Mark Helfrich

UCF's Scott Frost proclaims he's 'not a candidate for Oregon'

usatsi_9639802.jpg
USA Today

UCF's Scott Frost proclaims he's 'not a candidate for Oregon'

If he was even on it, you might be able to scratch Scott Frost off of Oregon’s coaching to-do list.  Maybe.

Not long after Mark Helfrich was dumped by the Ducks, Frost’s name was mentioned as a possible replacement.  The connection made sense, given the fact that the UCF head coach spent seven seasons with the UO football program as an assistant.

There has been speculation, however, that the Ducks, who haven’t hired from the outside in four decades, may be looking to branch out with this coaching hire.

Even if they were interested in taking the same tack, Frost, at least publicly, is saying he’s not interested in returning to Eugene.

“I’m not a candidate for Oregon,” the 41-year-old Frost said according to the Orlando Sentinel. “I’m happy right here. This is where I want to be. I started something here, and I feel like we’ve taken a lot of steps to get this program to the top of our league. I want to see that through.”

CONTINUE READING

DB coach John Neal reflects on his time at Oregon, his future, Helfrich's firing and 'Win the Day'

DB coach John Neal reflects on his time at Oregon, his future, Helfrich's firing and 'Win the Day'

John Neal isn't bitter and he isn't angry.

Granted, the defensive backs coach isn't exactly pleased that Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens decided to fire coach Mark Helfrich on Tuesday. Neal would have liked to have seen Helfrich and the rest of the coaching staff get a chance to turn things around following a 4-8 season. But Neal also said he understands how the coaching game works. Firings are a part of the business. Tough decisions need to be made. 

“I’m not one of the ones that is surprised," Neal said. "I’m not ill-prepared, either. You have to win games and you have to produce.”

For 12 out of 14 seasons at Oregon, Neal was a part of a coaching staff that under three head coaches produced great success. During the last eight seasons, Oregon made two trips to the national championship game, claimed four conference titles and won two Rose Bowls. 

Most of all, however, Neal said he will remember working with so many great coaches, and building great relationships with players that will last a lifetime. 

“That’s what I’m most happy about in my time at Oregon," Neal said. "I’ve received a lot of feedback from a lot of my players just thanking me for everything that’s happened here. Ultimately, it’s about relationships.”

--- Reflecting on the positives

It took only the program's second losing season in 12 years to end a legacy that stretched from Rich Brooks to Mike Bellotti to Chip Kelly and then to Helfrich. All are linked through a chain of successions from within. For the first time in 40 years, Oregon has fired a head coach. There is a chance that a new coach could retain some of Oregon's assistants, but it appears obvious that most, which includes some who have been at Oregon for more than 25 years, if not all will be gone. 

Rather than lament on the end, Neal accepts his part in the rise and the downfall. 

Neal recruited and developed many great defensive backfields. Several of his former players reached the NFL, including Patrick Chung, T.J. Ward, Jairus Byrd, Terrance Mitchell and Walter Thurmond. 

The past couple of seasons, however, have seen a dip in production out of Neal's group, and the rest of the defense. Hurting the situation has been missing out on some quality prospects such as Washington's Budda Baker.

Whether or not the staff deserved a mulligan is neither here nor there for Neal. He said he readily shares in the blame for the team's fall from grace. 

“I look at myself and I know I could have done better in a lot of ways,” Neal said.

Neal said that he would always reflect kindly on working at such a great place for so long and being a part of the greatest run of success in program history. Now, at 60, Neal said he gets an opportunity, albeit forced, to stop, reflect and decide what his next move should be. His religious faith, Neal, said leads him to believe that good things will happen for him. 

If the chance arises, he would love to interview for a position with the next Oregon head coach. If that doesn't work out, Neal said he would look for other opportunities. 

“I absolutely have to keep every option open that I have,” Neal said.

Some have questioned how Mullens handled the firing of Helfrich. Instead of informing him on Sunday, Mullens waited until Tuesday while the assistants were already out recruiting. Neal said the "how" is not important to him. He said he understands and respects that the Mullens is making what he believes to be the right choice for Oregon. 

“I don’t care how it was handled," Neal said. "The bottom line is that you’ve got to do the right things. If the right thing takes time, it takes time. It’s not personal...I don’t blame anybody.”

Neal said all coaches live with the constant fear of being fired at any moment. It could be for a personality conflict, or for breaking a rule, or simply because someone simply wanted to make a change. 

"National championship game, or not, the feeling is, 'I've got to do it again,'" Neal said. "You have that constant motivation to try to keep this standard going...We live in a world of constant pressure. The pressure from winning is the same as when you lose."

--- Reflecting on 'Win the Day'"

Neal remembers how bad things were after the 2006 season when the Ducks finished 7-6 after getting destroyed by BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl under Bellotti. 

“There was very, very high probably I could lose my job," Neal said. "Mike might have had to fire people."

Instead, the coaching staff set out to fix the problems by exploring all ideas from all avenues.  Neal said Bellotti allowed anyone and everyone to chime in on how to turn things around. 

