Chip Kelly is gone and this time he isn't coming back. Oregon football will survive, with or without Mark Helfrich as head coach, but it might never be the same.
Oregon fans everywhere are stunned at Kelly's change of heart, including the UO Athletic Director Rob Mullens. In a hastily arranged press conference after Kelly's 7:15 am phone call to Mullens, the AD discussed the process to hire a replacement head coach.
Many believe that current offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich is next in line, and that Mullens will simply go through a "process" to satisfy Oregon state law on how state employees get hired. But listen to Mullens' words and you might come to a different conclusion; he seems sincere about not anointing Helfrich just yet.
That's the right approach, and here's why.
Bandon Dunes Golf Course
There is a corner of southwest Oregon that time forgot—at least, until Bandon Dunes golf course was built.
It's called Coos County, and it was a great place to grow up. Mark Helfrich grew up there and so did I. This is only relevant to you because whether Helfrich gets the job or not, all Coos County natives are rooting for him and admiring how far he's come.
A place of majestic natural beauty, Coos County's not easy to leave. But if you want to make something of yourself—in the aggressive, upwardly mobile manner this country values—you must leave for greener pastures.
What Helfrich has achieved by even being currently considered for what many believe is the best job in all of college football is remarkable, considering his beginnings.
But is he the guy for that job?
What we know about Helfrich is that he is an excellent quarterbacks coach. People within the Ducks' program credit him with the development of Darron Thomas and Marcus Mariota, two of the most successful QBs in Oregon history.
Helfrich is also said to be more involved with the Ducks' prolific offense than he gets credit for. Chip Kelly, by the force of his personality, has created a rather large shadow for his assistant coaches.
Mullens was quick to point out that this hire will not be a popularity contest. However, current and former players are very supportive of Helfrich. Here's what former Duck QB Nate Costa says of Helfrich's involvement:
.@wizzyk88 I feel great about Helf. And all Duck fans should feel the same.— Nate Costa (@NateCosta7) January 16, 2013
Helfrich would also represent continuity in the Ducks' program—which is always important when you are dealing with young people—and we know that if Helfrich is passed over for this promotion, he will get other offers, and probably soon.
What no one knows about Mark Helfrich is what, exactly, has he been doing the past four years. With Kelly calling all the plays—or, at least, getting all the credit—what has Helfrich contributed to the Ducks' offense?
Does he strategize with Kelly prior to and during games? Has Helfrich created plays, or is the Ducks' extensive repertoire all Kelly's?
Does Helfrich have the bond with key players that Kelly appears to have? Is he a good recruiter?
Some of his friends say that Helfrich is a natural born leader, but some of your friends might say that about you, too. Does he have the kind of stellar leadership skills that this position requires?
Will Helfrich play golf with the UO boosters? Who cares? Kelly didn't and it didn't seem to hurt the team or the program. But it might make Mullens' job easier.
There's really only one thing we don't know about Helfrich that truly matters: Is he ready at 39 years old to assume the mantle and responsibilities of a head coach after being an assistant for only four years?
Whether you like it or not, we live in a celebrity culture, and college football is very much a part of that.
Chip Kelly understands this more than most coaches, and he made it work for Oregon and his program. You loved Chip for two reasons: he won, and he was never, ever, remotely boring.
Those two traits endeared Kelly and the Ducks to more than just Oregon fans. Kelly's celebrity and willingness to play that game brought the spotlight to Oregon.
Does Mark Helfrich have the wattage to attract, for instance, College GameDay? Or Fox Sports and Erin Andrews? You are naive if you think that the Ducks' great play alone makes those things happen.
A head coach doesn't necessarily need to have Chip's stand-up comedy ability, but he does have to embrace the limelight. Visibility, a growing fanbase and the polls depend on it.
One of the best things about Bleacher Report is the interaction of the fans and the communities you create. There is a great deal of difference between young Oregon fans and older Duck fans.
The younger fans expect their beloved Ducks to be nationally ranked every year, to be invited to big bowl games, and to have their favorite players be on the Heisman Trophy short list.
The older—or shall we say "longer term," because old is such an ugly word?—Duck fans are still amazed when Oregon wins more than six games a year. They love the newfound success, but, deep inside, still expect the Ducks to tank at any moment.
Chip Kelly has brought an unprecedented four-year run of success to Oregon. Those who believe it's just "next-guy-up" and everything will be hunky-dory have not witnessed the ups and downs of a program up close and personal.
Kelly's nickname, started by UO students who worshipped him, is "Big Balls Chip." The less-than-graceful moniker evolved from Kelly's willingness to go for it on fourth down.
Do you know if Helfrich has that same courage and/or philosophy? It's important because the run the Ducks are on is not guaranteed to continue. The characteristics of the guy in charge drive not only a program's identity, but its success as well.
Please don't fall into the trap of thinking that anyone can do what Kelly has done. Because 99 percent of them can't.
Athletic directors don't get many opportunities to make a big hire. Rob Mullens has that opportunity now.
If, in the end, it is decided by Mullens and, let's be honest, Uncle Phil, that program continuity is the single defining criteria, then so be it. Coos County will rejoice.
But shouldn't Mullens at least talk to some big names out there? Some proven winners? Jon Gruden, Lovie Smith, Les Miles, Kevin Sumlin? Does Mullens know that they wouldn't be interested or might not be a good fit?
You will notice that Boise State coach Chris Petersen is not on this list. That's because while there is no question Petersen is a great coach, he's also a giant snooze-fest. He doesn't move the needle forward.
And, if it is all about continuity, then what about Nick Aliotti or, yikes, Mike Bellotti? Those two guys know a lot more about where the bodies are buried than Helfrich.
The point is that this is the time to think big. It's a huge world out there and there is more than one man who is capable of taking over for a legend.
Don't rush it, Mr. A.D. There's too much riding on your decision.
Kay Jennings is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.