Mark Helfrich

Mark Helfrich takes intriguing route toward reinvention with the Chicago Bears

usatsi_8306702.jpg
USA Today

Mark Helfrich takes intriguing route toward reinvention with the Chicago Bears

Mark Helfrich's move to the NFL as the Chicago Bears new offensive coordinator hit the sports world today like an unblocked, blindside blitz. 

Bam!

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. 

Helfrich hired as Chicago Bears offensive coordinator

usatsi_8941191_147386290_lowres.jpg

Helfrich hired as Chicago Bears offensive coordinator

Former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich is headed to the NFL. The Chicago Bears have hired Helfrich to be offensive coordinator, Adam Schefter of ESPN reports. 

Helfrich will be coaching two of his former Oregon players, offensive linemen Kyle Long and Hroniss Grasu. 

"Beyond excited and thrilled to be working with Coach Helf again," said Grasu. "Love the guy and his family. We are very fortunate to have him."

Helfrich was the offensive coordinator of the Ducks from 2009-2012 and moved into the head coaching spot after Chip Kelly left for the Eagles. He won 33 games in his first three seasons and went to a national title game before being fired after going 4-8 during the 2016 season.

It was rumored that Kelly offered the UCLA offensive coordinator job to Helfrich. 

Former Oregon head coaches reunited? Chip Kelly has reportedly offered Mark Helfrich UCLA's OC job

Former Oregon head coaches reunited? Chip Kelly has reportedly offered Mark Helfrich UCLA's OC job

Former Oregon head coach and current Fox Sports college football analyst, Mark Helfrich, has been linked to multiple open coaching positions according to reports, including an offer by Chip Kelly to be UCLA's offensive coordinator.

FootballScoop is reporting that Chip Kelly has offered UCLA's offensive coordinator role to Mark Helfrich. Two former Oregon coaches in blue and gold?

Also, after Arizona fired its head coach Rich Rodriguez, Helfrich's name was linked to the now open Wildcat job.

Last but not least, he is also rumored to be an addition to the staff at Texas.

Last year, Helfrich was fired from Oregon after a 4-8 season. Oregon is still paying Helfrich's buyout for another two years. The Ducks owe 3.5 million for 2018 and 3.85 million for 2018, adding up to a total of $7.35 million.  Will update this story as more develops. 

Karma bit Oregon in the backside, but the Ducks will recover

imgonline-com-ua-twotoone-kjljnno7iyl.jpg
USA Today

Karma bit Oregon in the backside, but the Ducks will recover

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. 

Yes, I'm back on the Mark Helfrich kick once again. But only because I warned this time last year last year that firing Helfrich after one losing season and just two years removed from guiding Oregon to the nation title game could set into motion a vicious cycle of coaches coming in and out of the program for a variety of reasons. 

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

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. 

And don't think that Taggart hadn't noticed how Helfrich and company were treated when fired.

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.  

Instead, Mullens pulled the trigger last year. Clearly, he believed that Oregon could do better than a staff that had won four Pac-12 titles, two Rose Bowls and a Fiesta Bowl in six years. Yet, he ended up striking out with all of the so-called "big named" candidates before hiring a young coach in Taggart on the speculation that he was ready to thrive. 

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. 

All of this is why 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. 

Oregon's penalties have reached ludicrous levels

usatsi_10302163.jpg
USA Today

Oregon's penalties have reached ludicrous levels

The Oregon Ducks are no strangers to having officials throw numerous yellow flags at them during games but this year's team has raised the bar on infractions accrued to new heights. 

Oregon (3-1) was penalized 14 times on Saturday night during a 37-35 loss at Arizona State to run the Ducks' season total to a Pac-12-leading 42. It could have been worse. Technically, Oregon committed 17 penalties against ASU but the Sun Devils declined three.  

Oregon's 10.5 penalties per game are the most for the program since at least 2000 (see chart below). The most Oregon has ever committed in a season since 2000 is 8.8 in 2015. The Ducks have plenty of time to reverse the trend for this season but averaging double-digit penalties per game certainly is cause for alarm. 

"It's as frustrating as it gets," Oregon redshirt sophomore center Jake Hanson said following Saturday's loss. "You can't expect to win games when you have over a 100 yards of penalties. We have a lot of stuff to cleanup this week."

Oregon was charged with 99 yards in penalties on Saturday and is averaging 89.2 on the season (third most in the Pac-12). The penalties hurt. Earning flags and a general lack of execution contributed to the Ducks converting on just one of 11 third down attempts during their loss to the Sun Devils. 

"I think penalties are a huge factor," UO sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert said. "Anytime when you're moving backwards it isn't a good thing." 

UO coach Willie Taggart said the proper technique is needed to avoid penalties such as holding (Oregon committed five total on offense and defense vs. ASU) and pass interference.

