Nationals

Oregon promotes OC Helfrich to coach

Oregon promotes OC Helfrich to coach

Mark Helfrich is Oregon's next man in.

As usual, the Ducks wasted little time finding a replacement for Chip Kelly, promoting their affable offensive coordinator to head coach Sunday. Kelly left to become coach of the Philadelphia Eagles on Wednesday.

Helfrich is the third straight offensive coordinator at Oregon to be promoted to the top job, following Kelly and his predecessor, Mike Bellotti.

The 39-year-old Oregon native signed a five-year deal with the Ducks for a reported $9 million. His promotion does not come as a surprise: Even before Oregon defeated Kanas State in the Fiesta Bowl, the Ducks' quarterbacks guru was considered the front-runner as Kelly's successor.

``Going forward we will attack in all phases. We'll embrace innovation and we'll strive to do our best to win each and every day,'' Helfrich said at a news conference Sunday afternoon where he was supported by players including quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back De'Anthony Thomas.

Helfrich, who embodies Oregon's ``Next Man In'' philosophy of substitution without skipping a beat, became offensive coordinator of the Ducks when Kelly took over four seasons ago. The Ducks have appeared in BCS bowls each of those four years, including an appearance in the national championship game against Auburn in 2011.

The Ducks, ranked No. 2 in the final AP Top 25, finished 12-1 this season.

``Win The Day and all that - that doesn't change for us,'' Mariota said.

Kelly, credited with creating Oregon's innovative hurry-up spread offense, went 46-7 as head coach at Oregon. It had been widely expected that he would jump to the NFL, leaving many surprised when he announced he was staying at Oregon after interviewing with Philadelphia, Cleveland and Buffalo following the Fiesta Bowl. Nine days later, however, he changed his mind and decided to go to the Eagles.

Just hours after Kelly's departure was announced, Oregon posted a job for a new head coach on its website. Under state law, Oregon was required to interview at least one qualified minority candidate for the job.

Former Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton acknowledged Saturday that he interviewed with Oregon before he was hired by the Indianapolis Colts' to be their offensive coordinator.

Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens said Oregon had already started the process of finding a replacement for Kelly following the Fiesta Bowl. He said it was important to name a successor quickly, because letter of intent signing day for high school recruits is on Feb. 6.

Mullens said interest from an ``impressive list of coaches for the job.'' In the end, he interviewed five candidates in person.

``We went through the process because we felt it was important to do our due diligence and we kept coming back to Mark,'' Mullens said on Sunday.

Before joining the Ducks, Helfrich was quarterbacks coach at Colorado from 2006-08. As Oregon's offensive coordinator, he also has been in charge of Oregon's quarterbacks, guiding both Darron Thomas and Mariota, a redshirt freshman.

This season Mariota set the team's single-season record with 38 touchdowns (32 passing, 5 rushing, 1 receiving), surpassing the previous mark of 36 held by Thomas (2011) and Akili Smith (1998).

The first freshman named to the Pac-12's all-conference first team in 23 years, Mariota passed for 2,739 yards, completing a school-record 68.5 percent of his passes. He had 3,429 yards of total offense, second only to Smith's 3,947 in 1998.

Thomas, his predecessor, passed for 2,761 yards and a school-record 33 passing touchdowns his junior season last season despite missing a game because of an injury. He left school with a year of eligibility remaining in hopes of playing in the NFL but went undrafted.

There are not expected to be any major changes under Helfrich. But he hinted he may allow reporters and boosters greater access to practice - something that Kelly had shut down this season - and he joked about a few other tweaks.

``I won't wear a visor, I'll eat more vegetables,'' he said.

Helfrich will also face possible fallout from an NCAA investigation into the school's use of recruiting services.

The inquiry is the result of reports that surfaced in 2011 concerning payments Oregon made to two such services, including a $25,000 check sent to Willie Lyles and Houston-based Complete Scouting Services in 2010. Lyles had a connection with a player who committed to Oregon.

Oregon had requested a summary disposition in the case and presented a report to the NCAA infractions committee outlining violations the school believed occurred and appropriate sanctions. But last month Yahoo Sports reported that Oregon is headed toward a hearing with the committee because the two sides couldn't reach an agreement.

The NCAA does not comment on ongoing investigations. The hearing could come as early as this spring.

Sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the it had not been announced said Sunday that Oregon promoted wide receivers coach Scott Frost, the former Nebraska quarterback, to replace Helfrich as offensive coordinator.

Frost, 38, came to Oregon in 2009 after serving as an assistant at Northern Iowa. He played seven seasons in the NFL after leading the Huskers to the national title over Tennessee in the 1997 Orange Bowl.

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Explaining my National League ROY ballot

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USA Today Sports

Explaining my National League ROY ballot

This was tight. Really tight. A category for the Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. A category for the Nationals’ Juan Soto.