It was then that Neal reached out to BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, one of his former players, to discuss his team's strong culture. That led to a more day-to-day focus that manifested itself into the "Win the Day" mantra under Kelly, who took over for Bellotti in 2009 after serving as offensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008. 

"That was the beginning of the cultural turn around," Neal said. 

Neal was a big part of the creation of that mindset, which led to a lot of success. The Ducks contended for a national title in 2007 before quarterback Dennis Dixon, a Heisman Trophy favorite, went down with a knee injury. 

“That was the greatest experience of my life because I got to be extremely and heavily involved in what ultimately came down to Chip Kelly saying 'let’s win the day,'" Neal said. 

Kelly, Neal said, is a one-of-a-kind coach.

“Kelly is a standard I’ll never get to work with again,” Neal said.

The team-wide mantra has somewhat eroded in recent years, Neal said.

Mullens, while announcing Helfrich's firing, referred to a lack of attention to detail and program direction for reasons to make a coaching change.

Neal said the bottom line is that the further away Oregon moved from the past it becomes more and more difficult to get new players and coaches to fully buy into the established culture.

Those who weren't there when it all began were tougher and tougher to get onboard. New assistants who hadn't experience that culture shift and new players had no reference point. If things went south, some who hadn't experienced the previous magic would question the philosophies. 

"Believers are the ones who were there and went through the (creation) of it all," Neal said. 

His biggest fear, Neal said, was losing that momentum.

“The minute momentum changes it starts rolling back on you,” he said.

Negative momentum rolled right over Oregon this season. 

--- Oregon's future remains bright

Neal believes Helfrich and this staff could have fixed the problems and returned the program to glory. He also believes a new coaching staff could accomplish the same. 

“No doubt," he said. "Everything is there to win. We have infrastructure. We have the fan base.”

The first step is becoming consistently competitive again. Oregon had a very young team and was beset by injuries this season. That contributed to Oregon getting blown out by Washington, USC and Stanford. 

Neal said dealing with Washington, coached by Chris Petersen, in the Pac-12 North Division is going to be tough for the Ducks moving forward. 

"I looked at Washington two years ago and went 'oh crap.'" he said. "In two years this team is going to be scary. Chris Petersen is going to go down as one of the top 10 football coaches in history."

Recruiting to Eugene will always be a challenge, but Neal said the elements remains there to be successful.

“I still think it’s extremely attractive," he said of UO. "I think it’s a remarkable deal in the sense of marketing and having your product be the best out there.”

However, not having a ton of regional talent to choose from does hurt.

“You’re going to lose in geography," Neal said, "but you can win in personality and what they believe your saying to them." 

 

Worried Ducks can't find a football coach better than the one they fired?

Worried Ducks can't find a football coach better than the one they fired?

You hear it all the time: Oregon has fired head football coach Mark Helfrich... OK, that's fine -- but who is out there for you to hire that's a better coach than he was?

I may have even said that myself. Certainly Rob Mullens, the athletic director at Oregon, has a tough job on his hands. A lot of people will tell you there's no one out there who would take the job who is as qualified as Helfrich was.

But you know, I had the same feeling when Mike Riley left Oregon State. I had no confidence the Beavers could land anybody of the same caliber as Riley. At the time, I read lists people were compiling that included young, untried assistant coaches and head coaches from the lower divisions who may or may not have been able to handle the rigors and responsibilities of coaching at the Pac-12 level.

But, of course, Gary Andersen showed up from Wisconsin and the Beavers have one of the best coaches in the conference and somebody who has embraced the university and the community. He seems the perfect fit.

So it seems a natural conclusion for me to say this: if the Beavers could do it, why can't the Ducks?

The Oregon football program has sold its soul

The Oregon football program has sold its soul

The Oregon football program sold its soul on Tuesday. It went from being a program that succeeded with a lineage of coaches stretching back four decades to just another school so desperate to win that it gutted out the very essence that made the program successful to begin with.

No matter where you stand on UO athletic director Rob Mullens’ decision (likely made far before Tuesday) to fire coach Mark Helfrich after a 4-8 season, there is no denying that it was fundamentally messed up the way it all went down.

  • First losing season in 12 years.
  • Two years removed from going to the national title game and producing a Heisman Trophy winner.
  • A team filled with young talent and marred by injuries.

These are not the scenarios that generally lead programs to fire a head coach and likely his entire staff.

But there Mullens sat on Tuesday night at Matthew Knight Arena attempting to justify the move after an ugly season that certainly warranted examination but not wholesale changes. Mullens essentially pushed the panic button.

His move sends the message that the program has outgrown the men who helped make it what it is. Although, he denied that’s the case.

“I’m saying that we’re very grateful for all that‘s been done here,” he said. “We need a change of direction.”

The country is littered with college football programs that hastily changed directions right into the gutter.

As for being “grateful,” let’s examine the little matter of how Mullens went about handling this decision. Some sources say he had made up his mind to fire Helfrich weeks ago. He said he decided on Tuesday. 

