Pac-12 Football: Toughest 1st-Year Coaching Debut Is Not Who You Think

Lisa Horne@LisaHornePac-12 and Big 12 Lead WriterJune 12, 2013

Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich
Oregon head coach Mark HelfrichMark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Three new Pac-12 head coaches will be debuting this year. Cal's Sonny Dykes, Colorado's Mike MacIntyre and Oregon's Mark Helfrich are all coaching for the first time at BCS schools.

Helfrich may have the toughest debut. 

The Oregon Ducks have appeared in four consecutive BCS Bowls. With the return of quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back De'Anthony Thomas taking on a more featured role, anything less than a Rose Bowl berth will be disappointing.

Former head coach Chip Kelly amassed a 46-7 record in his four years in Eugene. If Helfrich loses two or more games with a cupboard left stocked with talent, the criticism will begin.  

The spotlight is on Helfrich to continue where Kelly left off—competing for the Rose Bowl game or BCS Championship. Anything less may be considered a failure. More from USA Today:

"You could take a job where they were 0-12 last year and if you come in and win six, they build a statue," Helfrich says. "This is a tremendous elite program. That's part of the challenge of it, too, is to keep advancing, to keep advancing the culture, keep this thing going on the right vector of what has been and what hopefully is to come for a long time."

Dykes and MacIntyre do not have that problem. Cal went 3-9 last year while Colorado went 1-11. A .500 season by either team would be considered progress, more so for Colorado.

The last time the Buffaloes had a winning season was in 2005 when then-head coach Gary Barnett's team posted a 7-5 record. Since then, they have gone 21-40 under head coaches Dan Hawkins, Brian Cabral (interim) and Jon Embree. For a program that has seen four head coaches in four years, stability is the first priority.

Improvement on the offense and defense are also in order. Colorado's defense yielded an average 488.5 yards per game while the offense only mustered up 302.3 yards per contest.

MacIntyre has a huge rebuilding project ahead of him, but he has been in this position before. His resume includes a remarkable turnaround at San Jose State. MacIntyre inherited a 2-10 team and after three years posted a 10-2 record and a final BCS ranking, the school's first. 

Dykes will also be under tempered expectations, but mostly due to only having 13 starters returning to the team. Only Utah returns less starters among Pac-12 teams.

Dykes is also stepping into some big shoes left behind. 

Jeff Tedford was dismissed from Cal after 11 years as its head coach despite revitalizing the football program. He had two 10-win seasons and a 5-3 bowl record. 

With two programs aiming for bowl-eligible seasons and one aiming for a date at the Rose Bowl either on January 1 or January 6, the bar has been set higher for Helfrich.   

Will the high-flying Duck offense look the same? Will the no-huddle, spread offense continue to confuse and tire its opponents? Will Oregon be the team to beat from the Pac-12? 

If Helfrich answers all of those questions with "yes" at the end of the season, then expectations will have been met. 

The criteria for a successful Duck season is ambitious. Helfrich said that the Ducks would look "99.2 percent" like Kelly's teams at a news conference announcing him as the new head coach. Kelly's model has had proven success. If Helfrich does not have the same success with a winning formula, then accusing fingers will point at him for the reason why.

That makes Helfrich's debut the toughest in the Pac-12.