This is not a knock on Chip Kelly. He has every right to leave, every right to chase his dream, and every right to choose his path in life; however, equally righteous are Oregon fans’ right to move beyond the coach who provided them with so many great memories, and look to the future of a program prepared for business-as-usual.
After the “I’s” are dotted and “T’s” are crossed, I expect within a few days that Offensive Coordinator and native Oregonian Mark Helfrich will be named Kelly’s successor. This isn’t a scoop, for anyone with at least one eye on the program over the last calendar year is aware of Oregon’s alleged plan regarding Chip’s seemingly eminent departure. But what it is and what it can be for arguably one of the most successful programs in college football over the past 5 years, is an opportunity to keep the train on the tracks and do so behind a man with Oregon roots, a strong knowledge of the very system responsible for where they are today, and a coach who might just want THIS to be his last job.
Mark Helfrich is an Oregonian. He spent his childhood in Coos Bay driving north to Eugene for Saturday afternoon Duck games. He graduated from Marshfield High School, played football at Southern Oregon University, and later joined Mike Bellotti’s staff as a graduate assistant under a reference from long-time legendary high school coach Kent Wigle. He would later work as the Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach at Colorado, before joining Coach Kelly at Oregon in 2009. This is important because my guess is; he wants to be here. That’s not to say Chip didn’t, but more so that Helfrich has and likely does view this as his “dream job.” And that matters.
The upside of a “Chip Kelly” is the obvious success he brings to a program. He never missed a beat following Mike Bellotti’s departure and in nearly every way upped the ante. He elevated the mindset of the program from conference title contender, to conference dominator and perennial national title nominee. But he also always had his eye on a greater prize and never shied away from the prospect of something “better.” As much as he liked it at Oregon and appreciated the opportunity they gave him, he wanted more…and now he has it.
I don’t know Mark Helfrich personally, but from what I know and have read about the man it’s a fairly responsible assumption that he wants to be here. He wants to coach the Ducks, not the Eagles, the Browns, or any of the other NFL franchises who annually dismiss their coach while looking for the “next best thing.” If he succeeds (And that is and “if,” for he’s never been a head coach and he does have huge shoes to fill) he’ll maintain the status quo on the field, while likely ending the annual soap opera off of it. As much as I loved and appreciated what Chip brought to Oregon’s program, the drama which surrounded it due to his never-ending flirtation with the “trophy wife,” grew older than the “second gunman on the grassy knoll.” This program thrived under Chip, but would benefit greatly from the level of stability a coach in-for-the-long-haul would provide it. With Helfrich’s background and attitude towards the state and the program, I think he’d be that guy.
This is a relatively sad day for Oregon. It would be naïve to assert otherwise. But this was an inevitable day for those familiar with the program and can be an exciting one for those same familiar fans. Mark Helfrich knows what they’ve been doing and by all accounts – due to his intelligence, leadership ability, and cohesiveness with the assistants – has proven he’s the man for the job. Yes, Chip is a great coach, but his system and way of doing things is primarily responsible for his success, and Mark Helfrich has spent the better part of 4 years soaking all of that up. Can he do this job? I believe the answer is yes. Can he do this job to the level of expectation the program has come to expect? That’s yet to be seen. But if he can, and if he’s truly in for the long-haul…this can be a new beginning to the continually great story you’ve been reading for the last 4 years.
Good luck Chip! And more importantly, good luck Mark…hopefully for a long time to come.