The Argument for Why Oregon Should Fire Mark Helfrich and Bring Back Chip Kelly

Justin Ferguson@@JFergusonBRCFB National AnalystJanuary 3, 2016

Former Oregon HC Chip Kelly
Former Oregon HC Chip KellyDoug Pensinger/Getty Images

The 2015 college football season isn't over just yet, but one of the sport's wildest coaching carousels has already slowed down.

There could be an opportunity, however, for it to spin in a huge way one more time.

On the final Saturday night of the season, Oregon blew a 31-point halftime lead and lost the Alamo Bowl in triple overtime to TCU. The Ducks' 47-41 loss in San Antonio was a sour ending to a season that seemed to flip in a positive direction down the stretch.

Oregon's 9-4 finish will put more pressure on head coach Mark Helfrich and his staff—especially with Helfrich's former boss, Chip Kelly, on the market after he was fired by the Philadelphia Eagles.

Oregon HC Mark Helfrich
Oregon HC Mark HelfrichEric Gay/Associated Press

As Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee wrote Tuesday, Kelly will most likely stay in the NFL ranks instead of returning to the college game. 

"Kelly wants to be an NFL head coach and is much more likely to bide his time until the right team comes calling," Sallee wrote. "That might not include the personnel control that he had in Philadelphia, but that's a small price to pay compared to jumping through all of the hoops that go along with being a college head coach."

But the Ducks offer a different situation for Kelly. They are the program that made him a famous name in the coaching ranks, as he went 46-7 with three conference titles in his four seasons as head coach.

And while it would be a surprise for Oregon to pull the trigger on Helfrich after just one underwhelming season, Saturday's bowl loss was a collapse of historic proportions.

As Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal noted on Twitter, the last coach to blow such a lead quickly received a pink slip:

The issues for Helfrich and the Ducks were painfully obvious for most of the second half.

After star quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. left the game in the second quarter with a head injury, Oregon's hyperspeed offense ground to a halt. 

Oregon's Offense in the Alamo Bowl
StatisticWith Vernon Adams Jr.Without Vernon Adams Jr.
Total Yards34277
Yards per Play8.11.9
Passing Yards19736

Some of the offensive problems fell to the play-calling of newly named offensive coordinator Matt Lubick: Even with backup quarterback Jeff Lockie struggling to move the ball, star running back Royce Freeman received only nine carries in the second half.

On Oregon's second-to-last offensive drive of regulation, the Ducks had a 3-point lead with 3:32 remaining. Instead of working the clock with the ground game, Lockie threw two incompletions on second and third down.

The Ducks used only 1:15 of the clock and punted, and TCU tied the game on the ensuing possession. Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News, Dan Rubenstein of SB Nation and Bleacher Report's own Bryan Fischer summarized the series:

If Oregon wants to bring the magic back to its play-calling, why not return the reins to the author of its famed offense?

Helfrich and Co. reached the national championship game last season—his second as the Ducks head coach—but it was with a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback that Kelly had developed.

Saturday's loss and some of the issues throughout the regular season might prove he's not cut out for the head coaching position long-term.

Quarterback development has been an issue for Oregon this season under Helfrich. After Marcus Mariota left for the NFL, the Ducks had to turn to Adams, a transfer from Eastern Washington who was only eligible for this season.

When Adams was healthy, the Oregon offense soared. But when a finger injury limited Adams in an early-season loss at Michigan State and kept him out for almost all of the next four games, the Ducks lost twice and had four of their five worst passing outputs of the season.

Lockie was far from a serviceable replacement for Adams, and the season didn't turn around until the latter returned against Washington. Oregon won its final six games of the regular season with Adams back and was cruising against TCU until his injury.

The quarterback issues had cropped up again even before the Alamo Bowl when the program went back to the FCS ranks to pick up Montana State transfer Dakota Prukop.

Prukop appears to have plenty of promise as the Ducks' next starting quarterback, but, like Adams, he'll only be eligible in Eugene for one season.

That route may help Oregon win double-digit games in 2016—especially considering the returning offensive talent that will surround the Ducks' new starter—but it's not a good way to build a program.

Oregon QB Vernon Adams Jr.
Oregon QB Vernon Adams Jr.Austin Gay/Associated Press/Associated Press

If Kelly is willing to spurn the NFL and a possible reunion with Mariota in Tennessee, it wouldn't hurt Oregon to go back to the offensive guru who had great success developing signal-callers.

But perhaps there's a simpler solution for the Ducks. 

Maybe none of this matters if Adams doesn't get hurt Saturday night and Oregon wins its seventh game in a row. After all, the Ducks offense was nearly unstoppable when Adams was healthy. 

Maybe a successful 2016 season with Prukop and a new quarterbacks coach will get Oregon's crop of reserve quarterbacks heading in the right direction.

What the Ducks showed in the second half at the Alamodome, however, was well below the standard Kelly set during his time in Eugene.

Before this season, the last time Oregon finished a campaign with fewer than 10 wins was all the way back in 2007—two years before Kelly took over as head coach.

And if the Ducks repeat that dubious feat in 2016 under Helfrich after Kelly stays in the NFL without an offer to return, their fans will undoubtedly think of what could have been.

Game statistics courtesy of StatBroadcast. Unless otherwise noted, other statistics courtesy of

Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.


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