How Oregon Has Maintained, If Not Improved Post-Chip Kelly
Mark Helfrich took over as the Oregon Ducks head coach with a lofty standard to meet. Each of his three predecessors left the program in better shape than he found it.
Rich Brooks resurrected Oregon football in the 1990s, before turning it over to Mike Bellotti. Bellotti built a consistent winner, which he turned over to Chip Kelly.
Kelly's 46-7 record upon leaving for the Philadelphia Eagles head coaching vacancy set an especially high standard.
Helfrich's formula is pretty simple. To continue the results, continue the preparation.
“We haven't done much differently at all,” Helfrich said prior to the season at Pac-12 media day. “From a player's perspective, that's what you want.”
So far, so good.
The Ducks are 6-0 with an average margin of victory of 43 points per game in Helfrich’s first half-season as head coach. Their most recent win was a three-touchdown deluge of then-No. 16-ranked Washington.
The win over the Huskies marked the Ducks’ 14th straight away from Autzen Stadium, and 18th consecutive victory in a true road game. Oregon's continued success on the road is a microcosm of the seamless transition the program has made with new head coach Helfrich and new offensive coordinator Scott Frost.
"We prepare the same every week, and if we are at home, we have more crowd noise so the defense is emphasized, and if we are on the road, we do it the other way," Helfrich said in his postgame press conference, per GoHuskies.com. "We try to keep it as much the same from a routine standpoint, whether we are at home or on the road."
Obviously, Helfrich inherited a program built to win. It's been five years since Oregon failed to qualify for a BCS bowl, and it's claimed three of the last four Pac-12 championships.
The program's success on the recruiting trail is an obvious catalyst of its results on the field. The last five Ducks signing classes ranked no lower than No. 22 in the nation, per Rivals.com.
Helfrich's 2013 class, his first as head coach, is already having an impact on both sides of the ball. Running back Thomas Tyner has rushed for 261 yards and five touchdowns. Defensive end Torrodney Prevot has 1.5 sacks, two pass deflections, a quarterback hurry and a forced fumble.
Young Ducks and new players like defensive end Tony Washington stepping up complement the established veterans nicely. That gives Oregon almost unrivaled depth, allowing it to play both fast and physically.
Opinions differ on why Oregon fares so well in recruiting. Some point to facilities. Others champion the university's connection to Nike founder Phil Knight and the cutting edge of gear he provides the program.
Helfrich offered a simpler explanation.
"If you play well and you win and provide a process to win and excel, guys recognize that," Helfrich said on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference.
Oregon could be close to adding two more attractive credentials to its recruiting resume: a Heisman Trophy and a highly drafted NFL prospect.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota leads numerous Heisman projections, including at SI.com. CBSSports.com rates him the No. 1 professional prospect among the sophomore class of quarterbacks.
That's high praise—it's a group that also includes UCLA’s Brett Hundley, Stanford’s Kevin Hogan and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel.
Nothing's changed for Mariota in the system. He has 165 pass attempts through six games, which puts him on roughly the same pace as last season, when he passed 336 times.
He's one of four Ducks with more than 40 rushes. Last season, Mariota was one of four players with 80-or-more carries.
No, Mariota's ascent into the spotlight is not the result of any widespread changes. It's the result of sticking to the script.
Winning at Oregon has become a self-perpetuating cycle. Following the Washington win, Helfrich closed his postgame statement with a pretty concise assessment that couldn't more perfectly capture the Ducks' run.
"We have really good players," he said.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer for B/R. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.
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