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.