Oregon hired Mark Helfrich as its football coach Sunday, promoting him from offensive coordinator to be Chip Kelly’s successor.
Helfrich’s promotion does not come as a surprise. Before Kelly left for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles on Wednesday, the Ducks’ quarterbacks guru was considered the front-runner for the position.
“Coaching at Oregon is the pinnacle for me,” Helfrich said Sunday afternoon. He signed a five-year deal with the Ducks worth a reported $9 million.
Oregon, ranked No. 2 in the final AP Top 25, went 12-1 this season capped by a victory over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Helfrich is an Oregon native and was made 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.
“Going forward we will attack in all phases,” Helfrich said at the news conference, which was attended by Ducks’ quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back De’Anthony Thomas. “I assure you we will work as hard as we can to make you proud.”
Before joining the Ducks, the 39-year old Helfrich was quarterbacks coach at Colorado from 2006-08.
Kelly came to the Ducks in 2007 as offensive coordinator under coach Mike Bellotti and is credited with creating Oregon’s innovative hurry-up spread offense. Kelly went 46-7 at Oregon.
It had been widely expected that Kelly 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.
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.
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.
Helfrich becomes the third straight offensive coordinator Oregon has promoted to head coach. Bellotti took over following Rich Brooks’ departure.
Not much is expected to change under Helfrich, who is himself following Kelly’s “Next Man In” philosophy.
As offensive coordinator, Helfrich 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.
Sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the it had not been announced also said Oregon promoted wide receivers coach Scott Frost, the former Nebraska quarterback, to 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.