Chip Kelly

Report: 49ers to fire coach Chip Kelly

Report: 49ers to fire coach Chip Kelly

The 49ers are reportedly expected to fire coach Chip Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke after Sunday’s season finale.

The firing of Baalke has been expected for weeks. But Kelly, Oregon's former coach, was believed to have a chance to retain his job for a second season. Both ESPN and the NFL Network, citing league sources, reported both men are likely on the way out.

The 49ers had no comment about the reports.

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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." 


Oregon paying $10 million for a coach would be ludicrous

Oregon paying $10 million for a coach would be ludicrous

A Tweet stating that Phil Knight is willing to pay $10 million per year for a football coach to lead Oregon to a national title should be dismissed on arrival with a chuckle because it couldn't possibly be true. 

Or could it?

A question regarding ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell's tweet was posed to UO coach Mark Helfrich on Sunday, a day after the Ducks lost 45-20 at USC to fall to 3-6 on the season. 

His response: "That's the nature of the profession. It would be cool if it was that easy." 

After a pause, Helfrich added: "I take it, it wasn't me that's getting the $10 million?"

Laughter followed.

In actuality, Helfrich would be receiving $11 million in the deal. More on that later. 

What's more pressing is how such a report, if it's true, defines how perspective levels around Oregon's poor season have reached such gutter levels that one must consider that everyone remotely associated with the program - fans, boosters, media - have all lost their damn minds. 

There is not a coach alive that's going to magically bring a national title to Oregon no matter how much Knight, or anyone, pays that person. In fact, I don't think there is a coach alive who believes he could guarantee Oregon a national title, but there are plenty who would take the ridiculous paycheck and give it the ol' college try. 

The idea of throwing that type of money around sounds like an act of desperation rather than one born from deep thought. It's an overreaction to problem that will naturally correct itself. 

Maybe I'm not as alarmed by the current state of UO's program because I saw the eventual demise coming years ago, stated as such and wrote about it while at The Oregonian in 2012. I reiterated that point in 2014 when writing that the national championship window would close after Marcus Mariota moved on to the NFL, and prior to this season called it a year of transition for a young and inexperienced team.

I certainly didn't predict 3-6 at this point, but I did predict that the rest of the conference would catch up with the "blur" offense and the Ducks' talent level would not be able to sustain a string of dominant seasons without the benefit of a fantastical, yet gimmicky offense leading the way. 

However, I also believe that the program will recover when a new influx of talent, led by a transcendent star, were allowed to develop. That star is freshman quarterback Justin Herbert, who will at least become the second greatest quarterback ever to play at Oregon when his career is over (baring injury, of course). 

Allowing this all to play out requires minimal patience, something sorely missing in this day and age. 

What's happened is that fans and boosters have so attached their own egos and emotions to the success of UO's football program that they almost believe they created that success. So, now that things have gone south the first reaction is to punish someone. 

That someone is Helfrich, who had the misfortune of following Chip Kelly, propped up as a football God because he had four great years primarily because from 2009 through 2012, most of the conference had no clue how to handle the Ducks' dizzyingly fast-paced offense.

That has changed and here we are. Those with an open mind recognize that the downfall could have happened to Kelly, as well, and in fact partly did because the final two recruiting classes he oversaw had players all over the 2015 team, and some remain this season on a team virtually void of quality senior leadership.  

Those who believe in the Kelly mythology - and haven't been watching him getting crushed in the NFL - want to believe that Helfrich ruined a good thing, and that Kelly would have kept the gravy train going into eternity. 

Not possible. 

Every program in the conference has the same amount of scholarships and is also free to hire good coaches. Simple math and probability dictate that some of those teams were going to eventually become really good and that Oregon would eventually have a rebuilding season.

What's being ignored at an alarming fashion is that this team on paper had no chance to contend this season. It's far too young and inexperienced, and the Ducks have suffered a crazy amount of injuries.  

The answer to how Oregon returns to glory is not found in simply firing a staff that consists of most of the men who played a huge part in the Ducks' greatest successes. At least don't do so after one bad season. 

Allow me to repeat that: One. Bad. Season. 

Not two. Not three. Not five. One. 

Firing everyone two years after arguably the greatest season in program history would be the lazy thing to do. It requires no imagination. Requires no foresight. No thought. Place blame. Feel superior. Prop up someone else as the savior. Feel better about yourself. 

