Oregon Tabs Mark Helfrich as Head Coach

Oregon Tabs Mark Helfrich as Head Coach
January 18, 2013, 11:45 am
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Coach Tom Osborne

Dwight with Hroniss Grasu

UPDATE: The University of Oregon formally announced and introduced it's new head coach today at 1pm. Check out all of our videos and analysis from Sunday's press conference

Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports first reported while CSN confirmed moments after that Oregon is promoting offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich to head coach. Helfrich will be announced as the Ducks new coach on Sunday.

Helfrich becomes the 32nd head coach in the university’s history, succeeding Chip Kelly, who, less than a week ago, accepted a job to be the Philadelphia Eagles head coach.

Helfrich becomes the Ducks third straight offensive coordinator to be promoted into the head coaching ranks.

Oregon wasted no time to replace him, staying in-house. While Athletic Director Rob Mullens said there were several internal candidates interested, he emphasized that Oregon’s search for its next head coach was going to be a national one. “We’ve got several coaches on our staff who have the experience and background to be head coaches,” AD Mullens told the media after the departure of Chip Kelly. Those who have expressed interest, we will obviously talk to because they have played a key role in our success. But we will also talk to others outside of our program.”

Boise State coach Chris Petersen, who had long been linked in speculation to the Oregon job if it ever opened, was not a candidate. Reportedly, offensive line coach Steve Greatwood expressed interest in filling the void as Oregon’s next head coach.

A source close to University of Oregon told CSN that because of the timing related to recruiting and national signing day on February 6th, that Mullens and the University of Oregon wanted to have a coach named within a week of Chip Kelly’s departure.

The only complication, formality, was Oregon state law requiring public universities to interview at least one minority candidate for head-coaching positions. A law that was adopted in 2009, the state’s implementation of a collegiate “Rooney Rule” went into affect several months after Chip Kelly was named the head coach-in-waiting, succeeding Mike Belloti.

Oregon interviewed now offensive coordinator of the Indianapolis Colts Pep Hamilton to fulfill its minority requirement. Hamilton re-joins Andrew Luck after serving as his offensive coordinator at Stanford.

In just three full years on the staff, Mark Helfrich wasted little time in putting his stamp on the school’s offensive success.

Helfrich, much like Chip Kelly did when he joined the program upon his arrival from New Hampshire, demonstrated his ability as a top strategist, he has proven invaluable as a quarterback tutor for QBs Darron Thomas (Rose Bowl Champion, National Championship after 12-0 record) and Marcus Mariota, (redshirt freshman, Fiesta Bowl Champion).

The new head coach does have big shoes to fill, though. Despite being part of the success, it was Oregon’s Chip Kelly who led the Ducks to four-straight BCS Bowl games, winners of two straight, while accumulating an astonishing overall record of 46-7, including a 33-3 ledger in conference play.

“The offense has been successful but that’s not the only requirement,” Mullens admitted. “What we want is someone who understands the culture that is unique here, not only within our football program but within our community. We want someone who has proven excellence and that has been around winning programs, who knows what it takes because expectations for this program have shifted. We want to compete for Pac-12 championships and we want to be in BCS bowls and we want someone who understands what it takes from A to Z: from recruiting to creating a culture of academic excellence, to understanding the role of that team in this department and this community, and then of course, on-field success.”

Helfrich exemplifies those remarks perfectly.

Born in Medford, Oregon, the 1992 Marshfield (Coos Bay) High School graduate, Helfrich graduated from Southern Oregon University in 1996, where he lettered four years at quarterback. Helfrich began his coaching career as running backs coach at his alma mater in 1996 before playing and coaching (offensive coordinator) in Europe with the Vienna (Austria) Vikings in the winter of 1997.

The Ducks’ former graduate assistant coach (1997), who spent the previous three seasons in an identical role at the University of Colorado, brought with him 11 years of experience coaching quarterbacks at the NCAA Bowl Subdivision level (formerly Division I) at Boise State (1998-2000), Arizona State (2001-05) and Colorado (2006-08).

Working three years as the quarterback coach at Boise State, Helfrich tutored one of school’s all-time greats in Bart Hendricks, the 1999 and 2000 Big West Conference Player of the Year. In 2000, he guided the Broncos to the country’s fourth-best passing offense with 321.5 yards per game.

During his five-year stint in Tempe, Arizona State blossomed into one of the top passing teams in the country. In his final season there, the Sun Devils finished third in the NCAA and led the Pac-10 in passing yards per game (373.9 avg.). ASU posted a school-record 4,481 yards passing that season to elevate its five-year total to 18,686 yards (306.3 avg.) during his stay.

Helfrich has been at the forefront in the development of an inexperienced starting quarterback into a second-team Pacific-10 Conference all-league choice as a sophomore in 2010. Darron Thomas finished second in the conference in passing efficiency and third in total offense (250.8 avg.) while ranking second in the Pac-10 (13th nationally) in most points accounted for (16.5 per game) as a first-year starter.

Thomas’ efficiency would only get better with a year of experience under his belt as he rose to 11th nationally while completing 33 passes for touchdowns compared to only seven interceptions a year ago.

In fact, Thomas became the school’s first signal-caller ever to complete more than 30 touchdowns in one season on two separate occasions, finishing his collegiate career with a school-record 66 TD strikes.

Marcus Mariota, redshirt freshman quarterback, threw for 32 touchdowns and six interceptions, putting him one touchdown shy of Darron Thomas' UO record of 33 from 2011.
Just as impressive, Mariota's completion percentage of 68.5 is the best by a UO full-time starter and narrowly missed breaking the NCAA freshman record of 69.5 set by Oklahoma's Sam Bradford in 2007.
Oregon has led the Pac-12 in scoring offense each season, ranking seventh, first and third in the country from 2009 through 2011, respectively.

After the Fiesta Bowl win, Oregon's players were asked about Helfrich potentially taking over. They seemed uniformly confident that Helfrich would be up to the task.

"Expect the same," All-American running back Kenjon Barner said. "Nothing will change."

Offensive lineman Kyle Long, "Seamless transition. [Kelly and Helfrich are] cut from the same tree. I'll tell Duck Nation right now, Coach Helfrich is a brilliant coach. Great relationships with his players and other staff members. We all love Helf."

Kelly certainly left his successor a strong hand with the Ducks welcoming back 15 position-player starters next fall.

Helfrich takes over the reins immediately and continues his trek around the nation, recruiting.

National Signing Day is February 6th, leaving enough time for Helfrich to show face to many of the program’s top targets and for current players, it will be a smooth hand-off for Helfrich as head coach.

Wide receivers coach Scott Frost has been named Oregon's offensive coordinator, as well, which will serve as a deadly combo to facilitate the offense and quarterback development.  

Keep it close as the story develops further.