Sorting through 16 categories showed Acuna and Soto should have split the National League Rookie of the Year award. It also showed me a narrow advantage for Soto, which is why I voted him first, Acuna second and Dodgers starter Walker Buehler third. Once the votes from other members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America were added, Acuna won, Soto was second and Buehler was third. It wasn’t close. It should have been.

First, a thought about the general process here: Writers take this seriously. Once assignments for the awards are distributed, we start to talk about them in the Nationals Park press box. Even non-voters hop in on the conversation. Sympathies are relayed to those who have an extremely tight choice, as I did this season and last when I voted for MVP (I’m big in Cincinnati thanks to my Joey Votto selection).

I outline specific categories, talk to opposing players and managers and watch as much as possible in order to come to a conclusion. The only thing easy about voting for ROY this season was the chance to see the leading candidates often since one played here and the other is in the division.

I used 16 categories to largely determine my vote. They were as follows: OPS, OPS+, Baseball Reference WAR, Fangraphs WAR, Baseball Prospectus WARP, OBP, WRC+, SB, HR, late-and-close OPS, 2 outs RISP OPS, BB:K ratio, WPA, “Clutch”, WOBA, and an overall defensive mark.

There’s no perfect formula here. But, when looking through those, Soto took nine, Acuna six and one, Fangraphs WAR, was even. That, coupled with Soto doing this in his age-19 season as the league’s youngest player (Acuna was just 20, so, like everything else the leader’s advantage here is slight), and talking to others in the league, prompted me to vote for Soto.

Again, the gaps were minute. Baseball Reference’s WAR formula favored Acuna. Fangraphs had them even. Baseball Prospectus put Soto clearly ahead. Soto was significantly better in late-and-close situations. Acuna was better with two outs and runners in scoring position.

If Soto had a distinct lead anywhere, it was via command of the strike zone, which is currently his premier talent. His walk and strikeout rates were both superior to Acuna. When asked about Soto, opponents and teammates alike brought it up.

However, Acuna is the better defender and baserunner. Points back to his favor.

Soto was intentionally walked 10 times signifying what opponents thought of dealing with him. Acuna was intentionally walked just twice (though his spot in the order has some influence there).

This ping-ponging of qualifications could go on.

What the National League East has is two of the best players in baseball. Not just young players at this stunningly low age, but two of the best. Soto was fourth in on-base percentage and seventh in OPS in the National League when adjusted to be among the qualified leaders (an explanation from Baseball Reference: In order to rank the player, the necessary number of hitless at bats were added to the player's season total.). Acuna was eighth in slugging under the same adjustment.

The 2019 All-Star Game is in Cleveland. Expect both to be there and this to be just the beginning of them being measured against each other.

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Wizards releasing Chasson Randle opens roster spot, possibilities

Wizards releasing Chasson Randle opens roster spot, possibilities

The Washington Wizards released guard Chasson Randle Monday. The additional space – the Wizards had one vacant roster slot even with Randle – brings up the question of what the team may do next. For now, don’t expect a blockbuster move.

Head coach Scott Brooks briefly addressed the move ahead of Monday’s game against the Orlando Magic.

“He’s a terrific young man, a very good player,” Brooks said of Randle. “Just gives us more flexibility. Who knows what we might do with it. He’s definitely an NBA player.”

Randle, who Washington signed to the active roster on Oct. 30, likely clears waivers, and then would rejoin the Capital City Go-Go, Brooks said. It’s been a back-and-forth scenario for Randle between the Wizards and their G-League squad this season. The 6-foot-2 guard was on the Go-Go roster when Washington’s season tipped off and assigned to the G-League squad at the time of Monday’s release. Randle scored 37 points in the Go-Go’s inaugural game. He did not enter a game for Washington.

The Wizards were forced to add a player by Oct. 30, a date that marked two weeks from the time Washington traded Jodie Meeks to Milwaukee. League rules require a minimum of 14 players on the roster.

That two week timeline applies to the current scenario. For now, the Wizards save a bit on the luxury tax payment by waiving Randle, who was signed to a $1.24 million non-guaranteed contract. Considering he'll likely be back in the building, Randle returning to the Wizards roster is a consideration.

According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, adding Randle cost the Wizards approximately $239,000 in luxury tax payments. Washington saved approximately $8 million by dealing Meeks.

As Brooks acknowledged, the open spots create greater flexibility.  In wake of the Timberwolves trading disgruntled All-Star Jimmy Butler to the 76ers, multiple reports at least tangentially mentioned the Wizards’ as part of the mix.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Washington balked at including Bradley Beal. SI.com’s Chris Mannix reported teams are keeping tabs on the 3-9 Wizards in case role players like Jeff Green, Markieff Morris or Kelly Oubre Jr. become available should the slow start continue.

Randle’s release limits Washington’s backcourt depth, but the top four options are healthy entering its five-game home-stand. In theory two-way contract player Jordan McRae could be recalled from Capital City, but the wing guard is dealing with a groin injury, according to a source. McRae should be available later in the week.

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