But there's just one little problem: Who ya gonna get?

I keep waiting for someone, anyone, to name this magical coach that for $10 million will bring the Ducks a national title and never, ever have a bad season. Ever. 

Is Alabama's Nick Saban coming to Oregon? Not a chance. 

Ohio State's Urban Meyer? Ha!

Even if either one did take Knight's money and head to Eugene, there is no guarantee that they bring UO a national title. Recruiting to Eugene is far more difficult than recruiting to Alabama or Ohio State, or their former stops, LSU and Florida. 

Saban, who makes $6.9 million per year, quit on the Miami Dolphins because he didn't have the talent-gathering advantages he enjoyed at LSU. I don't think he would relish trying to win it all at Oregon. 

And if either Saban or Meyer ($6 milllion per year) have trouble winning it all for the Ducks, then who else could possibly do it?

I would assume that this God of a coach already has a national title, correct? Helfrich and company have been to two national title games, one with him as head coach. So an upgrade would have to be someone with a national title already on his resume. 

So are we talking about former championship coaches who have fallen from grace such as Mack Brown, Jim Tressel, Gene Chizik? They could be had.

Maybe Oregon tries to steal Jimbo Fisher ($5.25 million) from Florida State, or Bob Stoops ($5.25 million) from Oklahoma.

Money talks. Anything is possible. 

But why would any of those men guarantee a national title for Oregon? All won big at programs with greater advantages than UO provides. 

Don't get started on the notion that Oregon should ride its facilities to uninterrupted successes. They get Oregon into the recruiting game on a national level, but they don't win that game. 

But let's say the Ducks do land a "big name," that would lead to the irony of ironies. Should that coach returns the Ducks to to prominence in 2017 or 2018, he would be doing so with Helfrich's recruits.

Oops. That would then destroy the narrative that Helfirch can't build a winning team. He already destroyed the idea that he couldn't coach a championship-level team by going 11-2 and 13-2 in his first two seasons. But his haters always seek to point out that Helfrich won with Kelly's recruits. So, to be fair, if a new coach wins early, Helfrich would have to be credited for putting the players together, starting with Herbert. 

If there is room for extreme blame to be placed at the feet of Helfrich and the coaching staff - that includes Kelly, former defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro and former offensive coordinator Scott Frost - its for the lack of an adequate amount of impact players on this team. Oregon is young and inexperienced at quarterback, offensive line, defensive line and linebacker because the current starters beat out older players who didn't pan out. 

For example: Herbert is starting as a freshman only because Morgan Mahalak (2014 four-star recruit) and Travis Jonsen (2015 four-star recruit) didn't reach expectations. Similar scenarios have played out at other positions.

That has led to a young team simply not ready to win.  The staff certainly is to blame for this predicament. However, what those aching to release their venom are too blind to see is that the benefit of losing with a young team is that the players will gain experience and improve.  

We've seen this play out at Oregon before. 

The 2004 Ducks (5-6) and the 2006 Ducks (7-6) struggled with maturity and consistency, but the 2005 team (10-2) and the 2007 team (9-4) were top five teams before injuries at the quarterback position. The 2005-2006 Oregon basketball team missed the NCAA Tournament while losing many close games with four prominent sophomores and a junior leading the way. The following season the Ducks reached the Elite Eight.

There is every reason imaginable to believe that these current Ducks will also rise, and do so under Helfrich. Herbert is a superstar in the making. The offense line is loaded with four potential NFL players who need time to grow. The defense will return 10 starters next season, and there are a host of freshman and redshirt freshmen, other than linebacker Troy Dye and safety Brendan Schooler, that should be very good in the near future. 

But recognizing all of that requires effort. Vision. A willingness to think rather than react. To project, rather than punish. 

Let's forget about Helfrich for a second, because it's not all about him. A new $10 million coach would likely bring his own staff. Are those associated with the program ready to tell Don Pellum, Gary Campbell, John Neal, Jim Radcliffe and Steve Greatwood that it's time for them to go after one bad season in 10 years? 

"Thanks for helping Oregon become a national power but, you had one losing season every 10 years for the past 20 so it's time for you to go."

That doesn't seem right. 

The Oregon Ducks will rise again with the current coaching staff. No doubt. Then, it will have a down season at some point. 

