In accepting the head coaching job at the University of Oregon, former Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich called his promotion "the opportunity of a lifetime." Three full days after former head coach Chip Kelly left Eugene to accept the head coaching position with the Philadelphia Eagles, Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens moved quickly to name the Ducks next head football coach. After interviewing multiple candidates from both within and outside the program, Mullens ultimately settled on Helfrich after "everything pointed back" to the Coos Bay (Ore.) native.
Former Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich was named the 32nd head coach of the program Sunday afternoon.
"Mark's a great coach," said Mullens. "We got to visit with a lot of great coaches and what we learned throughout this process reaffirmed everything we thought about Mark. We went through a process because we thought it was important to do our due diligence."
Dating back to almost a year ago to the day, speculation was rampant that Helfrich would ultimately replace Kelly should Kelly opt to head to the NFL. Continuity and maintaining the momentum Kelly helped create in his four years as head coach was considered a driving force behind a promotion of Helfrich, however Mullens stated that the continuity factor was simply a "bonus" in this situation.
"Mark's a great football coach and that's why he's named the head football coach today," said Mullens. "He exemplifies everything we want: Excellence, leadership, character. That's why we're here. Continuity was a bonus, the fact he has deep roots in Oregon is a bonus, but it was not the driving factor. We wanted an outstanding leader to continue the tradition of Oregon football and that's why Mark Helfrich is the head coach."
Coming from a family where both his father and uncle played football for the Ducks, Helfrich said that the opportunity to be the head coach at Oregon is the "pinnacle" of his professional dreams, joking that he would have preferred a lifetime contract with the university.
"I love this place," said Helfrich. "The biggest thing about this place that is special right now is our players. To be around our guys, I believe so much in them. It's really hard to convince a group of guys that age to not think about eight months from now. It's to think about the next minute and the next hour and the next day and to focus on what really matters and these guys have an unshakable commitment to that to each other."
While there are numerous personality differences between Kelly and Helfrich, many wonder just how much the on-field product will change with Helfrich now at the helm. According to Helfrich, Kelly acted as the primary play-caller during games. With Kelly gone, Helfrich noted that play-calling duties could be left to any one of the coaches on staff, Helfrich included.
"So much of why we're effective is we don't worry about that stuff," said Helfrich of play-calling. "This about 'us' and 'we' and 'our' and as soon we start worrying about that kind of stuff, that's when we get off track. I'm very comfortable calling plays and there are several guys on our staff that are very comfortable calling plays and we're not worried about that. We're worried about the process, we're worried about how we go about our business and all that other stuff will take care of itself.
"99.2 percent of the time we're going to be in lock step [with what we've done in previous seasons]," Helfrich continued. "It's that .8 percent where you say, 'Ohh, that's totally different.' I won't wear a visor; I'll eat more vegetables."
One change of potential significance to fans and members of the media could be the re-opening of practices and an open dialogue on injuries. Though Helfrich didn't state whether he would reverse or uphold Kelly's policy of closed practices and not talking about injuries, he did say that those two things would be revisited down the road.
Helfrich also addressed questions regarding his staff and what kind of changes to expect after the departure of not only Kelly, but defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro. Though Helfrich didn't name specific candidates for open positions, he did state that he is currently in the process of evaluating available coaching personnel.
"Right now, we've got two holes to fill is what it looks like and we'll do our best to make that happen expeditiously," said Helfrich. "Jerry Azzinaro has departed and obviously Chip Kelly has departed."
Perhaps the most intriguing moment of Helfrich's press conference was when Helfrich was asked if wide receivers coach Scott Frost would be immediately promoted to offensive coordinator as has been widely anticipated. Helfrich was non-committal in his answer, saying that there is a "plan" in place, though it likely won't be completely determined until after spring practices conclude.
"There's a lot of different things that go in to [making personnel decisions]," said Helfrich. "It kind of depends on who the other hires are. I'm very confident in a couple [candidates]. The Oregon brand is so amazing in terms of the caliber of people that have been interested in coming here. I'm pretty confident in getting that done, but I just don't want to lay it out yet."