Mark Helfrich would have made a fine head coach at Oregon.
So fine, that some think the Ducks’ 38-year old offensive coordinator could put the title on his job history. Right now. ProFootballTalk.com reported Thursday that Helfrich had indeed been given the job – if only momentarily -- when Chip Kelly reportedly went to Tampa Bay.
Oregon had already replaced Chip Kelly when he changed his mind
That was the headline on ProFootballTalk.com Thursday morning. That’s also what PFT.com’s Mike Florio said this week on Tim Brando’s radio show.
In a column published Friday in the Eugene Register-Guard, columnist George Schroeder wrote, that while Helfrich wouldn’t have been a splash hire replacement “ … for a little while late Sunday night, he was as about to be the right hire.”
Those two reports from reliable outlets suggest one thing for sure: The world is getting to know what college football insiders have known for a while: Helfrich is a rising star. Also that Kelly – if he did leave this week -- may have had to somehow “reclaim” his job at Oregon. And if you believe in the chain of command at Oregon, well, Nike CEO Phil Knight has been known to have some influence with the football program.
At the least, Kelly’s apparent departure so close to signing day had to ruffle some Duck feathers. Knight’s command of the moment – anger bubbling just below the surface -- was compelling on Thursday at the Joe Paterno memorial. No matter what you think of his stance on the Paterno/Sandusky issue, Knight owned the room. You can understand how the man got where he is -- basically owning Oregon football.
Greg Schiano took mild criticism for leaving Rutgers so close to signing day on Thursday. Oregon has established itself as a national program. Think if Kelly had left this close to landing the school’s next class. The fallout would have been similar to Butch Davis leaving Miami a week before signing day in 2001.
Schiano had spent 11 years making the job and program matter when he bolted for the NFL. Kelly has been at Oregon three years. Despite the Nike influence, it is still a fragile football outpost. Kelly owes some of his salary and reputation to the coaches who made the absolutely right moves in replacing themselves with the right man at the right time. Rich Brooks hand-picked Mike Bellotti who then gave way to Kelly.
Safe to say, that if Kelly flirts with the NFL the next time he’d better take the job.
Kelly went on a local radio show Monday to say he “never committed to the [Tampa Bay] job, never flip-flopped.” It would be nice to know what the Bucs think of that comment. It is also legitimate to ask, if Kelly was adamant about his stance why didn’t he go on national radio/TV and get his message out?
While the locals may have been mollified, there are some remaining truths. Helfrich’s profile has been elevated in the last week. While Kelly obviously and rightly has his hands all over the offense, Helrich comes highly recommended.
“Everybody wants the hot flashy popular [guy],” said Dan Hawkins, the former Colorado head coach. “Mark is very, very sharp [and] very, very smart. He was going to be a doctor when he went to college. He could be in a room of politicians or professors and they’d have no clue he was a football coach.”
Hawkins and Helfrich worked together for a total of six years at Boise State and Colorado. In between those two jobs, Helfrich was Dirk Koetter’s quarterbacks coach at Arizona State. He came to Oregon with Kelly as offensive coordinator in 2009. The obvious question going forward is how much Helfrich has to do with play-calling. Kelly is considered the Zen master, the offensive genius. Helfrich is the silent partner.
But if Oregon was considering elevating him – or had elevated him – the question had been answered. No matter who is calling the plays at Oregon, Helfrich was perceived good enough to run the entire program.