MOBILE, Ala. — During a particularly poor practice one day in Eugene, then-Oregon coach Mark Helfrich meted out some punishment by ordering his players to do 50 up-downs.
As offensive lineman Tyrell Crosby began the sweaty, bothersome endeavor, he looked over and saw a sight that made him do a double-take: Instead of standing with a stern face and his arms crossed, there was Helfrich taking part in the punishment, too.
“If anything happened, he was the first one to blame himself,” Crosby said. “It was cool because if we ever got punished, you could look to your right and see him doing the same punishment we were doing, if it’s up-downs, running, anything like that.
“So that just gave you a lot more respect for him because he’s not going to tell you to do something if he’s not willing to do it himself.”
Two of Helfrich’s former players are here in Mobile for the Senior Bowl: Crosby and long snapper Tanner Carew (running back Royce Freeman was initially scheduled to attend, but is not participating). And both offered effusive praise of their former coach and current Bears offensive coordinator.
“I love coach Helf,” Carew said. “He’s a great coach and a better person. There isn’t a better judge of character out there than coach Helf.
“He’s just a great person. He truly does look out for his players and that really goes a long way, being a player that played for him.”
Both Carew and Crosby said Helfrich’s positive attitude is one of his best traits — and Carew can see how that could translate to him being a successful NFL coordinator.
“It’s based on a team perspective of being positive and it’s also based on an individual level of being positive, and he’s good at both,” Carew said. “I feel like that translates from player to player because there’s less people, it’s a 53-man roster versus 110. I feel like he could do better in that aspect as well, also being an OC, being a little bit more in-tune with the players.”
“The person he is — not a coach, just a straight-up person — was one you want, if you ever have kids, to (model themselves) after,” Crosby said. “He was truly respectful to everybody, always holding the door open for anybody. If he saw trash, he was the first one to go over and pick it up. I have a tremendous amount of respect for coach Helfrich.”
That two successful players were so complimentary of their former coach isn’t surprising — there probably were some players on Helfrich’s teams who didn’t like him, of course. And this praise doesn’t mean Helfrich will have the same impact on pro players as he did on college guys.
But what Crosby and Carew had to say about Helfrich meshes with how Matt Nagy described what he likes about his offensive coordinator’s ability to develop quarterbacks — which, after all, will be one of his most important tasks with the Bears.
“Just understanding how to handle them, how to treat them — more and more that we get to talk, knowing how to be a teacher to them in the classroom,” Nagy said. “Being a delicate position where this isn't a position where you can get on — you have to be able to handle them the right way and understand where they're at and how they develop. There's going to be some times you have to get on them a little bit. There's going to be tough love.
“But really when it comes down to it, teaching details and fundamentals, and he has that. That's easy to tell.”