"We've just got to teach," Taggart said. "Teach and practice."

False start penalties on the offense were also a big problem against ASU (2-2). The Ducks committed five, four in the first half when UO managed to score just 14 points with one touchdown set up by a muffed punt return by ASU at its 11-yard line. 

'You can't do that," Taggart said of the false starts. "You've got to listen for the call."

Interestingly, while penalties have been a problem for Oregon over the years, they typically haven't hurt the team's won-loss record. The Ducks have ranked at or near the bottom in the conference for much of the past 17 years. In fact, Oregon has committed a whopping eight or more penalties per game in eight out of 17 seasons since 2000. 

In 2010, when Oregon went 12-1 and reached the BCS National Championship game under coach Chip Kelly, the Ducks ranked ninth in the Pac-10 in both penalties per game (7.2) and penalty yards per game (61.2). Kelly's teams ranked ninth in the conference in total penalties in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and ranked eighth in 2009. 

The 2014 team, which reached the national title game under coach Mark Helfrich, ranked ninth in the Pac-12 in penalties per game (8.2) and seventh in penalty yards (72). 

Some of the elevation in numbers over the years could be contributed to the number of plays generated by an uptempo offense. More plays could certainly lead to more penalties. But not enough to account for the poor overall rankings. And, tempo certainly wouldn't necessarily impact the team's conference ranking in that area during today's era when most teams run an uptempo offense. 

In 2004, the year before the Ducks moved to the spread offense and began running some no-huddle, the Ducks committed 8.6 penalties per game, the third most (counting this season) since 2000.

While great UO teams, such as the 2010 and 2014 squads, were able to overcome their penalty totals, lesser Duck teams did not. The aforementioned 2004 Ducks went 5-6 that year. The 2016 season, the program's only other losing campaign since 1993, saw the Ducks rank last in the Pac-12 at 8.3 turnovers per game. 

This Oregon team is closer in playing level to the 2004 and 2016 teams than it is to any of the Ducks' championship teams. These Ducks are simply too young and too inexperienced to be good enough to win many close games while giving away yards through penalties. 

Oregon and Taggart had better clean up this penalty mess or more close, frustrating defeats will surely come their way this season. 

OREGON'S PENALTY TOTALS - 2000-2017

2017 (3-1)

Penalty per game game = 10.5 (12th PAC-12)

Penalty yards per game = 89.2 (10th)

2016 (4-8)

Penalty per game game = 8.3 (12th)

Penalty yards per game = 75.8 (12th)

2015 (9-4)

Penalty per game game = 8.8 (10th)

Penalty yards per game = 61 (10th)

2014 (13-2)

Penalty per game game = 8.2 (9th)

Penalty yards per game = 72 (7th)

2013 (11-2)

Penalty per game game = 8.2 (12th)

Penalty yards per game = 70.2 (10th)

2012 (12-1)

Penalty per game game = 7.9 (9th)

Penalty yards per game = 71.1 (9th)

2011 (12-2)

Penalty per game game = 7.2 (9th)

Penalty yards per game = 65 (7th)

2010 (12-1)

Penalty per game game = 7.2 (9th PAC-10)

Penalty yards per game = 61.2 (9th).

2009 (10-3)

Penalty per game game = 7.3

Penalty yards per game = 62.7

2008 (10-3)

Penalty per game game = 7.3

Penalty yards per game = 62.7

2007 (9-4)

Penalty per game game = 6.1

Penalty yards per game = 55

2006 (7-6)

Penalty per game game = 7.5

Penalty yards per game = 60

2005 (10-2)

Penalty per game game = 8.0

Penalty yards per game = 72.7

2004 (5-6)

Penalty per game game = 8.6

Penalty yards per game = 79.7

2003 (8-5)

Penalty per game game = 7.8

Penalty yards per game = 69.7

2002 (8-5)

Penalty per game game = 8.5

Penalty yards per game = 71.2

2001 (11-1)

Penalty per game game = 6.4

Penalty yards per game = 57.9

2000 (10-2)

Penalty per game game = 8.0

Penalty yards per game = 72.0

Oregon's "#TheMovement18" recruiting blitz must scoop up impact defensive linemen

Oregon's "#TheMovement18" recruiting blitz must scoop up impact defensive linemen

Oregon's coaches are killing it on the recruiting trail. They are Tweeting up a storm complete with the fresh hashtag, "TheMovement18," while using plenty of Emojis, GIFs and photos of Ducks swag in order to appeal to the talented teens they are pursuing.  

So far, the high-energy and social media-savvy recruiting tactics under new coach Willie Taggart have worked well and have fans giddy about the future. Oregon's 2018 recruiting class currently ranks No. 11 in the country, according to Rivals.com. That's coming off of a No. 18 ranking for the 2017 recruiting class, completed last February. 

