Mark Herzlich

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.