The belief here is that Mullens was pretty much sure he would fire Helfrich at the very latest on Saturday following the team's 34-24 loss at Oregon State.  Yet on Sunday morning he left for Texas for a couple of days to be a part of the College Football Playoff committee after telling Helfrich and his staff to continue with recruiting plans while not knowing their job status.

Oregon's coaches literally met with players and high school coaches over the next two days while recruiting to Oregon with no idea that they even had jobs. 

Early Tuesday evening, assistants received a call from Helfrich telling them that he had been fired and to come on home.

Shameful. Classless. Disrespectful.

Worse things have happened to coaching staffs? It's a cutthroat field. But Oregon hadn’t fired a head coach in 40 years. Some coaches have been on Oregon’s staff since Mullens was in high school.

To treat them that way after all they had accomplished at Oregon was flat out doggish.

Now, the jaded out there will say this is “show business” and not “show friends.” They do so knowing damn well that if their employers treated them like that they would be livid.

Don’t be a hypocrite. Call this what it was. A panic move handled very poorly.

Mullens laid out his reasons for making the move. He believes the program needs a new direction. He stated that the winning culture had eroded. The team didn’t win enough games, etc.

That’s all fine and good, but there is no guarantee that a new coach is going to fix any of that in greater fashion than the current coaching staff that has already proven it could win big at Oregon.

Mullens is trading the known for the unknown, and doing so following one bad season. The chances of him hiring a coach that has been to a national title game, or won a major conference championship, or produced a Heisman Trophy winner are minimal. 

The Ducks could be good again as early as next season. Any good coach could win at Oregon moving forward with the young talent on this roster. But is there a coach out there willing to come to Oregon that would never have a down season? To separate themselves from this staff, a new coach must be able to consistently land recruiting classes that rank in the top 10. Otherwise, the Ducks will have a hard time contending for national titles given that the overall impact of the no-huddle spread that carried the program for the past decade has waned. 

If Oregon finds that guy, then this move could lead to equaled success. If not, UO is going to have its ups and downs. No way around it. 

The bar has been set. Having one losing season at Oregon, regardless of prior success, and your head could be on the chopping block.

If you cling to the notion that the losing came because of poor recruiting under Helfrich, you simply lack elementary math skills. Problems on defense began with the 2012 and 2013 recruiting classes under Kelly (13 of 19 recruits in the 2013 class committed under Kelly before he left for the Philadelphia Eagles on Jan. 16 with signing day weeks away).

Helfrich failed to fix things with the 2014 class, but the 2015 and 2016 classes have already produced defensive players who have shown great potential, including freshman linebacker Troy Dye.

Also, Helfrich found the answer at quarterback with freshman Justin Herbert, who could very well become the second greatest passer in program history behind 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, also recruited and developed by Helfrich.

The irony in all of this is that if a new coach wins in the next three seasons, he would have done so with the players recruited by the current coaches.  Gone would be the false narrative that these coaches failed in recruiting despite a track record of success in that area. 

Sometimes tough decisions can’t be handled cleanly. There’s no real good way to breakup with someone in any circumstance.

But one of the charms of the Oregon program was that it had such a grand lineage. It's one that former players adored.

Many are not very happy right now. In fact, those I've spoken to are disgusted. Do their opinion’s matter in the long run? Probably not. At least not within the new culture at Oregon that shifted from “family and history” to a belief that the facilities and the money-men behind the grand buildings are more important than the actual people in the building or on the field.

That brings us to a last point: The string of coaches from Rich Brooks to Mike Bellotti to Chip Kelly to Mark Helfrich has been broken. 

An athletic director has decided to destroy that 40-year connection, despite a $15 million buyout ($11.6 million just for Helfrich) to do so. Now, the direction of the program is entirely on Mullens and the boosters.

For the first time, they will be solely responsible for what happens on the field. They can no longer blame the coaches because they will be solely responsible for demolishing what existed in order to hire their own guy. 

Mullens had better get this hire correct.  Now, the pressure to meet unrealistic expectations falls squarely on his shoulders. 

BREAKING: Oregon fires coach Mark Helfrich, replacement unknown

BREAKING: Oregon fires coach Mark Helfrich, replacement unknown

Oregon dismissed football coach Mark Helfrich tonight following a meeting with athletic director Rob Mullens, according to sources.

[WATCH: Facebook Live Stream from Rob Mullens' Press Conference]

The news comes days after Oregon ended it's season with a 34-24 loss at Oregon State in the Civil War to finish with a record of 4-8, the program's first losing record since 2004 and worst mark since 1991 (3-8).

Helfrich (37-16) and the coaching staff, which includes several assistants with tenures at Oregon ranging from 15 to 34 years, hit the recruiting trail on Sunday not knowing what their futures would be.

Helfrich held a press conference Sunday morning to discuss the 2016 season. He said then that had had called Mullens earlier that day to set up a meeting but Mullens told him he couldn't because he was heading to Texas early that morning to be a part of the College Football Playoff selection committee. 

Helfrich, according to a source, went to California to recruit on Sunday and returned on Monday. Mullens returned to Eugene today and the two finally met tonight. 

