Oregon promotes OC Helfrich to coach
Mark Helfrich is Oregon's next man in.
As usual, the Ducks wasted little time finding a replacement for Chip Kelly, promoting their affable offensive coordinator to head coach Sunday. Kelly left to become coach of the Philadelphia Eagles on Wednesday.
Helfrich is the third straight offensive coordinator at Oregon to be promoted to the top job, following Kelly and his predecessor, Mike Bellotti.
The 39-year-old Oregon native signed a five-year deal with the Ducks for a reported $9 million. His promotion does not come as a surprise: Even before Oregon defeated Kanas State in the Fiesta Bowl, the Ducks' quarterbacks guru was considered the front-runner as Kelly's successor.
"Going forward we will attack in all phases. We'll embrace innovation and we'll strive to do our best to win each and every day," Helfrich said at a news conference Sunday afternoon where he was supported by players including quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back De'Anthony Thomas.
Helfrich, who embodies Oregon's "Next Man In" philosophy of substitution without skipping a beat, became offensive coordinator of the Ducks when Kelly took over four seasons ago. The Ducks have appeared in BCS bowls each of those four years, including an appearance in the national championship game against Auburn in 2011.
The Ducks, ranked No. 2 in the final AP Top 25, finished 12-1 this season.
"Win The Day and all that — that doesn't change for us," Mariota said.
Kelly, credited with creating Oregon's innovative hurry-up spread offense, went 46-7 as head coach at Oregon. It had been widely expected that he would jump to the NFL, leaving many surprised when he announced he was staying at Oregon after interviewing with Philadelphia, Cleveland and Buffalo following the Fiesta Bowl. Nine days later, however, he changed his mind and decided to go to the Eagles.
Just hours after Kelly's departure was announced, Oregon posted a job for a new head coach on its website. Under state law, Oregon was required to interview at least one qualified minority candidate for the job.
Former Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton acknowledged Saturday that he interviewed with Oregon before he was hired by the Indianapolis Colts' to be their offensive coordinator.
Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens said Oregon had already started the process of finding a replacement for Kelly following the Fiesta Bowl. He said it was important to name a successor quickly, because letter of intent signing day for high school recruits is on Feb. 6.
Mullens said interest from an "impressive list of coaches for the job." In the end, he interviewed five candidates in person.
"We went through the process because we felt it was important to do our due diligence and we kept coming back to Mark," Mullens said on Sunday.
Before joining the Ducks, Helfrich was quarterbacks coach at Colorado from 2006-08. As Oregon's offensive coordinator, he also has been in charge of Oregon's quarterbacks, guiding both Darron Thomas and Mariota, a redshirt freshman.
This season Mariota set the team's single-season record with 38 touchdowns (32 passing, 5 rushing, 1 receiving), surpassing the previous mark of 36 held by Thomas (2011) and Akili Smith (1998).
The first freshman named to the Pac-12's all-conference first team in 23 years, Mariota passed for 2,739 yards, completing a school-record 68.5 percent of his passes. He had 3,429 yards of total offense, second only to Smith's 3,947 in 1998.
Thomas, his predecessor, passed for 2,761 yards and a school-record 33 passing touchdowns his junior season last season despite missing a game because of an injury. He left school with a year of eligibility remaining in hopes of playing in the NFL but went undrafted.
There are not expected to be any major changes under Helfrich. But he hinted he may allow reporters and boosters greater access to practice — something that Kelly had shut down this season — and he joked about a few other tweaks.
"I won't wear a visor, I'll eat more vegetables," he said.
Helfrich will also face possible fallout from an NCAA investigation into the school's use of recruiting services.
The inquiry is the result of reports that surfaced in 2011 concerning payments Oregon made to two such services, including a $25,000 check sent to Willie Lyles and Houston-based Complete Scouting Services in 2010. Lyles had a connection with a player who committed to Oregon.
Oregon had requested a summary disposition in the case and presented a report to the NCAA infractions committee outlining violations the school believed occurred and appropriate sanctions. But last month Yahoo Sports reported that Oregon is headed toward a hearing with the committee because the two sides couldn't reach an agreement.
The NCAA does not comment on ongoing investigations. The hearing could come as early as this spring.
Sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the it had not been announced said Sunday that Oregon promoted wide receivers coach Scott Frost, the former Nebraska quarterback, to replace Helfrich as offensive coordinator.
Frost, 38, came to Oregon in 2009 after serving as an assistant at Northern Iowa. He played seven seasons in the NFL after leading the Huskers to the national title over Tennessee in the 1997 Orange Bowl.