A new coach could win big at Oregon. No doubt. Then he too would eventually have a down season. 

At the very least allow this staff the chance to grow this young roster. See if they can turn things around. Helfrich, an Oregonian from Coos Bay, cares about the program more than anyone else UO could hire. He will work his tail off to fix things. If he fails and the Ducks don't show improvement in 2017, by all means, make a change.

But firing him after one bad season, eating $11 million of buyout money, also buying out the assistants while firing such long-time fixtures, and then throwing crazy money at a big name out of desperation would be unseemly for the Oregon program. 

It would make the Ducks look desperate and common. Not special. Not unique. 

From Rich Brooks to Mike Bellotti to Kelly to Helfrich, Oregon has done things the right way in the head coaching department, and it has paid off. 

Change directions now and UO would veer down an uncertain path that could lead to disaster, a revolving door of overpaid coaches in it just for the money who could ultimately leave the program in ruins. 

Chip Kelly would not return to Oregon as a failure

Chip Kelly would not return to Oregon as a failure

Does anyone who is still pining over Chip Kelly have any pride?

He left you for a hotter, sexier option that offered more money and a chance at the true big time. 

He ditched you for the glamor of the NFL and hasn't come close to returning to the state. If he has, he sure kept a low profile.  

We've seen Marcus Mariota and Hroniss Grasu around Eugene. LaMichael James lives in the Portland area. So does Dennis Dixon. Kenjon Barner has attended UO practices. Jake Fisher. Tyler Johnstone. They've been spotted.

Kelly sightings? Nope. 

Yet still some fans harbor fantasies that the San Francisco 49ers coach would consider returning to the state to coach the Ducks? The idea has even been floated here and there within the media. 


Who comes up with this nonsense? 

A reporter asked Kelly on Monday if he would consider returning to Oregon. 

Kelly replied: "No. I'm the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. So, I'm not looking at anything else."

Another reporter asked Kelly if he had heard from any colleges about job offers.

"Nope," Kelly said, shaking his head. 

Of course, what's he supposed to say? During preparation for his final game at Oregon, the 2013 Fiesta Bowl, he insisted he hadn't had any contact with NFL teams. Two weeks later, he was headed to Philadelphia. 

San Francisco is 1-6 and there are already rumors that Kelly could get fired after one season. After all, the 49ers clearly have winning talent (sarcasm). 

Maybe he does get blown out after one season. But just because he once coached at Oregon and Ducks coach Mark Helfrich is on the hot seat with a 2-5 record this season, doesn't mean Kelly would return to Eugene, or that UO would even welcome him back.

Yep. Let that possibility sink in for a moment. Why do people even assume that Oregon would welcome back Kelly? 

Paul Finebaum, an SEC guru, appeared on television recently and offered up a veiled idea that Kelly could possibly return to Oregon. He clearly has never met Kelly. 

I realize fans of Oregon and those associated with the program believe the Ducks hung the moon and that anyone in their right mind would want to coach UO to glory. But let's review the scorecard that would be filled out if Kelly were to return to Oregon. It's not pretty:

  1. He left Oregon for the NFL after only four years as head coach and having been hailed as an offensive genius, only to have that idea destroyed at the next level.  
  2. He failed with the Eagles and got fired after making questionable trades and alienating players and front office personnel. 
  3. He would have failed in San Francisco by making the already horrid 49ers even worse while once again demonstrating that his no-huddle offense is no friend to a bad defense in a league where teams have close to equal talent. 
  4. He would return to Oregon a failure having to admit to the world that he couldn't hack it at the next level. 
  5. He would be doing so knowing that the Pac-12 is far better now than it was when he left it with most teams now running spread, no-huddle attacks and racking up huge points like his teams did from 2009 through 2012. 
  6. He would look north to Seattle to find a No. 4-ranked Washington team in full swing and led by a coaching equal, Chris Petersen. 
  7. He would be reminded that he can't survive off recruiting in the state of Oregon and still must recruit nationally as the coach whose star is on the decline, not on the rise. 
  8. Speaking of recruiting, sources say he hated it.
  9. He also hated sucking up to boosters. He hated alumni events. Heck, he would Skype in for his weekly address to the Portland booster club because he didn't want to make the weekly drive from Eugene as Mike Bellotti had done for decades. 
  10. He would know that if he failed at Oregon during his second tenure he would cement the idea that his prior success was based on a gimmick that flamed out in the NFL and, although potent, has been copied by many, thus rendering his version no longer unique.