[PODCAST: UO Athletic Director Rob Mullens addresses the firing]

At that meeting, sources said, Helfrich had to sell Mullens on a plan to turn things around. Also factoring into the equation was Helfrich's buyout price tag of $11.6 million with three years remaining on his contract, and the fact that no obvious coaching replacement candidate had been identified. Another factor was that the coaching staff includes many who have been with the program for from 14 to 33 years. Letting go of an entire staff would require a slam-dunk alternative option that might not have existed. 

Clearly, that meeting didn't go well for Helfrich. This is the first time Oregon has fired a head football coach in 40 years. 

Oregon issued a release at 7:12 p.m. that included this statement from Mullens.

"We want to thank Mark for his eight years with the University of Oregon and appreciate his efforts on behalf of Oregon football," Mullens said. "We wish Mark and his family the best."

The release included this statement from Helfrich: "It is a great honor to have served as the head football coach at the University of Oregon," Helfrich said. "It is with respect and disappointment that we receive this decision. Plain and simple — we didn't win enough games this season. Thank you first to my wife, Megan, and our family, the fans, the campus community, the board, our donors and administration. To our coaches, staff and their families, it is impossible to communicate my gratitude for the environment we got to work in every single day. Finally, to the players — thank you, and I love you. The future is bright for this young, talented team, and we will be supporting them and their new leadership."

Helrich went a respectable 37-16 during his four-year stint but didn't survive going 4-8 in a disastrous 2016 season that saw the Ducks be forced to rely on youth because of injuries and poor recruiting that led to ineffective upperclassmen. 

No potential replacement candidates have been named, although a dozen or so names have been tossed around the rumor mill for weeks. 

Oregon began the season 2-0 before three-point losses at Nebraska and home against Colorado. The Ducks then were crushed at Washington State and home against Washington. The 70-21 home loss to the Huskies ended an 11-game winning streak for Oregon in the rivalry and signaled the moment when Helfrich officially became in danger of being fired.

That week, Mullens appeared on a campus radio program and did not offer unwavering support for Helfrich.

The Ducks then went out and lost 52-49 at Cal in double overtime. The game featured the emergence of freshman quarterback Justin Herbert who threw six touchdowns in the game and followed up with 489 yards passing in a home win over Arizona State.

Herbert provided hope for a turnaround but it was short lived. The Ducks were blown out in losses at USC and home against Stanford to end up 3-7 with no chance of becoming bowl eligible.

Oregon, however, proved once again that it hadn't quit on the season when the Ducks won 30-28 at then-No. 11 Utah. 

That good feeling ended with Saturday's loss to Oregon State. The Ducks led 24-10 in the third quarter before falling to pieces. It was the first time OSU has defeated the Ducks since 2007.  

Other than the rough 2016 season, Helfrich's tenure at Oregon has been quite productive. 

The Oregon native from Coos Bay began his career at Oregon in 2009 when Chip Kelly hired him away from Colorado to become the Ducks' offensive coordinator after Kelly replaced Mike Bellotti as head coach. 

However, because Kelly continued to call plays, Helfrich never received much credit for the Ducks’ “blur” offense that ripped through the Pac-12 over the next four years leading to three conference titles, a national championship game appearance, and victories in the 2012 Rose Bowl and the 2013 Fiesta Bowl.

When the NFL came calling on Kelly, however, Helfrich became the obvious choice as successor in order to maintain continuity on an offense led by quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Oregon held some token interviews but Helfrich was a virtual shoe-in. He took over as head coach on January 20 of 2013, just four days after Kelly accepted the head coaching job with the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Helfrich-era picked up right where the Chip Kelly-era had left off.

The 2013 Ducks, led by second-year starting quarterback, Marcus Mariota, began the season scoring 50 or more points in five consecutive games, reached 8-0 and were ranked No. 2 in the nation.

Then, it all came crashing down. An upset loss at Stanford was followed two weeks by a blowout defeat at 17-point underdog Arizona.

The Ducks salvaged the season with wins in the Civil War, and over Texas in the Alamo Bowl to finish ranked No. 9 in the country.

With Mariota and plenty of high-end talent returning, the Ducks looked to finish the job in 2014. That season began with great expectations and Mariota as a Heisman candidate.

Oregon jumped out to a 4-0 start but injuries along the offensive line led to a 31-24, upset loss at home to Arizona. The Ducks then got healthy and got rolling, once again, winning eight consecutive games, including a Pac-12 championship rematch with Arizona, 51-13.

The Ducks were 12-1, ranked No. 2 in the college football rankings, thus qualifying for the first ever college football playoffs.

Plus, Mariota, fulfilled his promise by claiming Oregon’s first ever Heisman Trophy.

Weeks later in the Rose Bowl, the Ducks destroyed defending national champion Florida State, 59-20, ending the Seminoles 29-game winning streak.

That victory sent the Ducks to the national championship game for the second time in five seasons.

However, the Ducks, minus an injured Devon Allen and a suspended Darren Carrington, were no match for Ohio State in Dallas. The Buckeyes 42-20, and once again Oregon fell one win short of claiming a national championship.

