When Chip Kelly agreed to become the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, Oregon promoted offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich to replace him. He inherits a team with one of nation's most explosive offenses and national championship aspirations.
In taking this job on January 20, Helfrich was given the keys to a Ferrari. It is a screamer. But this sexy Italian sports car demands constant maintenance. It can also be an intimidating piece of machinery for the first-time driver.
Helfrich has no experience as a head coach. He had been a quarterbacks coach for the last 15 years at Boise State, Arizona State, Colorado and Oregon. Helfrich had been the Ducks' offensive coordinator since 2008, but Kelly had always been the primary play-caller.
Former Duck quarterback Nate Costa told Oregon Live that Helfrich has a lot more input in the Ducks' offense than the naysayers think:
He has a large amount of involvement in the game planning, scripting and coaching on a weekly basis. He may not call all the plays on game day, but he has a high amount of input in what plays are called and why they are called.
Helfrich's ascension at Oregon is easy to explain. He was promoted to maintain continuity in what has been one of the nation's most successful programs. His familiarity with Kelly's offense has led Ducks fans to believe there should be no noticeable changes on the field this fall.
However, history suggests that a head coach with no prior head-coaching experience may have a rough time replicating a predecessor's success.
When West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez abruptly left for Michigan in 2007, assistant head coach Bill Stewart was named the interim coach for the 2008 Fiesta Bowl. West Virginia upset highly ranked Oklahoma 48-28 and Stewart was named the head coach the following day.
Stewart had no prior head-coaching experience, and while he had a respectable 28-12 record in his three seasons as head coach, he failed to get the Mountaineers back to another BCS bowl.
Novice head coaches have had success. But of those novices who managed to do well, how many had successful predecessors?
There are a few. Chris Peterson, who is 84-8 at Boise State, succeeded Dan Hawkins, who was 53-11. Dabo Swinney, who is 40-21 at Clemson, replaced Tommy Bowden, who was 72-45.
Kyle Whittingham, who is 71-32 at Utah, followed in the footsteps of Urban Meyer. David Shaw, who is 23-4 at Stanford, succeeded Jim Harbaugh. And Jimbo Fisher picked up where Bobby Bowden left off and is 31-10 at Florida State.
It is rare to find a head coach repeat the success of his predecessor, but it is even more rare for a head coach without any experience to do so. Boise State, Utah, Florida State, Stanford and Clemson are the notable recent exceptions.
Helfrich will be attempting to do the same. The spotlight will shine on him starting in Week 3 when the Ducks host Tennessee. The Vols will be playing under new head coach Butch Jones. Losing in Autzen Stadium to Tennessee is not an option for Helfrich.
He has the fast car in his garage. He has the keys to a high-octane offense that needs to be humming at 100 miles per hour to unleash all of its awesomeness.
The roster is loaded. Quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back De'Anthony Thomas are firing on all pistons.
If Helfrich lets his hair down and takes that car on the open road with the pedal to the medal, Oregon will have a successful 2013 season.
If he taps the brakes going into a slippery curve, Helfrich might as well trade in that Ferrari for a Mini Cooper.
For an Oregon team looking for another BCS Championship Game berth, a good season is no longer acceptable. That is a big speed bump for Helfrich.
And that is why the fans, the media and the so-called experts could be setting him up for failure.
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