Sources at Oregon laugh at the mere speculation that Kelly would ever return to the Ducks. Any fan's fascination and love for him far outweighs his affinity for Eugene. Oregon was a job to him. It might have been a special one given that it's where he got his big break after being at New Hampshire, but it was still just a job. A stepping stone. People don't climb back down unless they have to. Kelly wouldn't have to, even if he were fired by San Francisco. 

No, Kelly will hold on in the NFL as long as he can. If he is fired in San Francisco he would be done as a head coach in the NFL unless he returns to college and duplicates his success at Oregon.

But if he is faced with that quandary, he would not choose Oregon as his launching pad. He would choose a much more appetizing option with a larger stadium and far deeper recruiting base. He would choose a better job. 

Places such as USC, Texas or LSU could be coach hunting this offseason.  These programs have far more juice than Oregon. They are places where he could potentially build another winner then entice an NFL team to give him a third shot. 

There could come a day when Kelly has no choice but to take a look at Oregon. Maybe he will continue to struggle to find success no matter where he lands. By then, maybe the local fascination with Kelly will have worn off. 

But as long as he has any juice at all, he isn't going to return to Oregon unless its a last resort. And if that ends up being the case, would the program even want him back? 

So is it time for the Ducks to officially start playing for next season?

So is it time for the Ducks to officially start playing for next season?

The Ducks and Bears turned a football game into a marathon Friday night, a seemingly endless mix of thrilling plays, touchdowns and bewildering penalties that was befitting two of the Pac-12's lesser teams. This one wasn't pretty, especially from the Ducks' side of the field, at least until a late comeback gave them new life and some degree of hope for the remainder of what appears to be a very disappointing season. Some thoughts about this game:

  • California opened the game with little regard for Oregon's weak defense, twice going for it in their own territory on fourth down and picking up first downs. But maybe the Ducks were unwittingly setting a Bear trap. In the second half California failed on a fourth-down conversion and also made an ill-advised pooch punt that went just 10 yards while trying to make the Ducks think they were again going to go for it on fourth down. It's interesting when you allow teams to think they can gain yards against you anytime and in any field position -- it tends to make them careless and arrogant. And it allowed the Ducks a chance to make a comeback -- which they jumped on.
  • Justin Herbert is showing all the signs of eventually becoming a big-time quarterback and it's going to be interesting to see how the coaches develop him. It appeared that they were being very careful with him against Washington and in the first half of this one, not asking too much. But behind by three touchdowns in the second half he was almost in full gunslinger mode and I liked that a lot. If you're just going to mail this season in and build for the future, you might as well take the wraps off him and let him fire away.
  • That begs the question -- is it time to to commit fully to next season? A bowl game at this point seems impossible, so why not? Well, part of that "why not" is a fan base that expects -- and is paying for -- something better. This is a question that faces pro teams and college teams in every sport -- when do you resign yourself to a lost season and use the remaining games to build for the following season? When do you surrender a battle to win a war?
  • I've been saying all season that defense wasn't this team's only problem and I think it showed in this game. Oregon's offense sputtered in the first half and it cost the Ducks the game. Yes, the defense is monumentally bad ... but if the offense can at least keep things from getting out of hand, the Duck defense is usually going to get a few second-half stops, perhaps just because the opponent's offense is exhausted from all the running. It's not the way you want to win games, but it's the only way to win right now. And there is still enough offensive talent at receiver and running back to rack up some high scores.
  • And speaking of the defense, if you're going to commit to a 4-3 alignment, that's fine. Obviously, the Ducks don't have the kind of talent necessary to make it effective. So why not commit to more pressure on quarterbacks? Why not a few more line stunts? Why not bring the house once in a while? You're giving up points at an alarming rate anyway, why not roll the dice once in a while just to give the other team something to think about?
  • Yes, the offensive line is young. Yes, the quarterback is a freshman. But really, a young team should be improving as the season goes along and we're not really seeing much of that so far -- particularly on the defensive side.
  • Let me say this one more time because I keep seeing my critical remarks about the Ducks being misinterpreted: I am not campaigning for Mark Helfrich to be fired. I don't believe that is going to happen nor do I think it should happen. What I'm doing is pointing out things I see that need to be corrected. I'm second-guessing, quite frankly. That's often considered unfair but really -- it's what we do. I mean, until they give me the chance to first-guess, I'm stuck with it. And, of course, there's a lot to second-guess.
  • Let me tell you what seems to come through whenever I speak with former Duck players who are disappointed in what they're seeing on the field this season. They talk about the culture of Duck football and how it's changed. About how, under Chip Kelly, it was a VERY disciplined program -- and that meant every player from top to bottom was held accountable. What I hear from multiple players is how feared Kelly was by the players. They knew he insisted on certain things and if you didn't do them, you'd sit -- no matter who you were. And from that came a toughness and discipline that they aren't seeing in the program now.
  • A team's culture is a fragile thing that can take a wrong turn at any moment. And it's changeable -- for better or worse. My hope would be that if there's something amiss in Oregon's culture right now, it can be corrected. And forget about all the stuff you see on the field from the Ducks, it's the issue of the team's culture that eventually could lead to a coaching change. If the culture goes south, you've got a serious problem no matter how talented or well-coached you are.
  • I don't doubt for a moment Oregon could be tougher. More disciplined. Those traits must be rediscovered.

