The ‘Untested’ Oregon Ducks

Mark Helfrich

What defines big time?

The wise answer is: “The big time is right where you are.”

But that doesn't always work out.

People who hate where they are, either geographically or emotionally, want a better answer.

For them, the big time is out there waiting just around the corner and someone else just took their place.

So they look for a symbolic definition.

If you're a sports fan, the big time is major league. The more adjusted among us see big time sports from the bottom up, from Pop Warner leagues to the NFL.

Either way, all sports fans agree that getting interviewed on national sports talk radio is big time. That's where Oregon Duck Football coach Mark Helfrich was Thursday morning.

He talked to Jim Rome and came off as big time as any veteran college coach ever sounded. And he made it sound like he'd been doing it all along. No breathing problems, no stammer or "uh, uh, okay, uh."

Coach Helfrich was in his comfort zone and that might be a problem for Oregon's big time opponents this year.

The #3 ranked Ducks carry the doubt-vote because Helfrich is an untested head coach. He never led any program, though he coached four years under Chip Kelly as offensive coordinator.

FootballScoop named him their National Quarterbacks Coach of the Year in 2010 and 2012. He was a finalist for Offensive Coordinator of the year. But there's still doubt.

On The Jim Rome Show, he said he does 5-10 new things each day as a head coach that he didn't do as a coordinator. And he's getting more used to it.

What he isn't getting used to is a staff of new people he needs to connect with. Enough Duck football coaches stayed after Kelly left to make it a smoother transition. He knows the names and the personalities because he was one of them, not some big name brought in to save a floundering program.

Rome asked Helfrich what advice Kelly gave on coaching. The new guy said Chip told him the same thing Coach Mike Bellotti told the then Offensive Coordinator Kelly when he took over.

"Be yourself," is the message passed from coach to coach.

How did Mark Helfrich describe himself to a national audience? A former high school and small college quarterback, without mentioning Coos Bay or Southern Oregon University. A fan of hip-hop in high school where he'd breakdance on a piece of cardboard.

Then came the telling answer, a true Baby Boomer answer, even though Helfrich was born in 1973.

Rome asked him what he thought his dad would say to him as head coach. Helfrich said his dad would probably watch from the sidelines with his trademark smirk, then tell him everything he was doing wrong.

Hello, Daddy. Perfect answer.

Helfrich also said the last time he saw his father alive was at Autzen Stadium; he thinks of his old man every time he walks onto the field. That's more bad news for Duck opponents in 2013.

Why does this matter? The head coach of the Oregon Ducks will tap emotions his players didn't know they had. They'll be winning one for The Gipper every game they play.

Coaching football is one thing, playing it another, but winning with a spiritual imperative?

This sounds like material for a halftime speech at an SEC game, and it works wonders down there.

"It's more than football, men. It's life. And life is better when you move past your personal expectations to triumph. Go Ducks."

Untested? Please.

About Arran Gimba

Quantcast