Oregon dismissed football coach Mark Helfrich tonight following a meeting with athletic director Rob Mullens, according to sources.
The news comes days after Oregon ended it's season with a 34-24 loss at Oregon State in the Civil War to finish with a record of 4-8, the program's first losing record since 2004 and worst mark since 1991 (3-8).
Helfrich (37-16) and the coaching staff, which includes several assistants with tenures at Oregon ranging from 15 to 34 years, hit the recruiting trail on Sunday not knowing what their futures would be.
Helfrich held a press conference Sunday morning to discuss the 2016 season. He said then that had had called Mullens earlier that day to set up a meeting but Mullens told him he couldn't because he was heading to Texas early that morning to be a part of the College Football Playoff selection committee.
Helfrich, according to a source, went to California to recruit on Sunday and returned on Monday. Mullens returned to Eugene today and the two finally met tonight.
At that meeting, sources said, Helfrich had to sell Mullens on a plan to turn things around. Also factoring into the equation was Helfrich's buyout price tag of $11.6 million with three years remaining on his contract, and the fact that no obvious coaching replacement candidate had been identified. Another factor was that the coaching staff includes many who have been with the program for from 14 to 33 years. Letting go of an entire staff would require a slam-dunk alternative option that might not have existed.
Clearly, that meeting didn't go well for Helfrich. This is the first time Oregon has fired a head football coach in 40 years.
Oregon issued a release at 7:12 p.m. that included this statement from Mullens.
"We want to thank Mark for his eight years with the University of Oregon and appreciate his efforts on behalf of Oregon football," Mullens said. "We wish Mark and his family the best."
The release included this statement from Helfrich: "It is a great honor to have served as the head football coach at the University of Oregon," Helfrich said. "It is with respect and disappointment that we receive this decision. Plain and simple — we didn't win enough games this season. Thank you first to my wife, Megan, and our family, the fans, the campus community, the board, our donors and administration. To our coaches, staff and their families, it is impossible to communicate my gratitude for the environment we got to work in every single day. Finally, to the players — thank you, and I love you. The future is bright for this young, talented team, and we will be supporting them and their new leadership."
Helrich went a respectable 37-16 during his four-year stint but didn't survive going 4-8 in a disastrous 2016 season that saw the Ducks be forced to rely on youth because of injuries and poor recruiting that led to ineffective upperclassmen.
No potential replacement candidates have been named, although a dozen or so names have been tossed around the rumor mill for weeks.
Oregon began the season 2-0 before three-point losses at Nebraska and home against Colorado. The Ducks then were crushed at Washington State and home against Washington. The 70-21 home loss to the Huskies ended an 11-game winning streak for Oregon in the rivalry and signaled the moment when Helfrich officially became in danger of being fired.
That week, Mullens appeared on a campus radio program and did not offer unwavering support for Helfrich.
The Ducks then went out and lost 52-49 at Cal in double overtime. The game featured the emergence of freshman quarterback Justin Herbert who threw six touchdowns in the game and followed up with 489 yards passing in a home win over Arizona State.
Herbert provided hope for a turnaround but it was short lived. The Ducks were blown out in losses at USC and home against Stanford to end up 3-7 with no chance of becoming bowl eligible.
Oregon, however, proved once again that it hadn't quit on the season when the Ducks won 30-28 at then-No. 11 Utah.
That good feeling ended with Saturday's loss to Oregon State. The Ducks led 24-10 in the third quarter before falling to pieces. It was the first time OSU has defeated the Ducks since 2007.
Other than the rough 2016 season, Helfrich's tenure at Oregon has been quite productive.
The Oregon native from Coos Bay began his career at Oregon in 2009 when Chip Kelly hired him away from Colorado to become the Ducks' offensive coordinator after Kelly replaced Mike Bellotti as head coach.
However, because Kelly continued to call plays, Helfrich never received much credit for the Ducks’ “blur” offense that ripped through the Pac-12 over the next four years leading to three conference titles, a national championship game appearance, and victories in the 2012 Rose Bowl and the 2013 Fiesta Bowl.
When the NFL came calling on Kelly, however, Helfrich became the obvious choice as successor in order to maintain continuity on an offense led by quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Oregon held some token interviews but Helfrich was a virtual shoe-in. He took over as head coach on January 20 of 2013, just four days after Kelly accepted the head coaching job with the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Helfrich-era picked up right where the Chip Kelly-era had left off.
The 2013 Ducks, led by second-year starting quarterback, Marcus Mariota, began the season scoring 50 or more points in five consecutive games, reached 8-0 and were ranked No. 2 in the nation.
Then, it all came crashing down. An upset loss at Stanford was followed two weeks by a blowout defeat at 17-point underdog Arizona.
The Ducks salvaged the season with wins in the Civil War, and over Texas in the Alamo Bowl to finish ranked No. 9 in the country.
With Mariota and plenty of high-end talent returning, the Ducks looked to finish the job in 2014. That season began with great expectations and Mariota as a Heisman candidate.
Oregon jumped out to a 4-0 start but injuries along the offensive line led to a 31-24, upset loss at home to Arizona. The Ducks then got healthy and got rolling, once again, winning eight consecutive games, including a Pac-12 championship rematch with Arizona, 51-13.
The Ducks were 12-1, ranked No. 2 in the college football rankings, thus qualifying for the first ever college football playoffs.
Plus, Mariota, fulfilled his promise by claiming Oregon’s first ever Heisman Trophy.
Weeks later in the Rose Bowl, the Ducks destroyed defending national champion Florida State, 59-20, ending the Seminoles 29-game winning streak.
That victory sent the Ducks to the national championship game for the second time in five seasons.
However, the Ducks, minus an injured Devon Allen and a suspended Darren Carrington, were no match for Ohio State in Dallas. The Buckeyes 42-20, and once again Oregon fell one win short of claiming a national championship.
That game proved to be the last for Mariota, who became the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Oregon hadn’t developed a quarterback to replace Mariota and had to turn to transfer Vernon Adams Jr. He battled injuries that only magnified the dramatic fall of the defense that went from allowing 23 points per game to 37.
The Ducks limped out to a 3-3 start that included a 62-20 loss at home to Utah. Just like that, the narrative that Helfrich could not maintain Oregon’s winning ways was born.
But once Adams got healthy, the Ducks got back on track. The defense improved slightly and Oregon won six consecutive games, including a 38-36 upset win at No. 7 Stanford, all but ending the Cardinal's playoff hopes.
The Ducks had to settle for a trip to the Alamo Bowl, but at least were in line to claim an eighty consecutive 10-win season.
As it turned out, the Alamo Bowl would be the worst moment of Helfrich’s career.
The Ducks led 31-0 in the second quarter before Adams went down with a concussion, center Matt Hegarty also went down. Backups Jeff Lockie and Doug Brenner proved ineffective, the defense couldn’t get a stop and before anyone knew what was happening the Ducks had lost 47-41 in triple overtimes.
That loss led to Helfrich entering the 2016 season with a huge black mark on his resume. Following it up with a losing record certainly gave those in power reasons to consider letting him go.