Kelly (who went 10-3 in his first season since he lost the Rose Bowl) but rather about our current head coach, Mark Helfrich.
Don’t get me wrong, nothing Helfrich is doing with Oregon would be possible without Kelly laying the foundation, but just as Steve Young is often considered the better QB over Joe Montana, I think the same applies to Helfrich and Kelly. Helfrich was able to evolve Oregon’s offense into a balanced offense, incorporating the pass in a way Kelly never could (or at least never did). Now you can definitely say that Chip Kelly never really had a great passer, with the closest thing to it being Marcus Mariota as a Freshman, before he was truly the great QB that he has become. Even if Kelly had been there for the entirety of Mariota’s career I think it’s fair to say that Oregon would have been more focused on the run and not nearly as balanced as they have been under Helfrich.
Along with this balanced offense, Helfrich also has had essentially the same success as Kelly had in his first two seasons, with the only major difference being that Helfrich went to a second rate bowl and won where Kelly went to the Rose Bowl and lost in their first years. And yes, for those people who want to point out that Kelly’s Championship loss was much closer than Helfrich’s, yes it was, so? A loss is a loss.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two coaches though is that Helfrich actually seems to enjoy dealing with fans and media. While Kelly was never vicious or ugly to fans or media personnel, he was never as warm and inviting as Helfrich is. This isn’t an attack on Kelly, he is simply very no nonsense and to the point, like Bill Belichick. While Kelly was sometimes awkward around fans and sometimes curt with media, Helfrich seems to thorougly enjoy every moment of being Oregon’s head coach. He routinely jokes with the media and talks to fans around Eugene. Helfrich being the ascended fan and native Oregonian that he is, he is able to relate to fans in a way that Kelly simply never could because he had never been one of them.
When it comes down to it though, the determining factor in whether Helfrich is the better coach will not be the past or how similar his past is to Chip Kelly’s. It will also not necessarily be who’s offense is more balanced or who got along with fans and media better. While all of these things are important and can tell us about each man as a coach, the determining factor to show if Helfrich is truly the better coach, will be the future. If Mark Helfrich does what no other Oregon coach has done before and wins a College National Championship, he will be the better coach in my mind, and hopefully in many other Oregon fan’s minds.
Top photo by Kevin Cline