With the recent success that began with former Oregon football coach Chip Kelly, who led the Ducks to four straight BCS bowl appearances and an appearance in the BCS National Championship game in 2011, there are high expectations every season in Eugene. This past season fans saw some great things happen – the Ducks were undefeated at home, saw several new faces step up to be big time contributors, and even beat rival Oregon State on the final seconds on senior night. But everyone remembers the losses to Stanford and Arizona that once again left the Ducks out of playing for a national title.
Many fans were disappointed at the end of the season. Even after a win in the Alamo Bowl, which is a non-BCS game, Eugene was still left unsatisfied. People began to question first year head coach Mark Helfrich, who took over for Chip Kelly after he left for the Philadelphia Eagles last season.
When a team win like the Ducks do, repeated success is considered the norm. And when they don’t, the head coach is often the first to get the blame. But let’s take a moment to look at the facts.
Helfrich took over an Oregon team that lost one game (to Stanford, of all teams) and won the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Kansas State – a BCS bowl game. Also, when Helfrich took over, Oregon had just lost several key players to the NFL draft – Dion Jordan (#3 overall pick), Kyle Long (#20 overall pick), and Kiko Alonso (#46 overall pick) just to name a few. Lastly, Helfrich is only 40 years old, which is young to be a head coach, so it’s safe to say he could have had some jitters leading a national brand like Oregon in his first ever head coaching job.
This is not to make excuses for Helfrich. There were times as a knowledgeable football fan I found myself scratching my head at some calls and decisions, but fans have to remember they are fans, and his job is not easy. In Eugene people expect the Ducks to score 50+ points and blow out every team, which is just not reasonable for a 12 game season in a conference as talented as the Pac-12. Fans might forget that the Ducks lost a lot of talent to the NFL, that four straight BCS bowl game appearances is an extremely hard feat to accomplish, and football is an unpredictable game (Auburn vs Alabama ring any bells?).
While the 2013 season might look like a disappointment to some Duck fans, it was actually quite successful. Finishing the regular season with 10 wins is difficult. Beating their rivals (Washington and Oregon State) for the 10th and 6th straight time respectively is difficult. Winning a bowl game to finish 11-2 with many new starters is difficult. Oh, and lets not forget that after all the pain of losing to Stanford and Arizona, not playing for the Pac-12 title, and not playing in a BCS bowl game, the Ducks still finished the season #9 in the country, which is the highest ranking out of any Pac-12 team.
So Duck fans, this offseason take the time to appreciate what the 40-year-old rookie head coach was able to accomplish, and begin to get excited for his second season as the leader. And remember, Chip Kelly lead the Ducks to the national championship game in his second season… Just saying.