Is Will Stein Better Than OCs Chip, Helfrich & Frost?

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Editorials

I know…the title is crazy talk. But is it really? Let’s take a look at the big picture, while acknowledging that the full canvas of this season is incomplete before final judgments are made of Oregon’s offensive coordinator Will Stein. Being student of the glory offensive era for Oregon, (2010-2015) has made me look at this year with a different filter, and perhaps it can help us understand why the Ducks have done so well on offense this year?

We need perspective before we ponder the differences between that glory time and 2023, and to summarize; the scoring average from 2010 through 2015 was 46 points per game, and as of the end of this last game on Saturday night–the Will Stein 2023 offense is also averaging 46 points per game to lead the nation as the No. 1 offense in college football. We were all quite impressed with the Kenny Dillingham offense and were sorry to see him move on, but the fact is–his offense averaged 39 points per game, thus what is happening this year is a big step forward.

I am still wrapping my head around it, as Duck-Buddies of mine declared before the season that while the offense would still be potent with Bo Nix and Bucky Irving returning, a small step backward to 35-36 points per game would be understandable. I was the aggressive one predicting/hoping for 40 points per game, thus we all have been pleasantly surprised with Coach Stein’s offense. It has not been perfect, but his growing pains are occurring at a very high level.

As you know, I like to claim that, “Greatness and Weakness Emerge Early,” and our new offensive coordinator is starting out better than any Oregon supporter could have ever dreamed. Duck fans had their concerns, primarily because he was so young at age 33, and because he was not a well-known name with a resume’ that everyone recognized. In addition to replacing our OC–the highly acclaimed offensive line coach, Adrian Klemm, was replaced as well with a young 27 year old coach in A’lique Terry, who served as a graduate assistant at Oregon under Mario Cristobal.

An elite receiver like Troy Franklin does make it easier for Coach Stein to create touchdowns. (Photo by Craig Strobeck)

Between those two coaching changes–it made sense that the offense would take a step back this year as two new coaches settled into their styles at Oregon, as well as adjusting to the personnel on the Ducks. Yet this offense was blessed with a ton of veterans returning, along with some portal transfers on the offensive line, tight end and receiver that would bolster the entire offense beyond what we fans could project.

Is Stein Better Than Previous OCs?

It is an interesting discussion to debate, as we did at the recent FishDuck/OBD forum Get-Together. We know that Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich had the benefit of surprise with the innovation of the No-Huddle/Fast Tempo coupled with our own version of the Spread Offense. It took a few years for opponents to adapt as the rest of college football embraced the changes brought about by Oregon coaches. It is easier to score when teams have not figured out ways to defend you as yet, as defensive experimentation can lead to disaster in game results for opponents.

It is fair to say that this innovation/surprise element was much bigger than we realized at the time, since Chip has not replicated his Oregon success at UCLA, and Helfrich is out of coaching entirely. For a while, Oregon truly had a secret sauce that helped to create prodigious scoring that has not been duplicated at Oregon until this year. That prior advantage those coaches had was not present this year, hence to replicate those results is astounding my book. (Of course the scoring average may decline a touch with the remainder of the 2023 schedule)

Yet it was suggested to me that Stein had more 4/5-Star players available to him than the days of a decade ago, and that is true. Development of talent was even more crucial at that time, yet I also recognize that the special era had legendary coaches such Steve Greatwood, who had a refined offensive blocking scheme perfected for the Oregon offense of that day. By contrast, coach Terry is truly a newbie to Stein’s offense, and to even being a full assistant college coach. Thus there are advantages and disadvantages in both time periods as we ponder it.

Will Stein had created his unique offense for Oregon. (Screenshot from Fox Sports Video)

Two Very Different Conceptual Differences…

Coaches Kelly and Helfrich had a very distinct system, with built in constraint plays and variations geared to counter-their-defensive adjustments. It was a system that worked well, but could lack a new play of surprise at key moments. Chip liked to run, “what we practice every week,” while current coaches like to practice new plays to roll out on Saturdays. I cannot be critical of the prior “system” since it worked so well, and frankly–much of it still works well. It was superb at popping the play-action passes, and teams were vulnerable to it since they had to dedicate so much to stopping Oregon’s powerful running game.

By contrast, Coach Stein has a massive playbook where he has his favorites to create tendencies, of which he can exploit the opposing defensive responses later in the game. He fully admits that his playbook is not a system, but a “best-of” collection of plays that he coalesces into his own offensive philosophy and attack.

–He runs the Counters and Powers like Kenny Dillingham did.
–Stein enjoys the Jet Sweeps from the Gulf Coast Offense under Willie Taggart.
–We often see the Pistol formation for a few dandy plays from Mario Cristobal.
–I love seeing the classic Inside Zone Read and Outside Zone Read as we watched under Kelly/Helfrich.

Bucky Irving has more space to create explosion plays. (Photo by Craig Strobeck)

Coach Stein has combined all these elements into his own offense with a number of plays that he brought to Oregon to complete his offense. In my recent film study I noted how Stein brought the Bubble Screen back for many plays, and threw to this boundary formation on a regular basis to keep the defenses spread across the field. As I studied Oregon’s running plays–I realized that by requiring defenders to cover the Bubble Screen, there would be fewer people in the box, both offensive and defensive. Thus, when holes were created for our running backs by our hat-on-hat blocking–the holes were that much bigger with more room to cut and accelerate.

Bringing back this one component from the 2010-2015 era has increased the explosion plays in the running game, and, as we saw in the last two games–the passing attack as well. I am quite certain that I will notice other components brought back as my study continues, and it makes me admire the work of Coach Stein that much more. He did not have the innovation or surprise element in his offense, yet he has created a blockbusting scoring machine. Can you make a case for him being the best OC at Oregon?

Too soon to tell, but I wanted to make you aware that while Coach Lanning is about to break the recruiting record, and Coach Tosh Lupoi is creating one of the best defenses at Oregon–we might just have a diamond in a young OC who is willing to learn and improve. Who is the best OC to you? Share your thoughts in the only forum-with-decorum because…

“Oh, how we love to ponder about Our Beloved Ducks!

Charles Fischer   (Mr. FishDuck)
Eugene, Oregon
Top Photo by Craig Strobeck

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