Just one problem: Where are all of the impact defensive linemen?

I know, I know, it's early. Signing day is nearly nine months away. But let's be clear: All of the bells and whistles and hyped commitment gatherings won't mean squat in the end unless the new coaching staff can make a habit out of landing high-end defensive line recruits. Just ask the former coaching staff whose failure in this department from 2013 through 2016 contributed greatly to a defense that last season ranked 128th (518.4 yards per game) in the nation in total defense and 121st (246.5) against the run during a 4-8 season. 

The defensive line is so depleted with veteran talent that Taggart went out and signed graduate transfer defensive lineman Scott Pagano. The former Clemson part-time starter will instantly become the Ducks' best defensive lineman, if not best defensive player. 

Oregon must sign the Paganos of the world on the front end of their careers, not at the back end. The Ducks are trying. According to 247Sports.com, Oregon has issued offers to 24 defensive ends and 10 defensive tackles. Of those 34 players, 21 are rated as 4-star recruits, or better. However, just one is even listed as being "warm" on Oregon while 17 have either already committed, or are listed as "cool" toward Oregon. 

Here is the overall recruiting situation thus far: 

Oregon's big weekend during the spring game included receiving commitments from six recruits followed up by another on Monday. Five were rated as four-star recruits by Rivals.com while 247Sports rated six as four-star prospects.

But zero defensive linemen were included in the haul. 

The Ducks on Friday did receive a commitment from Mohamed Diallo, a three-star defensive lineman out of Arizona Western Community College. He's a nice get. At an athletic 6-foot-3, 295 pounds, Diallo could become a good player for the Ducks at nose guard in 2018. But he must be an addition, not the center piece, to what has to be a much stronger class of defensive linemen. 

Taggart made a big splash in his first recruiting go around, but not at defensive line. UO signed three, but only one is a four-star recruit, freshman early enrollee Rutger Reitmaier. He committed to Oregon last June, five months before Taggart took over the program following the firing of Mark Helfrich.

A quick turnaround for the Oregon Ducks will mostly depend on dramatic improvement from the defense, and that will require a head-turning upgrade in play from the defensive line. So give credit to the Ducks for addressing this problem with the addition of Pagano. But the future of the defensive line remains in serious doubt and must be upgraded through recruiting. 

One of the knocks on the previous staff was that they failed to recruit impact players on defense after 2012, especially within the front seven. Under former coach Chip Kelly In 2012, the Ducks signed maybe their best defensive line recruiting class ever with the additions of four-star recruits, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Alex Balducci. Buckner and Armstead both went on to become first-round NFL Draft picks by the San Francisco 49ers. Balducci signed with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent and is now a center with the New York Jets.

Kelly's final recruiting influence came in 2013 before he moved on to the NFL. That class, which included 13 of 19 players who committed to Oregon under Kelly, ended up with just two defensive linemen: Torrodney Prevot and Doug Brenner. Prevot actually ended up playing linebacker while Brenner played offensive line. Elijah George, a two-star recruit offensive lineman in that class, is now a reserve defensive lineman.

Let that all sink in for a minute.

The Ducks sought to recover in 2014 with the addition of five defensive line recruits. Only one, however, was rated as a four-star player and that was junior college transfer Tui Talia. Of the four three-star recruits, Justin Hollins and Jalen Jelks have had the only impact. Both remain tweeners who might be undersized to be more than pass rushers. Eddie Heard, who ultimately played linebacker, and former starter, Austin Maloata, were removed from the team following their respective troubles with the law last year. 

Oregon tried again with five defensive line recruits in 2015. Again, just one was a four-star get. That was Canton Kaumatule, who appeared to have the potential to become the next Armstead or Buckner before repeated injuries and concussions slowed his development. He retired last season.  

The other four signees, all three-star recruits, remain projects. Junior Rex Manu and redshirt sophomore Gary Baker are the top returning defensive tackles. They will now play nose guard in UO's 3-4. Redshirt sophomores Drayton Carlberg and Gus Cumberlander will be competing for time at defensive end. 

UO signed four more defensive linemen in 2016. Redshirt freshman Hunter Kampmoyer and sophomore Bryson Young, a four-star recruit, have shown promise. However, Ratu Mafileo retired due to injury concerns and Wayne Tei-Kirby, thrust into action as a freshman, has transferred to BYU. 

To put all of this into perspective, consider that over the last five recruiting cycles Clemson has signed 10 four-star defensive linemen, including Pagano in 2013, and two five-star defensive linemen.

Oregon, during the past handful of years, did just fine signing players at most every other position, especially on offense. Running backs. Wide receivers. Offensive linemen. Even at quarterback where the Ducks at least signed promising four-star recruits, Morgan Mahalak (2014) and Travis Jonsen (2015). Mahalak has since transferred while Jonsen has yet to meet his potential. But, the Ducks hit big on Justin Herbert in 2016. 

