The University of Oregon announced the dismissal of head football coach Mark Helfrich on Tuesday after he spent four seasons at the helm of the program.
"We want to thank Mark for his eight years with the University of Oregon and appreciate his efforts on behalf of Oregon football," Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens said. "We wish Mark and his family the best."
Helfrich released a statement as well, per the school's official athletics website:
It is a great honor to have served as the head football coach at the University of Oregon. It is with respect and disappointment that we receive this decision. Plain and simple — we didn't win enough games this season.
Thank you first to my wife, Megan, and our family, the fans, the campus community, the board, our donors and administration. To our coaches, staff and their families, it is impossible to communicate my gratitude for the environment we got to work in every single day.
Finally, to the players — thank you, and I love you. The future is bright for this young, talented team, and we will be supporting them and their new leadership.
Helfrich took over the Oregon program in 2013 after serving as the team's offensive coordinator for four years under Chip Kelly, who departed for the NFL.
The 43-year-old Oregon native enjoyed initial success. The Ducks went 11-2 during his first season, including a victory in the Alamo Bowl to finish ninth in the AP rankings, and then reached the College Football Playoff National Championship in his second year before losing to Ohio State.
Things haven't gone nearly as smooth over the past two years, though. The program, which had annual national title expectations, began to slip from that lofty perch.
The Ducks went 9-4 in 2015, finishing the campaign with a loss in the Alamo Bowl. The bottom then fell out in 2016, as Oregon finished 4-8, the program's first losing season since 2004 and its worst record since 1991 (3-8).
Helfrich finishes his head coaching career at Oregon with a record of 37-16.
Andrew Greif of the Oregonian noted Helfrich started to feel the proverbial heat in October, and the head coach talked about trying to work through the rough patch:
Certainly nobody's more frustrated than the people inside this building and at the same time we have to go about solving it. The same people that tell you you're the greatest or the smartest or the best, which that's probably not true, they also are the people that tell you you're the bottom of the barrel or whatever, whatever adjectives may be in there. That's not true either.
We absolutely have a plan in place both from a coaching standpoint and a development standpoint and how we're working through this phase to deal with where we are.
In November, ESPN's Darren Rovell reported Nike co-founder Phil Knight was ready to make a massive investment to attract a coach that could bring Oregon a national championship:
Darren Rovell @darrenrovell
There's talk heating up in Oregon that Phil Knight is ready to throw insane $10M+ a year money at a football coach. He's 78, wants a title.2016-11-5 23:47:04
"That's the nature of the profession," Helfrich said in response to the report, per Tyson Alger of the Oregonian. "And, uh, it would be cool if it's that easy. I take it it wasn't me that was getting the 10 million? I have to say it. Come on."
Ultimately, Helfrich is a victim of circumstance. The margin for error is thin at a program that recently reached the national title game twice in a five-year span. One down season is all it takes to lead to a coach's demise, which was the case here.
That's not to say Helfrich was Oregon's long-term answer. The previously high-flying Ducks had begun to lose some of their unique identity in recent years and that reflected in the recruiting rankings, where they finished 22nd without a single top-100 recruit in 2016, according to Scout.
In the end, Oregon decided not to wait to see whether Helfrich could reverse the troubling trends both on the field and on the recruiting trail. It sounds like Knight will lead the charge to ensure no stone is left unturned as the university searches for a replacement.