Meeting of the Minds: What to expect from new Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich

In the short time that offensive guru Chip Kelly was head coach at Oregon, his impact on the Ducks was staggering. With the help of Nike CEO Phil Knight's money, Kelly helped elevate UO from one of the country's better programs to one of its best.
Kelly has taken his talents to the NFL, leaving the Oregon job in the hands of offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. Will Oregon go the way of Boise State under Chris Petersen or Miami under Larry Coker?

Andy Coppens: A very interesting question indeed… I think Helfrich is a good enough coach, but the key to this equation is the NCAA which has been sniffing around the program.

If the NCAA stays away or doesn't find anything then the program will be fine as Helfrich is a know quantity to the current players & future recruits. However, if the hammer comes down this program will be in trouble no matter who the coach is.

I don't think we can really judge wether it will success or failure until at least following the 2014 season as these are all Chip Kelly's players he'll be working with.

Dave Singleton: The fickle finger of the NCAA is the unknown variable in this scenario. The size of the hammer and how many blows rain down upon the Ducks will make all of the difference in how successful Helfrich is going forward.
This season I think the Ducks are fine. Enough talent is coming back. Oregon didn't experience any early entry defections, which only helps them. I think that the identity of the program is pretty well in place.
The biggest issue is can they still bring in players? The reduction in scholarships, if any occur, will be what affects the Ducks down the road. Oregon isn't really a place that develops a lot of college talent; it's not a state where I think you can expect a lot of local guys to stay home and come aboard as walk-ons to help fill out a roster that gets depleted by scholarship losses.
Of course I am far from a recruiting expert, so if someone wants to correct me, feel free.

Aaron Torres: When Kelly left, I was shocked at how many people said: "Well, Mariota is returning. De'Anthony Thomas is returning. The rest of the coaching staff besides Chip is returning. Oregon will be fine."

Sure, that MAY happen. College football history says otherwise.

Honestly I don't think we need to go back as far as Chris Petersen or Larry Coker to find the best example of what Oregon will be dealing with when they take the field next fall. All we need to do is go back to nine months ago when Bobby Petrino was fired from Arkansas.

At that time, weren't folks saying the same thing we're saying now about Oregon? How that  team wouldn't miss a beat with Tyler Wilson and Knile Davis? How there was a change at the top, but the rest of the staff had stayed the same? How, looking at the schedule, there was just no way that team would lose to anyone other than LSU and Alabama? Yeah, we saw what happened there.

Look, am I expecting a total free-fall from Oregon without Kelly? Hardly. But the idea that this team will miss a beat without him seems preposterous as well. You could make an argument that on a game-in, game-out basis there hasn't been a better coach the last three years than Chip Kelly.

How he won't be missed, on some level, boggles my mind.

Kevin McGuire: I get the sense we are all on the same page, or at least close to it. Until the NCAA has their say on the state of the program it can be difficult to make any informed projections for Oregon. As long as Phil Knight is writing checks, though, I get the sense Oregon's football prowess is not going to regress to a point where the days of Chip Kelly are but a dream in Eugene.

Regardless of when the NCAA hands down any sanctions, no matter how stern or lax, Oregon is well situated to remain a significant player in the Pac 12 North and I think coaching staff stability under Helfrich should be able to remain a program capable of making BCS pushes on a regular basis. In that sense I guess I would say they are more on track for a Boise State path, in that they will continue piling up wins and remaining a BCS player as we transition to the age of the playoff format, as opposed to the Miami track that sees a national power spiral out of control on its way to football irrelevancy.

Dave Singleton: John L. Smith was the special teams coach at Arkansas who came back in April(!) to bail them out for a year. That is not the same thing as having someone who has been on the staff for the last four years, who helped recruit some of these players, and has an good idea of the culture of the program and can maintain it in this, his first head coaching gig.

So forgive me for not finding the situation at Oregon to be analogous to the tire fire that was Arkansas football in April 2012.