Recruiting at defensive back and linebacker has been mixed, but at least some bright spots exist at those two positions. The defensive backs improved greatly last year over 2015, but a lack of a run defense and adequate pass rush left the secondary hung out to dry.

That all said, the linebacker position also needs an upgrade. Even with Balducci, Buckner and Armstead, Oregon's defense got steamrolled in the national title game by Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott. One reason was Elliott's talent, another was Oregon's lack of future NFL prospects at linebacker.

But we've seen and are seeing inroads being made at the second level of defense. Sophomore linebacker Troy Dye is a budding superstar. Commit Adrian Jackson, is rated as the No. 11 outside linebacker in the nation. The 2017 class featured linebacker Sampson Niu, who committed to Oregon last June under Helfrich and was rated as the No. 12 outside linebacker in his class. 

Oregon must match that level of recruiting along the defensive line so that transfers such like Pagano are viewed more as nice additions, such as 2015 transfer center Matt Hegarty, rather than as saviors, like 2015 quarterback Vernon Adams Jr..

The 6-foot-3, 295-pound Pagano could be an immediate starter opposite Mondeaux in defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt's 3-4 defense. Or, the former Clemson defensive tackle could also play nose guard. Figure he will play all over in different situational packages. 

Pagano's presence will prevent Leavitt from having to depend on a young end or nose guard that might not be ready to stand up to the rigors of the 3-4 defense.

Freshman nose guard Jordan Scott, a Taggart get, turned heads during spring drills with his athleticism and size but shouldn't be relied upon to carry the load in the middle next season. It's likely going to be up to Manu and Baker to get it done inside. 

But Pagano only buys Oregon time. All of the young defensive linemen have time to develop under position coach Joe Salave'a, considered to be a great recruiter. Helfrich's recruits could ultimately pan out. Regardless, the Ducks must move away from waiting for linemen to develop and step into an era of having a revolving door of impact defensive linemen with NFL potential flowing through the system. 

So while it's nice for Oregon that this staff has brought high energy to the recruiting trail and has landed commitments and signatures from promising recruits at many positions, the reality is that unless they can sign some Buckners, Armsteads and Balduccies, the Ducks' future will include more teams padding their offensive stats against Oregon's defense.  

Chip Kelly to Alabama as OC under Nick Saban makes zero sense

Chip Kelly to Alabama as OC under Nick Saban makes zero sense

Chip Kelly doesn't have a job.

Alabama has a vacancy at offensive coordinator.

1+1 in the sports world of connect the dots = Kelly to Alabama.

However: reality + logic = no way in hell that happens.

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban has been left with a huge job opening after former Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who held the job for all of one game, accepted the newly vacated job of offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons.

While a Saban-Kelly marriage would be as entertaining as all get out, it would appear to be far more likely that the vacancy would be filled by Oregon offensive coordinator and former Florida International head coach Mario Cristobal, who was Alabama's offensive line coach before joining the Ducks. Even former UO coach Mark Helfrich seems like a more viable candidate for Alabama than Kelly.  

Still, the immediate hot rumor is that Kelly could become a candidate in Tuscaloosa. 

But that makes about as much sense as Kelly returning to Oregon as OC. Here are the reasons why:

  • Kelly has made it clear he wants to stay in the NFL. To do so, he must stay in the NFL, even if it's as an assistant or a consultant for his good pal, Bill Belichik at New England. Coaching at Alabama would do nothing to improve Kelly's chances of remaining in the league. He must reinvent himself as an NFL coach. He can't do that in college. 
  • Kelly runs what was a revolutionary and up-tempo offense that made Oregon a national power. Although Kelly didn't win big in the NFL, his offenses were typically quite productive both in Philadelphia and San Francisco despite having limitations at quarterback. But his style wouldn't play well with Alabama's defensive-minded philosophies.In the past, Saban has complained about the impact no-huddle offenses have had on college football, particularly his defenses, which dominate conventional offenses but have struggled against no-huddle teams with dynamic quarterbacks (Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel, Deshaun Watson).  The last thing Saban wants is to see his defense on the field for 35 minutes while Kelly is calling a play every 15 seconds.  This reason also makes Helfrich appear to be an unlikely candidate, although he does have a pro-style background he could lean on. 
  • If Kelly wants to return to college he would do so as a head coach. If nothing materializes in the NFL, Kelly would become a hot head coaching in the college ranks when jobs come open next season. He could use coaching a year at Alabama as a springboard to a college head coaching job. But, again, he wants to remain in the NFL and he wouldn't need a boost of any kind to land a big time job in college. So, coaching at Alabama for one season doesn't help him at all. 
  • Speaking of being one-and-done, why would Saban want Kelly as a rent-a-coach for a year? It wouldn't benefit Saban to have Kelly waltz in, reinvent the offense and then leave after one season. Again, Cristobal would be a better choice than Kelly would be for one year. 
  • Kelly could possibly adapt his offensive style, but why would he want to do that for a season? Plus, for all we know Kelly would be an average coordinator of a conventional offense. His calling card is a spread, up-tempo offense, not pro-style attacks. 
  • Could you imagine this clash of egos? Think Godzilla vs. King Kong. Saban is a bully. He intimidated and verbally abused Lane Kiffin to the point where he left Alabama to take the head job at Florida Atlantic. Nobody leaves Alabama for Florida Atlantic. But Kiffin did. Saban couldn't bully Kelly like that. Kelly wouldn't take it. And Saban likely wouldn't want someone that strong working under him, potentially undermining his authority, and that works both ways. Kelly taking orders from Saban on how to run the offense probably wouldn't go over very well. I don't care how good of pals they are. 

