New Oregon coach Mark Helfrich has talked to predecessor Chip Kelly a bunch of times since Kelly bolted to the NFL.
Kelly’s advice? “Be yourself,” Helfrich said.
Luckily for Ducks fan, when it comes to running a football program, there’s not much difference between the new coach, an affable Oregonian, and the old one, a wise-cracking New Englander.
“If I can be known as the guy who kept winning after Chip Kelly, I’m good with that,” Helfrich said.
The 40-year-old Helfrich is taking over after four seasons as Oregon’s offensive coordinator under Kelly, who left in January to become head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Kelly’s Ducks went 46-7 overall and played in BCS bowl games in each of his four years, including an appearance in the national championship game against Auburn in 2011. Oregon finished 12-1 last season, beat Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl, and wound up No. 2 in the final AP Top 25.
Kelly’s trademark was the development of a breakneck spread-option offense. His goal was to get a play off in 12 seconds, as efficiently as possible. Helfrich’s signature became his development of Oregon’s quarterbacks, and he was key to bringing along Darron Thomas and Marcus Mariota, the Ducks’ current starter.
When training camp opened this week, Mariota said not much has changed now that Kelly’s gone.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot of difference from a football standpoint,” Mariota observed. “Coach Helfrich has always said, `If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”‘
The Ducks return eight starters on offense and seven on defense. Joining Mariota on the offense is junior De’Anthony Thomas, an explosive playmaker at both receiver and running back who scored every 9.2 times he touched the ball.
Thomas ran for 701 yards and 11 touchdowns and caught 45 passes for 445 yards and five more scores. He also scored on a kickoff return and a punt return, becoming the first Oregon player in 47 years with a touchdown four different ways.
Thomas hinted there may be a few tweaks of offense, or a “little more flavor,” as he put it.
Helfrich, a native of Oregon, is the third straight offensive coordinator to be promoted to the top job, following Kelly and his processor, Mike Bellotti. He is an unassuming guy, in marked contrast to Kelly’s frequent sarcasm and sometimes brusque demeanor.
“They’re just different in the way they deliver their messages, really. Different personalities,” defensive lineman Arik Armstead said. “Nothing’s really changed football-wise. Practice and schemes and all that stuff is the same. But the way they talk to us and interact with us is a little different.”
With potential NCAA sanctions no longer an issue, Helfrich can focus solely on the task at hand. And perhaps build a legacy of his own.
“We’re going to continue to do what we’ve done from a program standpoint. How we recruit is a little bit different, but we’re going to continue to be innovative, attack, and get better in every facet of our program, every year.”