In the end, Oregon got what it deserved.
Karma bit the Ducks in the backside when former coach Willie Taggart, after one Swag Surfin' season, hopped on his boogie board and glided out of town to become Florida State's new coach, leaving behind a lot of angry UO fans and jilted players (see Troy Dye).
For the first time ever (or at least based on what I can tell), an Oregon football coach has flat out left the program for another college job. It's no coincidence that this occurred a year after Oregon fired a coach for the first time in 40 years.
Here we are a year later and the Ducks are already searching for their second coach post Helfrich.
What's most amusing is all of the whining about "loyalty." Really? Loyalty is not sending a group of coaches that had accomplished so much at Oregon out to recruit when the writing was on the wall that they would be fired, then firing them while they literally were in the process of meeting with recruits. That was a messed up and totally disrespectful move by athletic director Rob Mullens on every level.
One recruit's family member, who wished to remain anonymous, recalled an awkward home visit with Helfrich, who clearly believed he was on thin ice. Helfrich told the family that he didn't know if he would remain Oregon's coach while also trying to recruit the player to UO.
That's just wrong. Let's go ahead and set aside Helfrich for a moment, how does one place in the same situation former long-time assistants like Steve Greatwood, Don Pellum, Gary Campbell, Tom Osborne and John Neal?
Those guys only helped anchor the greatest era in Oregon football and what will likely remain the greatest era into the near future unless the Ducks magically win a national title, which remains only remotely possible.
How Taggart dealt with Oregon's players is another story. But in terms of the business side of things. spare me the talk about how disloyal Taggart was to a program he worked for only one year. Especially considering that he didn't leave the Ducks for, say, Arkansas or Louisville. He left Oregon for Florida State, an all-time marquee program that Oregon can't measure up to, and it just so happens to be the team he grew up rooting for while growing up in Palmetto, Fla., where his widowed mother still resides.
That, right there, is loyalty. Loyalty to family. Loyalty to roots. Loyalty to that childhood connection many of you have with Oregon. And, yes, loyalty to the almighty dollar, because Florida State offered more money (six years and $30 million) than Oregon did.
During a candid conversation with Taggart last February, he said that he believed that the previous staff were unfairly fired given all that they had accomplished. But, that's the business, he added. On Tuesday, he played that business to his advantage.
Oregon had avoided that side of the business for decades because the program didn't panic when things went south, as they did last year when the Ducks went 4-8 under Helfrich during the program's first losing season in 12 years. Oregon had a legacy coaching tree in place that went from Rich Brooks to Mike Bellotti to Chip Kelly to Helfrich. The latter three were promoted from within after serving as offensive coordinators to their predecessor. Bellotti retired from coaching in 2009 order to promote Kelly. Kelly left for the NFL in 2013 opening the door for Helfrich. All three came within a game, or two, of winning the national title.
Then, well, Oregon got too big for its britches. The Ducks fans and hierarchy decided that the program was far too big to ever have a down season, which of course is absurd. So, UO blew out the former coaching staff and set out to find someone that would return the program to glory.
That someone was expected to be Taggart. Oops.
What Mullens should have done last year was sat Helfrich down and given him the "win or else" talk. Mullens should have made it clear that he must at least reach a bowl game in 2017 and reestablish discipline in the locker room.
One former assistant coach who didn't believe that the staff would be fired up until they were, stated late last season that had the staff returned in 2017 and had another losing season, he would fire himself.
Truth be told, I liked the hire. It was a bold roll of the dice on a young coach. Oh, and he is African-American, which for me (also African-American and long annoyed by the clear racism involved when it comes to the hiring of football coaches of color) earned Mullens triple bonus points.
But the right move still remains to have given Helfrich and company one year to turn things around. With quarterback Justin Herbert in place, that turnaround would have happened and Oregon wouldn't be in the mess that it is now.
The good news is that Oregon should still be able to find a good coach to lead what will be a potentially really good team in 2018. The trick, though, is finding someone that cares as much about Oregon as Oregon cares about winning.
For all of its bells and whistles, Oregon is not a marquee job. The stadium is small, it's tough to get to Eugene, the region is short on recruits, the fan base is fickle and not nearly as rooted as they are in places such as Michigan, Nebraska, Texas and Florida State. Oregon has accomplished a lot with many disadvantages thanks to what was an innovative offense, Nike's support and brilliant marketing that elevated the Ducks brand, making UO a desirable place to play for high-end recruits. But not many proven coaches out there are going to view Oregon as a destination job. Helfrich did. But UO wasn't even on Taggart's radar until he interviewed for the job.
So where does UO go from here.
Kevin Sumlin and Mario Cristobal are good options. Sumlin, fired this year by Texas A&M, is looking to rebuild his career. Cristobal, once fired by Florida International and from Miami, Fla., longs to return to being a head coach.
But would either consider Oregon a place to set up roots? At this point, Mullens will have to build a contract for UO's next coach that makes it very painful to leave for another collegiate program. He failed to do that with Taggart. However, I'll bet that Taggart and his agent, Jimmy Sexton, would not have allowed such language to get in the way of the coach taking off for FSU.I want to see Oregon go after California coach Justin Wilcox. He is an up-and-coming talent that has deep connections to Oregon. He played there. His brother, father and uncle also played there. He likely wouldn't leave Oregon down the road unless it were to jump to the NFL.
Hiring Wilcox would return the Ducks to a place that values connections and roots, a formula tha worked so well for 40 years, save for a few bumps in the road such as the 2016 season.
Whatever Oregon does, the Ducks will have a chance to return to greatness but will never avoid having bumps in the road here and there. Few programs ever do.
But maybe returning to the past in terms of how the program hires and fire people should be more important than the unrealistic quest to become something the program will never be, a place strong enough to keep a Taggart from jetting off to a Florida State.
At the end of the day, the entire Helfrich debate comes down to one more year. Had he succeeded, everyone would be happy. Had he failed, then he would be gone. The former staff deserved that one year more so than a Florida State fan with ambitions beyond Oregon.