To be fair here, maybe this is all too negative. Maybe Saban wants to get some of that spread attack philosophy into his system to see how it meshes with his defense. Maybe their friendship would derail any potential clashes. Maybe, just maybe, it would be a match made in heaven.

Or, maybe math doesn't lies and this coaching equation is a non-starter. 

I'm betting on the latter. 

Taggart and Oregon must recruit at historic levels to meet expectations

usatsi_8978900.jpg
USA Today

Taggart and Oregon must recruit at historic levels to meet expectations

Most Oregon football fans will probably be pretty giddy about what looks to be a strong recruiting class the Ducks will announce Wednesday during National Signing Day.

The class currently ranks at No. 20 on Rivals.com and No. 24 in 247sports.com's composite rankings. A couple of late commitments could push the Ducks into the high teens. Not bad, given that new coach Willie Taggart took over the reins of the program on Dec. 7 following a 4-8 season that led to the firing of Mark Helfrich.

But here's the deal: This projected recruiting class simply isn't good enough. Not even close. Not given the crazy expectations that surround a program that hasn't quite figured out how to handle relatively new success. Oregon is going to have to elevate its recruiting classes into at least the low teens if not the top-10 to have a reasonable shot at winning a national title, which is Oregon's ultimate goal.

The numbers simply do not lie.  

Since 2002, the average class ranking for the five recruiting classes signed prior to a team winning or splitting a national is 7.93 (see chart below).

All 16 national title teams since 2002 (LSU and USC split the 2003 national championship) signed at least one top-five class within five years of winning the championship. All but two of those programs (2003 USC and 2005 Texas) signed at least two top-10 classes prior to being crowned champions.

To be fair to Taggart and his staff, they should not be judged in anything but a favorable light for this year's recruiting class. They did a great job of hitting the ground running and adding nicely to the nine committed players secured by the former staff, which had a class ranked No. 23 on Rivals before Helfrich's firing. 

Where Taggart, who came to UO from South Florida, and his staff will truly earn their money will be by elevating UO's recruiting prowess to historic heights in the coming years. If not, Oregon will settle right into a pattern of ups and downs that most programs go through. It's unavoidable, even though that's exactly what did in Helfrich and company. 

-- No excuses

The narrative surrounding the firing of Helfrich was that the bar for success had been raised and that under no circumstances was it acceptable for the program to ever have a down season even if the roster is young and beset by numerous injuries.

No excuses. 

That's why athletic director Rob Mullens fired Helfrich. Forget the nonsense about players cutting corners or lack of accountability. Most programs go through that from time to time. All of that was all fixable. That staff had overcome worse messes. The losing season in a culture now accustomed to contending on an annual basis is what did in Helfrich and a staff responsible for Oregon's greatest ever single season in 2014, just two short years ago. Also, it was a staff, for the most part, that had its finger prints all over four conference titles, two Rose Bowl wins, a Fiesta Bowl victory, an Alamo Bowl romp, two national title appearances (UO was a knee injury away from a third), and the program's first ever Heisman Trophy, all since 2009.

It was a great run. But it clearly wasn't good enough to warrant a mulligan for the coaching staff following the program's first losing season in 12 years (2004).

But here is the problem moving forward, and the challenge facing Taggart: The former coaching staff, during the end of Mike Bellotti's tenure through Chip Kelly's four-year run and under Helfrich, were able to overcome a lack of national title contending talent with a unique offense that allowed the Ducks to play beyond their overall talent level. 

The Ducks' average recruiting class ranking from 2002 through 2016 was 21.7.  The 2010 Ducks reached the national championship game with an average five-year class ranking of 24.8 with a high of No. 12 in 2007. The 2014 Ducks reached the national title game with an average class ranking of 17.2 with a high of No. 9 in 2012.

Helfrich's three full recruiting classes (he took over for Kelly in in Mid-January of 2013) had an average ranking of 22.7 with a high of No. 17 in 2015. 