That game proved to be the last for Mariota, who became the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Oregon hadn’t developed a quarterback to replace Mariota and had to turn to transfer Vernon Adams Jr. He battled injuries that only magnified the dramatic fall of the defense that went from allowing 23 points per game to 37.

The Ducks limped out to a 3-3 start that included a 62-20 loss at home to Utah. Just like that, the narrative that Helfrich could not maintain Oregon’s winning ways was born.

But once Adams got healthy, the Ducks got back on track. The defense improved slightly and Oregon won six consecutive games, including a 38-36 upset win at No. 7 Stanford, all but ending the Cardinal's playoff hopes.

The Ducks had to settle for a trip to the Alamo Bowl, but at least were in line to claim an eighty consecutive 10-win season.

As it turned out, the Alamo Bowl would be the worst moment of Helfrich’s career.

The Ducks led 31-0 in the second quarter before Adams went down with a concussion, center Matt Hegarty also went down. Backups Jeff Lockie and Doug Brenner proved ineffective, the defense couldn’t get a stop and before anyone knew what was happening the Ducks had lost 47-41 in triple overtimes.

That loss led to Helfrich entering the 2016 season with a huge black mark on his resume. Following it up with a losing record certainly gave those in power reasons to consider letting him go. 

PODCAST

Four-Star DB recruit Deommodore Lenoir decommits from Oregon

Four-Star DB recruit Deommodore Lenoir decommits from Oregon

Four-star defensive back recruit Deommodore Lenoir announced today via twitter that he has decommitted from the Oregon Ducks. 

https://twitter.com/Deommo_Lenoir/status/803713469551779840

Lenoir, out of Los Angeles, Calif., is rated by Rivals.com as the third best defensive back prospect in the country and No. 83 overall. 

According to 247Sports, the loss of Lenoir could be a huge development for the Ducks, who finished the season with a 4-8 record, leaving coach Mark Helfrich and his staff's jobs in jeopardy. 

Lenoir, according to 247Sports' report, is teammates and/or friends with several other key Oregon commits, including three-star athlete Nick Pickett, four-star athlete Jaylen Redd

Oregon's coaches hit the recruiting trail on Sunday following a disappointing 34-24 loss at Oregon State. However, the staff did so not knowing if they would have jobs when they returned. 

Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens is scheduled to meet with Helfrich either later today or later this week. A decision regarding Helfrich's future at Oregon is expected to be announced following that meeting. 

Having coaches head out to recruit while their jobs appear to be in doubt seems like a poor strategy for keeping committed recruits onboard.  Time will tell how Oregon's recruiting is ultimately impacted by the delay in making a decision on Helfrich, keeping Helfrich or firing Helfrich. 

Oregon's 2017 class now has 14 commits and is ranked 36th in the nation, according to Rivals.com

Lenoir is being recruited by UO defensive backs coach John Neal.

 

Mullens mulls a complex issue regarding coach Helfrich

Mullens mulls a complex issue regarding coach Helfrich

Message for those fretting over the status of Oregon football coach Mark Helfrich: Chill out!

Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens spent today working with the College Football Playoff selection committee in Texas while in the state of Oregon people who care about Ducks football were flipping out.  

Fans, boosters and media are demanding immediate gratification and answers regarding Helfrich’s job status coming off of a 4-8 season, the program’s first losing record since 2004.

The problem for the impatient is that Mullens isn’t on their timetable. He’s on his.

Mullens is scheduled to return to Eugene on Tuesday. He could meet with Helfrich as soon as then, or later in the week.

Clearly, despite numerous reports and speculation, Mullens has not made a decision regarding Helfrich’s status. If Mullens had already decided to fire Helfrich it would have made much more sense to do so on Sunday following UO’s 34-24 loss at Oregon State in the Civil War, and before the head coach and the rest of the coaching staff had headed out to recruit that same day.

Firing the staff while it is scattered around the country recruiting would be a horrible look for Mullens and Oregon.

It’s difficult to believe Mullens could be that cold to a staff that included coaches who have been at Oregon for up to 33 years.

Even if Mullens were leaning toward firing Helfrich and the staff, but had yet to make a decision, he could have ordered that the group not to head out to recruit.

This week is not paramount to the recruiting cycle. If the team were in the Pac-12 championship game this weekend, the staff wouldn’t be out recruiting. Holding them back for a few days would not have made a bit of difference in recruiting, whereas firing the staff while they are out recruiting could have serious impacts on the current class.

The only logical reason to allow the staff to continue as usual would be if Mullens were leaning toward keeping Helfrich and company.

However, not reassuring Helfrich on Sunday at least means that Mullens has his doubts.

What has to happened during that meeting is Helfrich must convince Mullens that he has a plan to fix the issues that led to such a down turn just two years after the team reached the national championship game.

It’s a very complex decision being made that shouldn’t be rushed.

