The University of Oregon football program has a specific way of doing things. From their offensive scheme to how the hire their coaches, they do it the Oregon way. After long-time and well beloved coach Mike Bellotti left after the 2008 season, Duck fans we’re unsure what the university would do to replace him. Like many members of the Oregon coaching staff, Bellotti had been at the school for 20 years – six as offensive coordinator and 14 as head coach. Due to Oregon’s promote from within mentality, many speculated that the replacement was already in Eugene. This proved to be true as the Ducks promoted one year offensive coordinator Chip Kelly to head coach.
Chip Kelly brought a new offensive style to Oregon, and turned the football team from a consistently decent program, to three-time conference champions and four straight BCS bowls. The effect Chip had on the Oregon program is undeniable; not only in terms of victories on the field, but also in establishing a winning culture in Eugene. Living in Eugene during the “Chip Era” was an incredible thing. Fans loved Chip, they really believed in him and believed that the Ducks were legit national title contenders every year. He was the Ducks secret weapon and the man who would bring Eugene a national championship eventually. And then, he was gone…
When Chip Kelly left, many fans (including myself) were shocked. The man who led the Ducks to the national title game and four-straight BCS bowl appearances was no longer the leader, so what next? Oregon was no longer a mediocre program; they had become a national brand and powerhouse team in the PAC-12 conference, now in search of a new leader at head coach. In the traditional Oregon way, the Ducks promoted offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich to head coach. The Chip era was done and the Helfrich era had begun.
To preface the Helfrich era, I want to make a quick personal statement: I’ve met Mark Helfrich while working on a school project with some classmates on the football team. He is a great person, and from what I’ve heard from friends who know him, he is a fantastic players coach. I have an incredible amount of respect for the man Mark Helfrich and believe he will be the Oregon coach for some time to come. But these are just personal opinions, now to the facts on the field.
In his first year as Oregon head coach, Mark Helfrich went 11-2. Pretty good first year right? But Oregon fans weren’t convinced. The Ducks lost to Stanford (again), and also floundered late in the season to miss out on a chance to compete for the PAC-12 title and a BCS bowl berth. Oregon instead needed a last second win in the Civil War vs. rival Oregon State to secure a 10-win season. Then they accepted a bid to play Texas in the Alamo Bowl – a non-BCS bowl game. After seeing both the good and bad Ducks during the season, the Bowl game was in typical Oregon Ducks style; beating Texas 30-7.
It’s hard to follow up someone like Chip Kelly. He set the standard so high it is almost impossible to match his successes. The struggles for the 2013 Ducks came down to two major events last season. The first was when quarterback Marcus Mariota injured his knee during the UCLA game. The second came two weeks later in the Stanford loss. Marcus was injured headed into the game, and his performance was noticeably effected during the Stanford game. Not only was Marcus Mariota’s play worse, but following the Stanford loss the overall team production fell drastically and the team’s moral took a harsh blow. Both circumstances had a major impact on the 2013 season, and ultimately made Mark Helfrich’s first season somewhat frustrating. But we can’t blame it all on the first year coach, who knows what would have happened if Marcus Mariota was healthy all year. In 2014 we saw some good, and some bad, so what’s next?
As mentioned earlier, I have the utmost faith in Mark Helfrich moving forward as the Oregon Ducks head coach. He is only 40 years old and coaching a major college football program, so some jitters last season are expected. This season I believe we will see more wide-open and complex play calling, and as Helfrich becomes more comfortable and involved with the offense. Also, with a healthy Marcus Mariota, the Oregon Ducks are once again in position to make a national title run. The key for Mark Helfrich this season is motivation. Last season there was a noticeable lack in motivation from the Oregon players following their loss to Stanford. Reports of players feeling entitled surfaced last year as Oregon pushed for another Rose Bowl berth, and the lack of production on the field showed that players were not giving their 100% effort when facing adversity.
These Ducks need to be hungry again, something they’ve lacked since Chip Kelly left. Kelly made each season a hunt for greatness, which is something Mark Helfrich has to bring to 2014. Many people see last season as the worst since Kelly took over for Bellotti in 2009, and that may be so record and bowl wise, but I see last season as a stepping stone to something great. Helfrich’s first year might have been a bumpy ride, but there is no question that he is the right man for the job.