What if Oregon had Hired Aliotti Instead of Helfrich?

Garrett Sharp-Craig Editorials 43 Comments

In January 2013, following Chip Kelly‘s departure to the NFL, Oregon elected to do what they had done for decades by hiring offensive coordinator, Mark Helfrich as head coach. Nevertheless, an interesting question lingers: What if the Ducks had instead selected defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti as the lead man?

I think most are happy with the Ducks’ current state, but would we have been forced to suffer through the 2016 meltdown to get here if Oregon had chosen to go with Aliotti instead of Helfrich?

First, Aliotti wanted the head coach job and deserved the opportunity. He was a good recruiter and the players liked and respected him. Second, Aliotti could have and probably would have kept Helfrich as the OC. The defense then would have had another DC and likely wouldn’t have gone from the 30th ranked defense to the 113th and then 126th out of 128.

Via Kevin Cline

HC Mark Helfrich has a ‘rule discussion’ with a referee during the Ducks’ 2014 match-up with Michigan State

The framework for the eventual success was already there with Marcus Mariota primed to lead this team to great things.  Would Aliotti have stepped up recruiting instead of allowing it to stall as we saw under Helfrich?

The decision to go with Helfrich brought us to where we are today. But, what if Aliotti had been hired as head coach instead, and we had just a little better edge to the program with Marcus, and then post Marcus, what if? Maybe a national championship? Maybe Tua Tagovailoa?

Share your thoughts in the comment section down below!

Garrett Sharp-Craig
Eugene, Oregon
Top Photo from Twitter

Brad Nye, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is a land conservation attorney in Central Oregon.

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I know I am a day late and most likely no one will read this… but… Sunday evening Aliotti thoughts:

  1. Nick would have been FAR better with the media, fans, boosters etc. than both Chip and Helfrich; probably combined.
  2. Nick was a better recruiter than Helfrich, but that is a low bar. The players in the ’14 season defense were ‘his’, and they were good enough to win with a great offense, but not good enough when it counted against an offense which rivaled the Ducks’.
  3. Aliotti was a good but not great defensive coordinator, miles better than Pellum, but not up to an Avalos level. He was, at times, both loved and vilified as a DC at Oregon.
  4. As proof, I still do not understand his defensive strategy of making hand in the turf defensive end Kenny Rowe, whose strength was in penetrating and rushing the QB, try to cover one on one the very deep wheel routes, an impossible assignment, in the national championship game vs Auburn, which scored, or led to the scoring of the majority of Auburn’s points that day. I still have nightmares of Kenny trying his best, but struggling running 5 or 10 yards behind a deep wheel route running Auburn H Back. That’s Nick’s fault, not Kenny’s.
  5. Nick is enjoying retirement on his PERS, and I think the total 2016 crash would not have happened, but, without Bellotti or Chip, I think the program would be pretty darn mediocre today, and with Nick considering retirement or already retired, and with Cristobal never finding his way to Eugene. And who else in the PAC now would you truly want as head coach?….. I am ok with both the extreme disappointment of the Helfrich crash and with the excitement and the hopeful rewards of a Cristobal era.

It would have been a much better hire at the time, but right now, I don’t care. I moved on. I am happy with Cristobal. I just want to know how long is he going to stay in Eugene? Eugene is a football-backwater town. I am shocked every day that Eugene can put out a good college football team. I hope he likes it there and I hope he stays and is happy having a coaching career there for a long time. West coast players seem to like going there, and so do a few from other parts of the country.

Of all the college towns I ever visited, I thought Austin was the best – by far.

Boise was the worst. But I do like the state of Idaho.


Aliotti had the respect of the players. Helfrich lost the respect of the players and lost control of the program. Aliotti is a much better general and leader. The defense would have not fallen off a cliff like it did under Helfrich. In hindsight, Aliotti should have gotten the job

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

I agree with that now, but at the time–I was in favor of Helfrich, Gus Malzahn, or Rich Rodriguez to keep the offense going. (This was before we knew Rich-Rod was a slease-bag)

If Oregon actually gets a NC someday under Cristobal…this scenario would not have happened under Nick, I don’t think. So if we win an NC…was the pain of those seasons worth it?

(I know…it is silly to ponder something that has not happened, but hiring Nick changes the time/results line, and while we would have missed the issues of a few years, we may also have never made it to the ‘Natty again either?


And we wouldn’t have gotten Cristobal had we not hired Taggart. Strange how things work out. Would you trade Cristobal for Aliotti had he won a NC with Mariota?

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Whoa! Great tasty question…whew! The answer would have to be yes, if we won a ‘Natty with Aliotti, then we would need to retain him unless he pulled a “Helfrich.”

But I do not believe Nick would have won it because the same contributing elements would have been there for the NC. The WRs out, the LBs out, etc.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

This is an incredibly interesting Ponder-Point, because retaining Helfrich as OC would have continued the high scoring. I would like to think that Pellum would not have become DC, and Nick would have found someone better. So overall….the collapse at the end of 2015 and for the season of 2016 would not have happened.