Here is a look at issues in play for Mullens to consider:

  • $15 million price tag:  Firing Helfrich would mean paying him an $11.6 million buyout on his five-year contract signed after the 2014 season. A new coach worth hiring is going to cost at least $15 million over five years. So, UO would essentially be paying about $27 million for a head coach over the next five years. That doesn’t include buying out the assistant coaches for about $3.4 million, paying new assistants and potentially paying the buyout to the school employing Oregon’s future new head coach. The idea that NIKE founder Phil Knight, or other big time boosters, are willing to post so much cash to get rid of Helfrich after one bad season doesn’t seem plausible. We shall see.  
  • Who would Mullens hire to replace Helfrich? It appears that those who want Helfrich gone haven’t thought this part through very clearly. Names have been tossed around with little regard to practicality. The only candidate that might have gotten UO to open up the checkbook and make a move could have been Tom Herman. But he was on the market for only a few hours before Texas hired him away from Houston. Note that he didn’t even give UO a real sniff.  There are no other obvious choices out there that are slam-dunk upgrades over Helfrich, especially when factoring in the money involved. This staff has been to two national title games, won two Rose Bowls and a Fiesta Bowl. What head coach and his staff available could boast such a resume? Former LSU coach Les Miles could. Would he go to Oregon? Maybe. Would the Ducks want him? Maybe. Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, sources say, is not a viable option. But sources say a Miles-to-Oregon occurrence is not very likely. Beyond him, who else makes sense? Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck is a possibility and a hot commodity. But he has been a head coach for just four years and it’s been at Western Michigan of the MAC. There is no guarantee or proven track record to suggest that Fleck would be an obvious upgrade, or ever get Oregon into national title contention. It would be a roll of the dice with, again, a $15 million price tag just to sit at the table. It is possible that in the past few days a search firm has been fleshing out candidates to provide for Mullens as he makes his decision.  
  • Unchartered territory: Oregon hasn’t fired a head football coach in 40 years. It didn’t fire Rich Brooks after he went 3-8 in 1991 following two 8-4 seasons. UO didn’t fire Mike Bellotti after he went 5-6 in 2004 and didn’t win a bowl game from 2002 through 2006. To pull the trigger now after the program’s first losing season in 12 years and two years removed from a trip to the national championship game appears to be a stretch, and something that should give Mullens great pause.
  • What does Oregon want to become? Clearly some fans, boosters and media believe that UO should be a perennial national contender through all eternity since it just had a great six-year run of success.  However, that success was due to a great offense that has since been duplicated to death making it less unique to Oregon. That doesn’t mean UO can’t win big again. It simply means that in a deep Pac-12 loaded with other good coaches, the Ducks are going to have their share of ups and downs based on the level of experienced star talent in place during a given year, and how it matches up against the rest of the conference. It will all be cyclical whether anyone wants to admit that or not. Chasing a delusion by beginning a cycle of hiring and firing coaches if they don’t meet unrealistic expectations would send the program down a rabbit hole after something unattainable.  Does Mullens want to push the panic button after one bad year and essentially tell the next coach that he had better win the national title soon, and never have a bad season or he would be gone next? That’s the message firing Helfrich now would send to a new coach. The leash is short and we have unrealistic expectations.
  • Can Helfrich turn this around? Oregon played this season with a very young but talented team that was hit hard by injuries. There is ample reason to believe that things will turn around in a hurry, especially with freshman quarterback Justin Herbert appearing to be a budding superstar. If Mullens believes this staff, a group he has seen win at a national level, can right the ship then it makes no sense to jettison them. He should take a peak at how TCU has handled Gary Patterson, rumored to have been contacted by Oregon. Patterson took over TCU in 2001 and went from 6-6 to 10-2 and then 11-2 over his first three seasons. Then TCU went 5-6 in 2004. Patterson wasn’t fired. He responded with 10 wins or more in six of the next seven seasons before going 7-6 in 2012 and then 4-8 in 2013. Again, TCU didn’t’ fire him. Patterson rewarded the loyalty by going 12-1 and then 11-2. This year TCU went 6-5.  That’s three times Patterson has had a dip at TCU and three times he has rebounded. All three times TCU didn’t panic and fire him. Oregon should take note.
  • People matter: This isn’t simply about Helfrich. A new coach would likely want to bring in his own staff. How does Mullens easily pull the trigger on essentially also terminating Steve Greatwood, John Neal, Don Pellum, Gary Campbell, Tom Osborne and Jimmy Radcliffe, coaches who have been at UO from between 14 to 33 years? This staff as a whole has more than earned the chance to fix this mess. Most have done it before. Why can’t they do it again?
  • Will season tickets really be impacted by keeping Helfrich: One thing Mullens can’t do is allow the irrational feelings of some fans impact his decision. There aren’t many more irrational groups in our society than fans. Think about it: What compels anyone to allow the performance of people they do not know impact their emotions or trigger anger to the levels of venom and hate being hurled at an Oregon native like Helfrich who two years ago guided the Ducks to their greatest season ever, and recruited, developed and coached the greatest player in program history, Marcus Mariota?  Some fans are threatening to not renew season tickets. Yeah, right! After all of the winning they’ve witnessed at Autzen are they really going to jump off the bandwagon after one losing season if Helfrich returns? I’m calling B.S.  They will pout for a few weeks then get over the irrational pain they feel, realize that the team could be very good next year and then renew their tickets. If not, someone else will scoop them up.  
  • Does Helfrich have a solid plan? This should be an easy sell for Helfrich considering how young and banged up this team was, and that the roster holds a glut of elite-level talent that simply needs time to develop. Helfrich also must sell Mullens on how he is going to raise the level of discipline within the team. Things have become a bit too lackadaisical in some areas, sources say, leading to an erosion of discipline. That must change. Mullens might have some demands that include staff changes. If so, Helfrich must be willing to meet those demands.

