Mark Helfrich's move to the NFL as the Chicago Bears new offensive coordinator hit the sports world today like an unblocked, blindside blitz.
Where did that come from?
Helfrich waited 13 months before jumping back into the coaching world after Oregon fired him in 2016 following a 4-8 season just two years after he had guided the Ducks to the national title game. During his hiatus, according to some close to Helfrich, he received interest from several college teams about becoming their head coach or offensive coordinator. Repeatedly, however, Helfrich rejected inquiries while instead choosing to keep his family in Eugene, take time off from coaching, work in television and consider his future coaching options.
Now he's back in the coaching game, taking his quarterback developing and offensive coordinating skills to the NFL to work for a team in desperate need of an offensive overhaul.
It's an interesting move for Helfrich and one that smacks of a man attempting to completely reinvent himself as a coach. It's a move that could pay off big time should he find success.
The easy move for Helfrich would have been to join former Oregon coach Chip Kelly at UCLA as the Bruins new offensive coordinator. Kelly hired Helfrich for the same position at Oregon in 2009 and the results were the greatest run of offensive production and victories in program history before it all came crashing down in 2016, four seasons after Kelly departed for the NFL.
But taking that rout would have placed Helfrich right back under Kelly's shadow. Had they been successful, all of the credit still would have gone to Kelly just as it did while the two were at Oregon.
By heading to the NFL, however, Helfrich is taking a swing for the fences at the highest level the sport has to offer. Helfrich will still be in the shadows of an offensive-minded head coach in Matt Nagy, hired by the Bears this week away from Kansas City.
Nagy has said that he will call the plays in Chicago, as Kelly did for Oregon, which means that Helfrich's heavy lifting will be done during the week while game planning, offering play call suggestions during games and, maybe most importantly, assisting in the development of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
The irony here, of course, is that one of the more amusing takes from Helfrich haters has been that he failed to develop a quarterback while riding the coattails of Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Marcus Mariota to success for two years post Kelly. Of course, that's a complete contradiction given that Helfrich recruited and developed Mariota. Helfrich also coached and developed Jeremiah Masoli and Darron Thomas, and he recruited, developed and coached Bryan Bennett and Justin Herbert.
In the end, Helfrich's starters at Oregon were Masoli, Thomas, Mariota, Vernon Adams, Dakota Prukop and Herbert, a certain future NFL draft pick. That's one hell of a run for any coach, and it's one that current coach Mario Cristobal will be fortunate to duplicate, providing he remains at Oregon long enough to do so.
But, because Jeff Lockie and Morgan Mahalak didn't work out, Helfrich has somehow labeled by some as having been a failure at developing quarterbacks.
All of this nonsense also ignores the fact that long ago, while Helfrich was the quarterbacks coach at Boise State, he helped Bart Hendricks earn Big West Conference player of the year in 1999 and 2000. Later, Helfrich coached quarterbacks at Arizona State where he helped Andrew Walter set numerous ASU and Pac-12 record, and become a third-round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
Both stints were under coach Dirk Koetter, a former Oregon offensive coordinator and the current Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach (more on that connection later).
In 2006, at the age of 32, Helfrich became the youngest offensive coordinator in the nation at Colorado. That run led to Kelly hiring him at Oregon in order to add Helfrich's pro-style acumen to Kelly's spread attack.
Now Helfrich finds himself in the NFL as an offensive coordinator. The reality is this: Should he succeed in developing Trubisky and help Nagy turnaround the Bears' offense, Helfrich would then be in position to work his way toward becoming a head coach in the NFL.
That's typically how these things work. The NFL is all about connections. Helfrich has a few, including Koetter.
But, at the end of the day, Helfrich must produce. He must develop Trubisky. He must help Chicago's offense rise from its 2017 ranking of 30th in the NFL. Chances are that he will do just that. The guy can coach. He proved as much by going 33-8 over three seasons before that disastrous 2016 mess. He's also proven, despite inane beliefs to the contrary, that he can develop quarterbacks.
Should Helfrich work that magic again, he could be will on his way to far bigger and better things than Oregon football.