But Willie and Mario broke the recruiting “glass-ceiling” at Oregon, and I am not sure at all we would have the same talent as the present. But high scoring offense with a decent defense could have been Nick’s legacy? So much to consider…


I think Aliotti was disappointed not to have been named head coach back when Brooks left (and, of course, he left the Ducks at that time to go to the pros), so doubly disappointed when he didn’t get the job after CK left. From what I read, Aliotti was going to retire after he didn’t get the job the second time, but stayed on for one year because Helfrich asked (begged?) him to. We know what happened to the defense when Aliotti retired.

I don’t where the Ducks would be right now if Aliotti had been made head coach when Brooks left or when CK left, but it would be different.


Great point on how Aliotti stayed another season to help Helfrich and the Oregon Football Program. Aliotti will always be a great Duck and was loyal to the program. He deserved the opportunity to the HC and he didn’t let the disappointment cloud that loyalty. He didn’t do the easy thing, he did what was best for the program, great man, individual.


I really have to wonder if Aliotti had what it takes to be a HC. What with dealing with the press, fans, and other high level commitments that a HC has to do.


I don’t think it can be argued he was better qualified than Helfrich and deserved the opportunity.


On that count I definitely think that Aliotti would have done better than did Helfrich. During the press conferences after the games, every time I saw Helfrich sitting in the big chair, the optics were awful; he looked like some guy who had wandered in to the room and was posing for a picture for his Facebook page. I always thought that Helfrich seemed nervous around the press. Kelly didn’t the press either and handled it differently, but too me it was a visible representation that MH was in over his head being the head coach, and he could only tread water before he sank.

Jon Joseph

Thanks Garrett, fun question to ponder.


I do think it is a great question to ponder. Aliotti was given a lot of grief while at Oregon. He deserved better, maybe even a shot at the head coach position.

He was a leader, respected and a great recruiter. These were traits sorely missing when he left.


Mark Helfrich is now a part of the, “If he didn’t happen than Cristobal wouldn’t be here” narrative. Aliotti might have avoided the meltdown of ’15 & ’16. His personality seems like it would have kept the Ducks on a sharper edge than malaise that formed under Helfrich.


He would have helped us from the meltdown and could have helped us over the hump of winning it all with Marcus, maybe?

Jon Joseph

How about Rob Mullen’s back to back bad hires leading to Mario being on board?

The definition of ‘optimism:’ Going after Moby Dick in a rowboat with a bottle of tartar sauce on board.

The definition of ‘serendipity:’ Mario Cristobal falling into Rob Mullen’s lap.


Good point on Mullen’s having Cristobal fall into his lap. Cristobal was hired by his players, more than Mullens.

Who knows what Mullens would have done if the players hadn’t made it loud and clear who they wanted?


yep, totally agree.


No doubt about that. Some credit must be given to Mullens for going with Cristobal when there was, “noise” that the players wanting Cristobal so much was a stop sign, that acquiescing to the players was a weak move.


Third time’s the charm? The hiring of Helfrich was the surest way in Mullens’s mind to keep the Kelly brand at Oregon, and Helfrich embraced the, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra as his guiding principle, until it broke and had to be fixed.


I will say yes for now. Certainly if we grudgingly give Taggart a “break” when we say if he didn’t come Mario wouldn’t have either. Helfrich just wasn’t up to the job, Taggart was disingenuous from the start.


MH sat on his hands and thought after the NC game that every young man would come to Oregon ! As we all know , he was really sitting on a pile of cash , 12 million


As much as Chip didn’t like recruiting, Helfrich just wasn’t good at it. He couldn’t lead, inspire or recruit talent at the level needed.

Aliotti was a great recruiter and kept the defense stocked with kids from Mater Dei, along with other top high school programs. We will never know just how great of a recruiter he would have been as the head guy.


Aliotti would have been the choice to make. I think the Ducks would have looked the same or better, but lacked the depth post injuries as the season wore on to take on the Suckeyes or Buma.

MC eventually landing in Eugene is fate mixed with opportunity and “Nike U” should do everything to make him their “Saban-West” aka a Lifer Coach.



Making MC the “Saban-West” is a good idea but looking back I’m sure “Nike U” tried everything it could to keep Chip here at the time but that didn’t work for whatever reason. Like you I hope it works with MC when & if the time ever comes.

Jon Joseph

The Chipper did not want to be anywhere near where he had to recruit. This remains the case at UCLA.

Helrich was peter-principle promoted. Chip had Nick on staff for Chip’s entire HC gig at Oregon; NA, along with other excellent, long time assistant coaches. Helfrich, obviously, could not fine a worthy replacement for NA.