 

 

 

In an ideal world this entire situation would be resolved by now. But the complexities that lead to such a decision even being made at this time are certainly going to impact the final decision and must be weighed carefully.

 

So, be patient. It will all be over soon.

 

 

 

Some thoughts about Day One of the Mark Helfrich hostage crisis

Some thoughts about Day One of the Mark Helfrich hostage crisis

Some random thoughts on the first day of the Mark Helfrich hostage crisis:

  • I swear, it's still difficult for me to get past the fact that to let their football coach go, the Ducks must pay him $11 million to leave. For a man who has won a total of 37 games as head coach in his career? This is college football today, folks: Out. Of. Control.
  • Whatever UO Athletic Director Rob Mullens is doing right now in regard to Coach Mark Helfrich, he probably should have done weeks ago. Trying to gauge interest some other coach might have in choosing Oregon? Negotiating a contract with another coach? Doing a background check on a coach? ALL of that could have been done earlier. Coaches have agents and agents are middlemen. You can connect with them on background and still have the ability to deny talking to the actual coaches. Don't you think Texas had a lot of work done in advance when it hired Tom Herman the day after the season ended?
  • Is Mullens still trying to make up his mind about this? I would find that impossible, either way. A man in his position has to be more decisive than that.
  • Speaking of hiring a new coach, I'm not a fan of search firms. A good athletic director at that level should know full well who he wants to hire. That's part of the job. Search firms tend to be riddled with conflicts of interest that don't necessarily serve the client well.
  • It's hard to believe that Mullens holds Helfrich in high regard if he's OK with allowing him (and his staff) to twist in the wind like this in front of fans, boosters and media. And it's hard to believe he'd have a very good working relationship with him if he brings him back next season.
  • Hiring a new football coach is likely to be the biggest move Mullens will ever make at Oregon and he'll be staking his own job on his selection. So that might be bringing a little stage fright.
  • The state of Oregon has a Rooney Rule, you know. At least one minority must be interviewed before the job is filled. Theoretically, at least.
  • I'm not one to believe the entire pack of Oregon assistant coaches has to be let go if Helfrich is fired. If they're so good, a new coach would certainly want to keep some of them. Usually there are coaches retained on both sides of the ball as a bridge to a new coach and his system.
  • If the head coach and all his assistants are suddenly gone, I hope our state doesn't go bankrupt -- at some point it's going to be a pretty big hit on PERS.

 

Helfrich, UO staff operating as if he will return in 2017

Helfrich, UO staff operating as if he will return in 2017

Note: This article was updated to include a statement issued at 2 p.m. by UO athletic director Rob Mullens.

---

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich met with the media this morning to discuss the team's 4-8 season and the future of the program. He did so not knowing for sure if he would be a part of that future. 

You can watch the full press conference on our Facebook page.

The surreal press conference will be followed by a team banquet and then most of the coaching staff will hit the recruiting trail following a 4-8 season. 

None of the above reflects the actions of a staff on the chopping block. However, there are reports that Helfrich's firing is imminent. USA Today reported Saturday night after the team's 34-24 loss at Oregon State in the 120th Civil War that UO expected to fire Helfrich this week. 

Sources tell CSN, however, that Helfrich's status remains very much up in the air. Helfrich said he spoke to UO athletic director Rob Mullens via phone this morning and the two plan to meet later this week. 

At 2 p.m. today, Oregon released the following statement from Mullens:

  • “Now that our season is complete, I will evaluate all aspects of our football program, as I do with all of our sports after their seasons have ended. That evaluation includes meeting with Coach Helfrich in the coming days to discuss the future of Oregon football.”

Not much to go on there.

If Mullens has already decided to fire Helfrich then it would seem quite cruel to allow him and his staff to hang in limbo. Firing the staff while it is out recruiting certainly would be a bad look for any program, let alone one that hasn't fired a head football coach in 40 years, has had just one losing season in 12 years and is two seasons removed from a run to the national championship game. There appears to be a strong chance that Helfrich will remain the coach in 2017.

Helfrich began today's press conference by addressing the top question on everyone's mind. 

"I anticipate a lot of questions about a current topic," he said. "I don't know anything at this point other than I called Rob about 9 a.m. this morning and he wants to meet with me this week at some point based on his travel schedule."

Helfrich said he had hoped to meet with Mullens today but he left this morning for Texas to be a part of the college football playoff committee. That means that the staff could be out recruiting for several days before it knows anything. 

