The Chip Kelly era started off in embarrassing fashion with poor behavior on and off the field during and after the 2009 season.
They say that history repeats itself, and based on the recent off-the-field troubles at Oregon, that appears to be the case, as the legal issues are piling up the same way they did after the 2010 Rose Bowl.
Mark Helfrich is in his first year as a head coach at any level of football, and his leadership is being tested leading up to the Alamo Bowl matchup with Texas.
With the recent news that some of his players have run afoul of the law, Helfrich probably wishes he could skip this chapter in Oregon history and move onto the next. If he handles things the way that Chip Kelly did, it will help keep the Ducks moving in the right direction.
The rash of legal and disciplinary issues involving Oregon players is reminiscent of the problematic offseason following Kelly's first season in Eugene. The Kelly era started with a loss to Boise State and was infamously followed by LeGarrette Blount's punch to the side of Boise State player Byron Hout's head.
After that embarrassing night in Boise, 2009 was a fairly calm season for the Ducks, as the focus shifted to Oregon's run at its first conference title in eight years.
The calm didn't last long.
Things quickly took a turn for the worse after the Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State. Oregon players were arrested, suspended and even kicked out of the program following a string of legal issues in the offseason.
After allowing the separate legal issues to run their respective courses, Kelly tightened the reins and did a great job of keeping his players in line during his final three years in Eugene.
By keeping his players in the news for what they did on the field as opposed to how they acted off it, Kelly established a program that was as efficient off the field as it was on it. Based on the recent transgressions of some of his players, Helfrich might want to pick up the phone and call his predecessor for some advice.
During the season, starting tight end Colt Lyerla was in the news more often than not. It wasn't due to his jaw-dropping athletic ability, which had him positioned to become an early pick in the NFL draft.
There were always rumors about Lyerla's behavior and substance abuse issues, but aside from being excused for "personal reasons" against Tennessee and then suspended for the Colorado game, Lyerla was never punished publicly.
In early October, he opted to leave the program for what he called personal reasons. Less than two weeks after leaving the team, he was arrested for possession of cocaine in a Eugene parking lot.
Helfrich shouldn't be held accountable for Lyerla's situation because the star tight end had seemingly been headed in the wrong direction since his high school days.
Two of the team's most important backups—cornerback Troy Hill and safety Erick Dargan—were both suspended for the season finale against Oregon State for a violation of team rules after an in-season lapse in judgment.
Earlier this week, Hill made the news again, but this time he violated more than team rules. He was arrested on misdemeanor charges of menacing and criminal mischief by the Eugene Police.
Last week, the Ducks suffered another blow when tight end Pharaoh Brown was suspended for the Alamo Bowl for his role in an on-campus snowball fight, in which a former university professor had a bucket of snow dumped on him.
Brown was just having fun with friends and teammates during a rare snowstorm in Eugene, but an error in judgment caused him to take it too far.
Hill is another story altogether. He is suspended indefinitely, and the staff hopes that is enough to get his teammates to pay attention.
As reported by Ryan Thorburn of the Register Guard, Coach Helfrich released this statement regarding the recent issues.
We are aware of the incident and charges involving Troy Hill and he is suspended indefinitely from all football-related activities. We expect every member of our program to hold themselves to a high standard of conduct and to represent this University with class, pride and integrity. We will wait until the legal process has concluded before making any final determination of Troy Hill's status.
College kids make mistakes, and Helfrich made the right move by suspending them despite the importance of the upcoming game. He and his predecessor are very different in many regards, and one of them is how they show their emotions.
Wide receiver Bralon Addison spoke to Hayden Kim of the Daily Emerald about the differences he sees in the two coaches when it comes to the way they deal with the team when issues arise. The following is an excerpt from the interview, and the quote is sure to get some attention in the media:
I think the big difference is just having that family. Chip wasn’t some butthole or anything like that. I know it seemed like that to the media, but in the locker room he wasn’t. He was a cool guy. He just showed his emotions a little bit differently because he didn’t have a family and younger children. From the emotional side it’s easier for coach Helfrich because he has kids of his own, so it’s easier for him to show emotions to the team.
If Helfrich wants to earn the kind of respect Kelly did by making a very loud statement, he should set a precedent for players who get in trouble during the offseason.
The down time between the regular season and the bowl games is often when college athletes get in trouble. And after the bowl game, the players get a break for the first time in months, and that is when problems tend to arise.
Just ask Kelly.
After the Ducks' loss to Ohio State in the 2010 Rose Bowl, he spent much more of the offseason than he would have liked trying to sort through the legal issues of some of his star players.
Kelly didn't have to deal with most of the issues until after the bowl game, but he was faced with the possibility of losing a lot more than some players. Many thought he was in over his head and was losing control of the program.
Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was suspended indefinitely following an arrest. He was then suspended for the entire 2010 season after pleading guilty to burglary charges and was later kicked off the team following multiple violations of the guidelines set forth by Kelly.
Wide receiver Garrett Embry was also booted from the program as a result of his role in the same theft incident as Masoli. Kicker Rob Beard was charged with assault after a brawl and suspended for one game.
Running back LaMichael James was charged with assault, harassment, menacing and strangulation before eventually having all but one of the charges dropped. Despite a major reduction in charges, the negative impact had already been made, and it left a stain on the program's reputation.
The night after Kelly called a meeting and issued a zero tolerance policy regarding off-the-field problems, backup linebacker Kiko Alonso was arrested on suspicion of a DUI and suspended for the entire 2010 season.
With Helfrich punishing a starter by making him miss a bowl game for a snowball fight gone bad, he should catch the team's attention quickly. Hill's punishment beyond the bowl game, whether he's guilty or not, could set the standard for Oregon players going forward under the head coach.
After one year at the helm of the Oregon program, both Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich had double digits in the win column and a handful of legal issues to deal with. If Helfrich wants to keep the Ducks on the same path that Kelly had the Ducks on, he needs to assert himself the way Kelly did.