An Open Letter to Mark Helfrich: Open Spring Practice for the Fans

Jeff BellCorrespondent IMarch 12, 2013

Coach Mark Helfrich
Coach Mark Helfrich

Dear Coach Helfrich,

Let me start by saying this isn't some belligerent rant from a lunatic fan. I'm not going to boycott the Ducks should practices remain closed. Nor will my excitement begin to wane over the upcoming season.

But as the new sheriff in town, you have a chance to do something fun and unique that would benefit your program in a variety of ways. You can decide to open up spring practice for the fans.

Everything about your hiring as the Ducks' new head coach has resonated well with fans. You stepped up and closed out the recruiting period with a flourish. You've helped to bring on two excellent assistant coaches, both of whom appear to have the pedigree necessary to help the Ducks continue to win.

You're also a local guy, and I think many of us can appreciate that, along with the knowledge that you'll do whatever it takes to help Oregon remain a national power.

Opening up spring practice for the fans would simply be another step in creating a winning culture that celebrates the die-hard fans who enjoy watching your team play football.

Think about what your program has been through over the past year. Questions have arisen about potential sanctions and how they might affect the upward trajectory the Ducks have been on. Chip Kelly left for the NFL, causing some to speculate that he was pulling a "Pete Carroll" and jumping off the ship before it sank.

I don't buy the latter theory, but I do believe a positive image is something that will pay huge dividends down the road. That begins with recruiting, where the Ducks continue to haul in decent, if unspectacular, recruiting classes.

Every Ducks fan in the world will tell you that class rankings don't matter, that Oregon finds the hidden gems better than anybody else and that star-ratings mean little once recruits arrive on campus. That's all true, but Oregon is successful mostly because it has the coaching staff in place to help these kids improve and realize their potential.

Imagine what would happen if those Top 15 classes became Top 10 classes?

What does opening practices have to do with recruiting, you ask? Well, the big question for Oregon this offseason (at least in the eyes of national media) is going to be: "What will the team look like post-Kelly?" And if the media is asking it, you can bet the recruits are asking it as well.

Now, a few nice practice reports aren't going to sway any recruits' decision on whether to attend Oregon. But on their official visits (if they occur during spring), it might surprise them to see hundreds of fans watching the team practice. That would be the first sign that excitement is higher than ever before.

Some skepticism will remain about the team's future until they take the field in late August. But it's likely to evaporate at least a little if the practices are opened, beat writers publish daily reports and transparency becomes the word of the day.

People (fans, recruits, media) want to see if things will change. And while keeping practices closed won't mean anything one way or another, opening them up will at least give the program an appearance of normalcy, that winning will continue on schedule as planned.

Can fans live without being able to attend practice? Absolutely. They've had to for the past couple seasons. Two seasons which, oh by the way, resulted in BCS victories. No complaints here.

But to the final point: Having closed practices doesn't necessarily provide anything to the team aside from secrecy. And it's no secret that the Ducks are a few made field goals away from potentially three straight title-game appearances.

In 2010, the team went undefeated after a much-publicized battle between Darron Thomas and Nate Costa for the starting quarterback job. In 2011 and 2012, they lost just three games total after closing practices to everybody.

My point? This team is going to be successful (or not) based on the way they prepare, the way they practice and the way they continue to approach Kelly's "Win the Day" philosophy. None of that has to do with practices being opened or closed.

So why not open them?

For the fans, along with everybody else watching carefully to see what this team will look like in 2013, let us get a first-hand look. It may bring positive publicity and there isn't much to lose. Spring isn't the time for installing trick plays, anyway. The entirety of spring practice could be secretly videotaped and sent out to each of Oregon's opponents next season and the Ducks would still be likely to roll through most of the schedule unscathed.

Fans already love you, coach. And no matter what you decide, fans will continue to love you as long as your team shows up ready play like they've been playing the past four seasons.

But if you'd really like to stamp your name on the program and generate a maximum amount of excitement amongst both fans and potential recruits, you'll open up practices this spring.


Someone who needs more football