Let me please explain the criticism of Oregon's Mark Helfrich

Let me please explain the criticism of Oregon's Mark Helfrich

The Ducks Saturday were soundly thrashed at Washington State. The Cougars didn't "Coug it," the Ducks "Ducked it."

Oregon's defense couldn't stop a noted passing team from running the football and couldn't score as many points against WSU as Eastern Washington did. It was another unimpressive all-around performance by a team that came into the season as a Top 25 squad.

And of course, as is customary in situations like this, the "Fire the coach" people were out in force. And I'm not quite sure why that mystifies so many people. They're calling Oregon fans spoiled and urge them to be patient, to stay calm and wait for things to turn around. But I think there needs to be an understanding about where these people are coming from.

Oregon fans are still routinely selling out Aurzen Stadium at an average price of about $150 a ticket. Most of them come to games in full gear -- from jerseys to socks to caps and probably underwear. They have put their money where their heart is consistently over the last several seasons. And frankly, they're not getting what they're paying for right now. That's sports, I know. No guarantees.

But I'm not going to be upset by the passion of fans who want so much for their team to succeed that they overreact a bit when things go bad. And how do you expect them to express their discontent? You want them to boo 19-year-old kids?

Oregon has a head football coach, Mark Helfrich, who is making more than three million bucks per season -- and those fans have a hand in paying him that salary. Phil Knight isn't the only one writing checks -- he just writes the biggest ones. And when the Ducks look undisciplined and inept -- as they have at times this season -- the coach is going to be held accountable. It's the way it works from the pros down to high schools.

I've been critical of Helfrich several times this season. But that doesn't mean I want him to be fired. I'd prefer he learns from his mistakes and improves along with his team. Besides, I know how they work at Oregon and traditionally, it's a school that doesn't make quick decisions about coaches. I would be shocked if they dump him after this season, if for no other reason than all the money they'd owe him on his contract.

Helfrich was hired for this job because Oregon seems to be stuck in the mode of moving assistant coaches into the head coaching job. They'll point to Mike Bellotti and Chip Kelly as exhibits of how well this works. But those men weren't moved into programs that were perennial national powerhouses with all the pressure that goes with that, as the Ducks were when Helfrich was hired. This would have been the first time Oregon was in a position to recruit a big-time, proven winner at the highest level.

Oregon could have gone out and interviewed some of the top coaches in the country and if nothing else, hired Helfrich then and validated him by that search. You know, "We looked all over and couldn't find anyone better." I mean, I'd have at least talked to Chris Petersen, who was much more of a proven commodity than Helfrich.

This Duck team may well be much less talented than what Kelly had to work with during his time at Oregon. Whose fault is that? The coaches may not be doing a very good job of developing players they recruit, too. Again, whose fault is that? And lastly, they may not have the kind of control and motivational skills Kelly had with his roster. And that would be the coaches' fault, too.

Look, that staff at Oregon has been together for decades. That's great. But the very best hire that's been made at Oregon in several years was when Bellotti went outside the program, clear across the country, to bring in Kelly.

Don't be afraid of change, folks. And I'd advise the Oregon coaching staff the same thing. Just because Chip did something, that doesn't mean you have to do the same thing. Helfrich needs to find his own style of play instead of chasing Chip's formula.