Aaron Torres: Dave, there was essentially no player turnover between the Arkansas team that finished spring ball in May from the one that took the field in September, and exactly zero coaching changes between May and September, other than one at the top.

You talk about Helfrich recruiting most of the Oregon players… well, didn't Smith help recruit plenty of the Arkansas players he eventually coached last spring?

I think it's a perfect analogy, and to be blunt, I think a strong case could be made that Arkansas was actually in a better position going into 2012 than Oregon is heading into 2013.

And by the way, if Arkansas doesn't work as an analogy for you, how about Florida after Steve Spurrier left in 2001? They returned a Heisman finalist in Rex Grossman, and by Week 2 flamed out against Mississippi State. How about Louisville when Bobby Petrino left and they went from 11-1 to 6-6, with essentially the same roster (including a QB who was drafted in the second round). How about West Virginia when they lost Rich Rodriguez, kept most of their staff in tact and returned Pat White and Noel Devine?

The point: History shows that you can't just "plug the next guy in" when you lose someone as good as Chip Kelly.

Andy Coppens: How convenient that you forget to mention the other side of the equation. What about Bret Bielema going 11-1 after replacing Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin? What about Gary Patterson at TCU who stepped in to replace Franchione there after being the DC? What about Bronco Mendenhall at BYU? What about Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State?

Do, I need to go on?

It has and can go both ways. I don't think people are just "willy-nilly" thinking he'll step in and be the second coming, but are taking a look at the talent on this team, especially at QB and WR and realizing these are players Helfrich has coached to success and done so quickly in their careers at Oregon, and saying he's got a great chance to be very successful and thus more like Chris Peterson than Larry Coker.

Either way this is all a moot point once the NCAA gets done with whatever they find in Eugene.

Dave Singleton: Arkansas doesn't work as an analogy for me. Sorry. If you want to hang your hat on John L. be my guest. We only got that bit of whimsy because Bobby Petrino couldn't keep his penis in his pants, his mistress off the payroll and his ass on his Harley.

Now Andy stole my thunder by listing off some internal hires that did work. The truth is we never know until the games are played. But I, personally feel better about this hire than John L. It's not even close.

Michael Felder: I like the hire. Helfrich has been a stud for awhile in the coaching assistant ranks and now it seems it's his turn. He'll be just fine for Oregon.

That said, I think Oregon comes back to the pack under Helfrich. Unfortunately for him, people won't realize that it has nothing to for his coaching acumen. It has to do with the Pac-12 getting better. Oregon capitalized on a down USC, a still up and coming Stanford program and some really crappy teams everywhere. Now, the league has subbed out Dennis Erickson, Mike "I lose in November" Stoops, Dan Hawkins plus Jon Embree, Rick Neuheisel and Jeff Tedford for this newest crop of upgraded minds. Throw in Steve Sarkisian getting things going the right way at Washington and David Shaw figuring out how to work it at Stanford and you have a problem Chip Kelly didn't have to face.

Sanctions are one thing and to be fair, I don't think they're growing to cripple Oregon. What's going to close the gap on Oregon and the rest of the league is folks getting better and that won't be Mark Helfrich's fault.

Aaron Torres: Ill give you Bielema, but Petersen in the WAC and Patterson in the MWC is a lot different than the Pac-12.

Here's the other thing we have to remember: Chip Kelly was essentially the best game-day coach in college football the last three years. Every loss he accrued is explainable.

So phrased a different way, what will considered a success for Helfrich? Is going 9-3 good enough? At most schools it would be, especially for a first year coach. But at Oregon, where Chip Kelly has set the bar ridiculously high, and where they will enter the year as title favorites, be considered cataclysmic.

So where do we draw the line between success and failure in this specific instance?

I would be willing to bet that by any measure, we will look back a year from now and call Helfrich's first season no better than a "mild disappointment," if not just an all out "disappointment."

