Oregon Football: Meet Chip Kelly's Heir Apparent, Mark Helfrich
Unless you have been hiding in a cave somewhere with Mitt Romney's campaign manager, you know that Oregon's head coach Chip Kelly is about to receive a full-court press from the NFL's sorriest teams.
The smart money is on Kelly bolting the college ranks for his grab at the brass ring. Where does that leave you, Oregon fans?
If you believe the conventional wisdom being spouted from all corners, it leaves you with current offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich as your new head coach.
But I ask you, what do we really know about this guy? Other than that Phil Knight likes him, which, come to think of it, is probably all you need to know.
But I'm not the kind of person who would just buy a new car without looking under the hood first. Let's look under Mark Helfrich's hood.
Where did Chip Kelly find Mark Helfrich?
Before being hired as Oregon's offensive coordinator, the 39-year-old Helfrich had spent 11 years coaching quarterbacks. He was at Boise State (1998-2000), Arizona State (2001-05) and Colorado (2006-08).
As a graduate assistant at Oregon, Helfrich was snapped up by Oregon's offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter when he was named Boise State's head coach. Koetter hired Helfrich to coach quarterbacks for the Broncos.
Helfrich followed Koetter to Arizona State, where he coached Andrew Walter, who broke John Elway's Pac-10 touchdown record, among others. After three years at Colorado, Helfrich was hired as Oregon's offensive coordinator to replace Chip Kelly when he assumed the role of head coach.
Has He Played the Game?
Coming out of Marshfield High School in Coos Bay, OR, Helfrich was offered the opportunity to walk on at Oregon. A Duck fan while in high school, Helfrich once attended a Mike Bellotti camp at Oregon.
Instead of going the walk-on route, Helfrich chose Southern Oregon, where he was the starting quarterback from 1992 to 1996. According to Wikipedia, Helfrich set school records in 1993 for passing yards, touchdowns and total offense at Southern Oregon.
While earning a bachelor’s degree in biology, Helfrich was an NAIA Scholar-Athlete and led the nation in total offense. He also received NAIA honorable mention All-America honors.
So, Helfrich wasn't chopped liver as a quarterback.
His Current Role
While Helfrich's title is offensive coordinator, everyone knows that Chip Kelly calls the plays.
But Helfrich doesn't just sit in the coaches' box during games and eat popcorn. He analyzes what defenses opponents are operating and helps Kelly make offensive adjustments to take advantage.
Helfrich's primary contribution has been as quarterbacks coach. Starting with Jeremiah Masoli, continuing with Darron Thomas and now with the huge success that is Marcus Mariota, Helfrich has helped these talented players become three of the most accomplished QBs in Oregon history.
I suspect that Helfrich is also an excellent recruiter. He has a great deal of integrity, evidenced by the fact that he refused to leave Colorado after only one year when Mike Bellotti offered him a job.
In an article in the Eugene Register-Guard shortly after he was hired by Chip Kelly, Helfrich said this about turning down Bellotti:
“Not that this is great timing, but this business has so many variables that go into a situation,” Helfrich said. “At that time we came off a bad year here. We had just had our son, and to be honest, I wasn’t really (comfortable) leaving this situation."
It's also nearly impossible to find anyone who will say anything bad about Helfrich. The word "affable" is used to describe him. Moms of recruits like that.
Will He Get The Job?
Heck if I know. He seems awfully young to be handed the reins of one of the elite college football programs in the country.
But then, my doctor seems too young to me, too.
Some of us are also struggling with how, well, boring Helfrich seems. Maybe compared to Chip Kelly's intelligence and edge, anyone would seem vanilla.
And, I guess Helfrich doesn't have to be the most exciting guy at the party as long as he knows what he's doing and the Ducks continue their winning ways (see Chris Petersen, Boise State.)
I hope someone at least talks to Jon Gruden. I bet Phil Knight would like him, too.
Kay Jennings is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.