I hope it all works out for him.

But if it doesn't, I wouldn't want to wait until it's too late to capitalize on all the good things that have happened at Oregon in the last decade. Once this thing goes completely off the rails, it's pretty hard to get it going again. Just ask those folks from Seattle heading into Eugene this weekend.


How good can the Ducks' future be as long as they're living in the past?

How good can the Ducks' future be as long as they're living in the past?

When Oregon lost head coach Chip Kelly to the National Football League, it lost a heck of a coach. Everybody knows that.

The Ducks also lost the seminal figure in their surge to becoming both a consistent national power and one of the most fun teams to watch in college football. Kelly was to Oregon what Steve Jobs was to Apple -- a unique innovator who always seemed to be one step ahead of the competition. His teams were prepared, smart and difficult to predict. Just when you thought you had him figured out, he came up with something else.

It was as if he was that late friend of mine, who used to say, “Just when you think you have all the answers, I CHANGE THE QUESTIONS!”

And in his absence, Oregon football has tried its best to maintain Kelly's aura by continuing to stick to his style. But the style without the designer is a cheap imitation. A knockoff. And that's what Duck football has become -- a product that looks on the surface just like the ones Kelly created, but without the substance and innovation that made the whole thing work in the first place. They have nobody now who can CHANGE THE QUESTIONS!

I don't know what to think of Coach Mark Helfrich. He talks a good game. He takes responsibility, as he should, when things don't go well. He obviously knows football way better than you and me, But there's something missing. And in a lot of the ways you measure the impact of coaches, he doesn't measure up very well.

I've always looked at penalties as a measure of the preparation and discipline level of football teams -- a direct result of coaching.  The Ducks are averaging 11 penalties per game, 125th in the country and ahead of only Arkansas State, San Diego State and Marshall. Seriously, that's brutal. Oregon came out Saturday afternoon not ready for Colorado, which was starting a freshman backup at quarterback. The Buffaloes jumped them early and took control of the game. And the Ducks, with the game seemingly in their grasp, couldn't execute late in the game to win it.

Yes, quarterback Dakota Prukop tossed up the football equivalent of an air-balled free throw in the end zone, leaving a fade pass woefully short. But was it the right call? Was Prukop prepared to make such a throw? We'll never know, but I believe it's a reason that going out and grabbing a Big Sky quarterback who was a graduate transfer as a one-season fix is probably not the way a big-time program should go about its business. Prukop is new enough to the program that I'm not certain the coaches could ever have known what he's capable (or not capable) of doing late in a Pac-12 game.

Recruiting is a big part of the coach's job and for me, the mere fact of a program of this nature having to go out two years in a row to the Rent-A-Quarterback store in the Big Sky Conference is a sign things aren't going well in that department.

The defense is as big a problem this season as it was last year -- perhaps even worse, as the Ducks seem stuck in a rather static 4-3 that doesn't get much pressure on the quarterback and seems to grow confused in zone coverage. There are only two ways out of that problem -- recruit better players or talk Nick Aliotti out of retirement. The former is much more likely than the latter, I would assume.

The offense, though, has been this team's identity for years and it's not hitting on all cylinders, either. And with that defense, the offense must get much, much more efficient for Oregon to end up on the winning side of the scoreboard.

And this is where Kelly is missed the most. This coaching staff is still trying to to run Chip's stuff without Chip and I don't think that's going well. The tempo is inconsistent and that doesn't matter, anyway, because everyone has caught up to the whole play-fast deal. The play calling is pedestrian and where Kelly always seemed to be outside the box and difficult to predict, the Ducks now seem at a loss at times about how they want to attack.

For all their playmakers on offense, Oregon ranks tied for 69th in the country in third-down conversion percentage. Part of that, of course, is not getting many yards on first and second down. That's when Oregon seems at its offensive worst, by the way -- first and second down, where the conservative side of the coaching staff seems to have a death grip on the offense.

Chip Kelly built Oregon into a feared national powerhouse and an offensive juggernaut. We won't ever know if he could have kept the Ducks on top -- only a select few programs can maintain that excellence over an extended time.

But I do think we know by now that Helfrich hasn't been able to do it. That's not an indictment, really. Apple still hasn't recovered from losing Steve Jobs, either.