It all could very well mean that Mullens is still considering coaching replacements to determine if one proves compelling enough to prompt him to pull the trigger on Helfirch. Mullens might also simply want to fire Helfrich in person. Or, no firing is imminent and it's business as usual at UO. Mullens attended the Civil War and watched the game from the sidelines. He had all Saturday night to fire Helfrich if it were a done deal. Instead, Mullens chose to depart for Texas this morning without having rendered a decision. 

Helfrich, when asked if it would be fair to fire the staff after all it has accomplished, said "fair" is an odd word in the coaching game.  

"We needed to win more games," Helfrich said. "I get that. There's a lot of factors involved there."

Of course, many winning programs suffer down turns. Helfrich talked about the plights of Charlie Strong, fired from Texas, and Michigan State's fall from reaching the national playoffs last year to a losing record this season. It's all, Helfrich said, part of the business. 

"That's the reality of it," Helfrich said. "It's a high-stakes game for most of us."

Helfrich said that if he returns he believes this staff can turn things around and didn't anticipate making any staff changes. 

"I think we have a great team coming back," he said. "A very talented team coming back. And that's exciting."

Oregon this season was plagued by injuries to 12 key starters and forced to play a glut of inexperienced and young players, including true freshman quarterback Justin Herbert and four redshirt freshmen offensive linemen. Oregon's best player on defense was true freshman linebacker Troy Dye. 

The lack of experienced veterans also led to a lack of leadership from upperclassmen. The team, Helfrich said, lacked a lot of credible and natural leaders. Great players who are naturally vocal. 

"We knew that coming into it," Helfrich said. "The guys who were the most of that ilk were hurt.”

Oregon on paper does have the makings of a good team starting next season. That could happen with a new coach as well as the current coach. 

Which direction Oregon chooses go in should be determined sooner rather than later. 

Mark Helfrich and Oregon's coaches leave Reser uncertain about futures

Mark Helfrich and Oregon's coaches leave Reser uncertain about futures

CORVALLIS - Oregon offensive coordinator Matt Lubick talked about the unlimited potential of freshman quarterback Justin Herbert following the Ducks' 34-24 loss at Oregon State.

UO defensive coordinator Brady Hoke discussed what his young defenders must do during the offseason to improve, and about hitting the recruiting trail on Sunday. 

But both did so while also being unable to definitively answer one simple, yet brutally uncertain question: Will any of them have jobs come Monday?

"We hope so," Lubick said when asked if he felt he would be around to see the development through on UO's young talent. "But it is what it is. All we can control is what we can control and that's wake up tomorrow and do the best we can. I'm very proud of the guys I've been around and I love our coaches. They've accomplished a lot for this university."

The Ducks (4-8, 2-7 Pac-12) finished off a disastrous season by blowing a 24-14 lead in the second half to end an eight-game winning streak over OSU (4-6, 3-6). Ever since the team hit 2-4 with a 70-21 loss to Washington, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich and his staff have been faced with the possibility that this could be their last season at UO. The fact Oregon went 2-4 the second half of the season certainly didn't help their cause. However, this was Oregon's first losing season since 2004 and the Ducks were in the national championship game just two seasons ago under Helfrich. 

Helfrich said Saturday that the staff would debrief and hit the recruiting trail starting Sunday. He said he had no meetings scheduled with UO athletic director Rob Mullens.

"We'll have some time to debrief on everything," Helfrich said about the staff's immediate plans. "We do that every year, whether it's a great season or a season like this. Recruit. Heal up mind and body with the players and finish off strong here academically over the next couple of weeks and then move on."

If a coaching change were afoot it would likely mean that the staff would be held back from making such trips. It does the program no good to send coaches out recruiting if they are about to be fired. 

What we know as of tonight is that the coaches don't appear to even know what their status is, which can make for a gut-wrenching situation for them and their families.  Hoke said he is operating under the assumption that he will be back next season until he is told otherwise.

Lubick bluntly summed it all up when asked about what kind of a job he believes Helfrich has done this season:

"I think he has done an amazing job," Lubick said. "Football is what it is. It's what have you done for me lately."

It's likely that Oregon won't make a coaching move unless it has a high-end candidate already on the hook. Houston's Tom Herman was arguably the hottest coaching candidate in the country until Texas snapped him up today a day after the Cougars lost their final regular season game to Memphis on Friday. 

Big names that remain available for UO to explore are Western Michigan's P.J. Fleck, Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, former LSU coach Les Miles and former Texas coach Charlie Strong.  

Fleck has been reported to be heading to Purdue, but those reports have been denied

If Oregon does not have a slam dunk candidate in place, chances are that Helfrich and his staff are given a year to turn things around. The biggest mistake UO could make would be to fire Helfrich and his staff and then hire anyone that wants to come to UO. This move must be made with deft precision to make sure that the Ducks land a new coach assured of success. Otherwise, what would be the point?

We know for a fact that this staff can win. It has done so, in some cases, for decades. Should one bad season in 12 years completely derail a 40-year legacy of not firing head football coaches? 

That's up to Mullens to decide. For now, the coaching staff is carrying on as if it's business as usual. 

"I am excited about the future," Lubick said. 

Now everyone waits to find out if this staff still has a future at Oregon.