As one can tell, Oregon having a class ranked No. 20 is hardly earth shattering or cause for a parade. The Ducks have had seven top 20 classes since 2002 and four in the top 10.  

Taggart needs to land more often in the top 10 than out of it to succeed. And it won't be easy. 

Most national powers can fill their recruiting classes with high-end recruits living nearby. Oregon cannot. It must fan across the country to fill its roster. To that end, Taggart has assembled a strong recruiting staff with coaches that have had success getting players from all over the country. But none had ever been forced to recruit those players to Eugene.

To land a glut of four-star and five-star recruits, the Ducks' staff must out-recruit other big-time programs after the same players and do so to a city with a 1.4 percent African-American population and one that is difficult to get to. 

These things matter to many parents and most of Oregon's recruits are African-American. Oregon certainly has a lit of glitz going for it with the uniforms and amazing facilities, but nowadays, most programs have updated facilities and multiple uniform combinations. 

But there is hope. 

-- Being aggressive

What Taggart and his staff did this recruiting cycle was establish a strong presence nationally while being ultra aggressive. It resulted in the landing of some key recruits, but maybe more importantly for the program's future, set the tone that the Ducks' will be recruiting differently in hopes of elevating that recruiting base. 

The Ducks have already used Taggart's connections to land commitments from six players from the fertile recruiting state of Florida. Without even looking, we know that's an Oregon record, although the Ducks do have two impact players from Florida, receiver Charles Nelson and running back Tony Brooks-James.

But the hype surrounding the six Florida recruits is a bit overblown. Five of them are three-star recruits, which grow on trees for the Ducks. A three-star recruit from Florida is no better or worse than a three-star recruit from Arizona, Illinois, Texas or anywhere else. 

Of the six recruits from Florida, only one, four-star athlete Bruce Judson, received an offer from both Florida and Florida State, according to Rivals.com.  Only two others had offers from one or the other in-state powerhouses. 

Even if it's not a group of can't-miss prospects, landing all six could pay off big down the line if they report back to the other future recruits from Florida that they like it in Eugene, the weather isn't all that bad and they are having fun and winning. 

That could lead to an increase of higher-end recruits electing to make the trek to Eugene to play for Taggart. 

--- Could still contend

The Ducks could still show flashes of being a national threat even if they don't elevate recruiting on an annual basis if the coaching staff proves to be elite.

After all, Washington reached the 2016 national playoffs with an average five-year class ranking of 29. However, once the Huskies got on the field with Alabama and it's numerous top three classes, it was clear that they were out-manned in the overall talent department.

Certainly, winning the Pac-12 title will be within reach for UO if Taggart and his staff can coach, and when the Ducks have an elite quarterback. Winning the Pac-12 with at worst a 12-1 record will in most years get that team into the national playoffs. Unfortunately, once there that team will likely take on a program with simply far too much talent to overcome.

When the Ducks faced Ohio State in the national title game following the 2014 season, the Buckeyes had an average recruiting class ranking of 9.0. Furthermore, Ohio State had 17 players drafted over the next two drafts, nine inside the first three rounds, compared to eight and five for Oregon.

Taggart should be able to get the Ducks into the mix for conference titles from time to time. To do so on an annual basis in a deep conference will require elevating their recruiting reach above the competition. And that's going to be tough to do with the likes of USC working on its third top 10 class in four years

The greatest challenge facing Taggart might not be on the field or on the recruiting trail. It could very simply be meeting expectations that require taking Oregon places it's never been before. 

-----------

Recruiting class rankings for national champions based on Rivals.com (some early years from 247sports). Classes listed are those within five years of team winning national title.