Aaron Torres: If 10-3 (factoring in a bowl game) is viewed as a disappointment it would be interesting, since that was Kelly's record after his first season.

Also I hope people remember that Kelly lost his first game and don't panic. But they will.

Aaron Torres: Kelly didnt have a consensus Top 5 team coming into his first season either.

Andy Coppens: O.k., well if that's the criteria you are using that's a different animal all together. I think Helfrich has a chance to be long term successful and ultimately isn't that more important than being a flash in the pan?

Aaron Torres: Depends. As best I can tell most fans would trade a National Championship for a slew of eight, nine and even 10 win seasons.

Ultimately understand Im not blaming Helfrich for this. But he inherits a Top 5 team and BCS title favorite. And this is the situation he's walking into.

Dave Singleton: Neither was that Florida squad you referenced earlier technically.

Again I just like the hire. I'm not going to claim I have empirical evidence that says he WILL be a success. After all, at this point, isn't everything after Alabama a crap shoot?

Allen Kenney: I'm sure our Hog readers are enjoying this little walk down memory lane. The Arkansas analogy doesn't work for me. The Razorbacks consistently overachieved under Bobby Petrino, who is legitimately one of the best college coaches alive. A lame duck replacing him was tough enough. Plus, that lame duck was John L. Smith, whose track record as a head coach suggested a disaster like 2012 was a possibility, if not a likelihood.

We're talking about a different beast with Helfrich, who's clearly the man in Eugene now.

As fans, we only see the finished product on Saturdays. In this case, I think that gives everyone an outsized view of the importance of Helfrich being able to emulate Kelly's play-calling and game management. To me, the bigger issues are the offseason and what happens on Sunday to Friday.

Kelly has a great offensive mind, but he doesn't get enough credit for his recruiting evaluations and upgrading the talent in the program. He also implemented some effective strategies in areas like enhancing the efficiency of practices and workouts.

Maintaining that culture of innovation is harder than it looks, and it seems to me like more fail in trying to do so than succeed. Helfrich has his hands full.

Aaron Torres: In the end, I will stop arguing (since we're just arguing for the sake of arguing at this point) and say this: I think we look back a year from now and say that on some level, Mark Helfrich's first season was a disappointment. I will also say that with his lack of a track record, and- as Mike pointed out- significantly better coaching across the board in the Pac-12, I will peg his first year to likely finish at 9-3, and if you gave me the over or under, I would not hesitate for one second to take the under.

On a different note, I absolutely don't see how Arkansas is almost a total apples-to-apples comparison here. That's another argument for another day, I suppose.

What isn't however, is this: Allen, you reference Bobby Petrino being "one of the best coaches alive" and that the program "consistently overachieved" in his three years at the school. What do you call three straight 12 win seasons and four straight BCS bowl games… OREGON!?!?! Does anyone besides me realize that Oregon AVERAGED 11.5 victories in Kelly's four seasons at the school? Or that in the last three years, the four teams that beat Oregon averaged OVER 12 victories in the season they beat the Ducks? If that isn't the definition of great coaching and overachieving I don't know what is.

To me, Chip Kelly was the single best game-day coach in college football the last three years (yes, even better than Nick Saban on a week-in and week-out basis) and I find it not only unlikely, but impossible to believe that his presence won't be missed next year.

Allen Kenney: Wait, where did I say that Chip Kelly isn't a great coach? My point was that in John-El, Bobby Petrino was replaced by a temp with a less-than-stellar track record. Bringing in Smith on a one-year deal just magnified what Arkansas lost with Petrino out of the picture.
We don't have any reason to believe that Mark Helfrich is Chip Kelly, but we also don't have any reason to believe he's Mr. SMILE!, either.

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About Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres works for Fox Sports, and was previously a best-selling author of the book 'The Unlikeliest Champion.' He currently uses Aaron Torres Sports to occasionally weigh-in on the biggest stories from around sports. He has previously done work for such outlets as Sports Illustrated, SB Nation and Slam Magazine.