I think Mario is a far more college-oriented coach than Chip ever was. But the $ to pay him close to Saban, is $7M ++ per season. Currently, Mario is paid less than the former 5-7 CU HC that Michigan State is paying $5.5M a year. Almost every B1G coach makes more than Mario and most will never sniff a Rose Bowl. 13 SEC coaches make more than Mario and Vandy’s Derek Mason is on par.

Gus Malzahn makes close to $7M a year. You know that Mario is on the Auburn ADs radar screen; he is on many the radar screen.

In Dennis Dodd’s recent article, it came across, at least between the lines, that Cristobal is really upset about the decision not to play in 2020. Notably during the hiatus, he did not stick around Eugene but returned to Miami.

If $ matters to Mario, I see no way to keep him in Eugene? I can’t help but think he would relish the chance to go head to head against Saban and be the 1st former assistant to defeat Saban.

President Schill, et al, are vacillating for some reason regarding the future of Larry.

Schill and the other conference ‘leaders’ are in the process of hiring a consultant (sigh) to see in which ‘direction’ the conference should go? Does the conference want to own and operate a media outlet? Has the conference lost focus on its primary duty, to educate?

As I have repeatedly noted, I am not at all certain that the conference as a whole has the desire and the resources, to remain a P5 member?

Mario has coached in the G5, he isn’t going back there.


Agree the book was written with the Helfrich scenario in mind.

Interesting take on Cristobal not being happy about the cancellation of the season. I imagine anyone who is extremely competitive would have a hard time with this decision.

That was my take on the impact of the decision to cancel. A leader doesn’t just give up, they plan, adjust and push forward. When you give up it sends a terrible message to the competitive energy of the group you are trying to inspire.

One could definitely extend the Peter principle to Larry as well. With many Peter principle decisions the inertia often keeps them in power.

Jon Joseph

Great take Hayward. At least Helfrich had football experience; Larry had zilch. An inane hire in the 1st place.


I read what president Schill had to say and was very unhappy about his thinking that Larry has done a great job during the pandemic. He mentioned several things he thought was good about Larry but not a single discouraging thing about him. I definitely got the impression that if it was totally up to him that he would keep Larry on the pay roster.

I was also disappointed in Schill easily accepting bringing in more consultants. As I mentioned before at 5+ million a year Larry should be the one doing the work to make the decisions not just farming it out to someone else to make the decisions for him. So Overall I was very disappointed in what I read from Schill. He’s just another leader that does not see the problem the Pac-12 is facing with Larry and the past direction of the conference.

I would think that if the Pac-12 did not want to remain a P5 then there would be several schools working hard to jump ship. The most difficult thing to staying P5 will be the money element so there in lies the decision. If the Pac-12 wants to remain relevant it has to find a way to make more money both outside of TV and with the major TV networks. It just takes the right guy and Larry definitely is not that guy.

I’m thinking that right now money is not the big thing with MC, what is important to him is seeing if he can win a national championship. Once that is accomplished then he will feel free to look elsewhere. Right now he feels he has a school that can get him to the top and he really wants to put all his energy into getting to the top, the decision to stay or not will come after.


With the Peter principle, mere incompetence allows the leader to stay at his level of incompetence. Only super incompetence puts the leader into danger of being let go.

Larry seems to be at the level of incompetence and only approaching super incompetence to those deciding his fate. Some see Larry’s level of incompetence as remarkable, others only see a few struggles.

I do think getting consultants is a very shrewd way of looking good to those deciding your fate. Being able to blame others is critical to keeping your role. I have found this to be a very big indicator, leaders who can’t make a decision without confirmation from others aren’t great leaders.

Jon Joseph

But, consultants do not work for free and the conference is already facing severe financial difficulty.

I do not see the SEC hiring consultants. B12 hired 1 to explore expansion but that was unusual for Bob Bowlsby.

The Pac-12 simply has incompetent leadership from the ‘board of directors’ on down.


I also look at consultants as a way to get someone else to do the work that you were hired to do. Its also very easy to tell the consultants before hand what direction you want the decision to go and then tell them to find the data to support your already formulated outcome. Something I would not put past Larry to do.

Jon Joseph

Great points; I share all of your concerns.

Of note is that Auburn has won an NC (sigh) and Nick will not be at Bama forever.


Yea, MC is at the SEC level and could slide right in and then pull the remainder of the West side recruits East.


Mario’s Mom in a high risk cohort for Covid and if other siblings were/are still working, it might be he decided to take the opportunity to spend time visiting & assisting her.

With the campus closed and no visits allowed, he could operate fine in Miami, and look out for Mom as well.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Mario would be the second former assistant to Saban to beat him if MC left for the SEC. Dabo Swinney coached receivers and tight ends at Alabama.

But Dabo did not work for Saban.


I think he was the choice to make, but the process of hiring the OC was so ingrained that he was overlooked. Instead of becoming a distraction, like Leavitt, he stayed, and tried to help Helfrich keep the success going. Helfrich just wasn’t up to the task.