2016 Clemson: Average class rank = 10.4 (No. 14 in 2012, No. 14 in 2013, No. 13 in 2014, No. 4 in 2015, No. 6 in 2016)

2015 Alabama: Average = 1.2 (No. 1 in 2011, No. 1 in 2012, No. 1 in 2013, No. 1 in 2014, No. 2 in 2015)

2014 Ohio State: Average = 9.0 (No. 25 in 2010, No. 11 in 2011, No. 4 in 2012, No. 2 in 2013, No. 3 in 2014)

2013 Florida State: Average = 5.83 (No. 7 in 2009, No. 10 in 2010, No. 2 in 2011, No. 6 in 2012, No. 10 in 2013).

2012 Alabama: Average = 1.8 (No. 1 in 2008, No. 1 in 2009, No. 5 in 2010, No. 1 in 2011, No. 1 in 2012).

2011 Alabama: Average = 3.6 (No. 10 in 2007, No. 1 in 2008, No. 1 in 2009, No. 5 in 2010, No 1 in 2011).

2010 Auburn: Average = 12.0 (No. 10 in 2006, No. 7 in 2007, No. 20 in 2008, No. 19 in 2009, No. 4 in 2010).

2009 Alabama: Average = 8.2 (No. 18 in 2005, No. 11 in 2006, No. 10 in 2007, No. 1 in 2008, N0. 1 in 2009).

2008 Florida: Average = 6.0 (No. 10 in 2004, No. 15 in 2005, No. 2 in 2006, No. 1 in 2007, No. 3 in 2008).

2007 LSU: Average = 7.2 (No. 1 in 2003, No. 2 in 2004, No. 22 in 2005, No. 7 in 2006, No. 4 in 2007).

2006 Florida: Average = 9.8 (No. 20 in 2002, No. 2 in 2003, No. 10 in 2004, No. 15 in 2005, No. 2 in 2006).

2005 Texas: Average = 13.5 (No. 11 in 2001 [247 sports], No. 1 in 2002, No. 15 in 2003, No. 18 in 2004, No. 20 in 2005).

2004 USC: Average = 9.8 (No. 12 in 2000 [247 sports],  No. 20 in 2001 [247 sports], No. 13 in 2002, No. 3 in 2003, No. 1 in 2004).

2003 Co-champ LSU: Four-year Average – 9.8 (No. 21 in 2000 [247 sports], No. 2 in 2001 [247 sports], No. 15 in 2002, No. 1 in 2003).

2003 Co-champ USC: Four-year Average – 12.0 (No. 12 in 2000 [247 sports], No. 20 in 2001 [247 sports], No. 13 in 2002, No. 3 in 2003).

2002 Ohio State: Three-year Average – 6.67 (No. 9 in 2000 [247 sports], No. 6 in 2001 [247 sports], No. 5 in 2002).

2001 Miami: Two-year Average – 7.5 (No. 7 in 2000 [247 sports],  No. 8 in 2001 [247 sports]).

Oregon OL recruit Alex Forsyth excited about Taggart, program's direction

Oregon OL recruit Alex Forsyth excited about Taggart, program's direction

West Linn High School senior offensive tackle Alex Forsyth committed to Oregon in June hoping to play for coach Mark Helfrich and offensive line coach Steve Greatwood. 

However, the developments over the past two weeks changed those plans. Helfrich was fired on Nov. 29 after a 4-8 season. Nine days later, the Ducks introduced Willie Taggart as the new head coach.

Forsyth said the program's rapid change of direction surprised him but never made him flinch on his commitment to the Ducks. 

A lifelong UO fan, Forsyth would likely still play in Eugene if The Oregon Duck mascot became head coach. That said, Forsyth is pleased that his disappointment over Helfrich's firing has been lessened by the excitement surrounding Taggart. 

“I think they hired someone who is very good and very qualified," Forsyth said of Taggart, who rebuilt programs at South Florida and Western Kentucky. “I just really liked his energy and the way he talked about having 'a great day if you want to.' He just seems like a great guy and a great recruiter. Great coach."

Taggart certainly lit up the room during his introductory press conference last Thursday at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex. He comes to Oregon with loads of potential but is unproven in a Power Five conference. 

Forsyth (6-foot-5 290-pounds) said that numerous reports about Helfrich's potential demise lessened the shock of the news when it happened. Still, he was surprised given all that Oregon had accomplished under Helfrich, and that the 2016 team experienced a lot of bad luck, including numerous injuries to key players and several close losses. 

“There was a lot of things that were very, very unfortunate that happened,” he said. 

Taggart is in the process of putting together his coaching staff and said that he would reach out to current assistants to see if they fit his future plans. Forsyth said he hopes to see Greatwood stick around. 

“It is a little disappointing knowing that he might not be there," Forsyth said of Greatwood. "I hope they keep him. But if they don’t it won't affect my commitment."

Forsyth, a four-star recruit and the top-rated player in the state according to Rivals.com, anchored West Linn's offensive line that helped lead the Lions to a 62-7 victory over Central Catholic in the 6A championship game on Dec. 3.  Also on that team was four-star defensive back Elijah Molden, whose father Alex Molden played for Oregon in the 1990s.

It was widely assumed Elijah Molden would follow in his father's foot steps, until he didn't. Molden on Nov. 12 committed to Washington, a development that reflected poorly on Helfrich and Oregon. Forsyth said his good friend's decision surprised him a bit but he understands Molden's reasoning. 

"It was a hard decision for him," Forsyth said. "He just saw a lot in all of the schools. I know it was a close decision for him....He wanted to blaze his own trail. Carve his own path.”

When Helfrich got fired, a few recruits decommitted from Oregon, knocking the team's class ranking from No. 23 to No. 43. It's now No. 42. 

"Some I could see coming," Forsyth said of the decommitts. "They really wanted to play for Helfrich."

Taggart will have his chance to bulk up the 2017 class. He has already flipped one recruit, athlete Darrian McNeal out of Florida. He had been committed to Arizona.  

Other UO commits, Forsyth has spoken with, have remained on board and are pumped up to play for Taggart. So is Forsyth, who believes the Ducks will rise again very soon.  

“I see that there’s going to be a turnaround," Forsyth said, "which is reassuring."

Oregon rolls the dice and they come up Taggart

Oregon rolls the dice and they come up Taggart

Oregon stepped up to the craps table on Wednesday, grabbed the dice and let them fly with the hiring of Willie Taggart as the next head football coach. 

How this roll plays out won't be determined for a few of years. Oregon could hit its number with the hiring of the South Florida coach who comes with a modest 40-45 record but has rebuilt two programs, or the Ducks could roll snake eyes. 

Right now, many fans and boosters are freaking out a bit. How, they ask, could UO athletic director Rob Mullens fire former coach Mark Helfrich (37-16) after one losing season (4-8) just two years removed from appearing in the national championship game only to hire a successor not from a Power Five conference and someone armed with arguably a weaker résumé ?

Fair questions, to be sure. But to surely be fair, Taggart must be given a chance. Said one current UO player about the firing of Helfrich and the hiring of Taggart: "Yeah, kinda surprising, but there's nothing to be done about it now. Hopefully they come in and do a great job."

That's all anyone could hope for. The problem is measuring what "do a great job" entails. 

Helfrich went 9-4 in 2015 and that was viewed by many as a down season, even though it's tied for the 11th most victories in the history of the program. The bar has been set so high that even the coach of arguably the greatest season ever (2014) didn't survive one losing season in 2016. Taggart, most certainly, will be given at least three seasons to prove himself before his job would be in danger. But what will constitute success? Must he get to 10 wins inside of those three years? Must he have won a Pac-12 championship?

If so, Taggart, who will be introduced during an 11 a.m. press conference on Thursday, could be in big trouble. The Pac-12 is deeper than it's ever been and is loaded with quality proven coaches from Washington's Chris Petersen to Stanford's David Shaw to even Oregon State's Gary Andersen, who is clearly rebuilding the Beavers.

Oregon should certainly be in the thick of the Pac-12 race in most seasons, but is also not immune to the occasional down year. Oregon's run of dominance from 2009 through 2014 (the first four seasons under Chip Kelly) was largely done within an inferior conference that where it stands now. 

What Taggart certainly brings to the table is offensive firepower.  No. 25 South Florida this season ranks 10th in the nation in total offense (515 yards per game) and seventh in scoring (43.6). With Oregon's returning talent, led by a promising offensive line and quarterback Justin Herbert, the Ducks' offense should remain formidable.

The questions come on defense. USF, 10-2 this season, this season ranks 120th in total defense (482.1 yards per game) and 86th in scoring defense (31.0). Taggart must make a strong hire at defensive coordinator to assure improvement for an Oregon defense that ranks 126th in the nation but does return 10 starters.

Taggart is considered to be a strong recruiter. But check yourself if you think he is going to start a flood of Florida's rich talent base to Oregon. First off, Taggart mostly recruited to USF the talent left over after Florida State, Florida and Miami (and major out-of-state programs) got through combing over the area. USF's 2017 recruiting ranks 54th in the nation, according to Rivals.com. The 2016 class ranked 72nd, and the 2015 class, 57th. 

The truth is that Oregon would never be after most of the commits Taggart recruited to USF. However, that doesn't mean that he couldn't entice some higher-ranked players to turn down the local bigger programs and get them to Eugene. 

Speaking of Eugene: It will still be a tough sell to get Florida kids to travel to the small city in the much colder and wetter Northwest to play football when there are plenty of options in sunny Florida, including Central Florida, coached by former Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost. The city of Eugene is not easy to get to. Travelling to home games can be a burden for some families who would prefer that their children remain closer to home. 

So while Taggart has recruited well to USF, there's zero guarantee he will recruit well enough to the Ducks to return the program to glory. 

One aspect of Taggart that will help him is that he reportedly possesses a strong personality. He's reportedly a very positive person who runs a tight ship. Oregon's players became at least somewhat lackadaisical in the area of discipline over the past couple of seasons. Taggart could establish some order with a fresh voice and approach.

Taggart, the running backs coach at Stanford from 2007-2009, comes highly recommended from former Cardinal and current Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, as well as from former NFL coach, Tony Dungy. Harbaugh's coaching tree also produced Shaw, who worked alongside Taggart at Stanford. 

None of that, however, has stopped some of the naysayers from barking.

Said one mid-level booster: "I'm officially out of the donor program. Mullens should be fired immediately."

Said another: "I'm disgusted by how the firing of Helfrich was handled, but I'm willing to give Taggart a chance."

In the end, that's all Taggart could ask for. How this roll of the dice plays out will be fascinating to watch.

Place your bets!