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Coach who recruited Marcus Mariota fired at Oregon

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Mark Helfrich coached during the first half of Saturday’s 34-24 loss to Oregon State, in Corvallis, Ore.

EUGENE, Ore. >> Oregon has fired coach Mark Helfrich after a disappointing 4-8 season, and just two years after getting the Ducks within a victory of the program’s first national championship in college football.

Helfrich was head coach of the Ducks for four seasons, leading the team to the first College Football Playoff championship game after the 2014 season. But Oregon faltered this year with a five-game losing streak, and finished at the bottom of the Pac-12 North with just two conference wins.

After taking over when Chip Kelly left in 2013, Helfrich went 37-16. He had an $11.6 million buyout on his contract with the Ducks.

An affable native Oregonian, Helfrich had served as offensive coordinator under Kelly and recruited future Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.

Helfrich met with athletic director Rob Mullens on Tuesday night and was told was being dismissed. Helfrich issued a statement saying he was honored to have served at Oregon.

“It is with respect and disappointment that we receive this decision,” Helfrich said. “Plain and simple — we didn’t win enough games this season.”

At a news conference following the announcement, Mullens said that Oregon will look outside the program for candidates, and the new coach will make decisions about the current staff. There is no timeline for a decision, but recruiting adds urgency to the process.

Mullens said he informed the players of his decision earlier in the evening.

“It was difficult,” he said. “Players were upset because they lost a family member.”

Ducks started this season ranked No. 24 in the preseason AP Top 25, but lost 35-32 at Nebraska in the third week of the season, starting the team’s longest losing streak since 1996.

The Ducks had a brief revival with a 30-28 victory over then-No. 11 Utah in Salt Lake City two weeks ago, but they ended the season with a 34-24 loss to rival Oregon State in the 120th Civil War game this past Saturday. The loss snapped an eight-game Oregon winning streak in the series.

Afterward, Helfrich was asked about job security.

“Nobody’s job is safe in college football,” he said. “That’s just the nature of the beast.”

Fan discontentment with Helfrich grew as the season dragged on and wins were scarce. Some questioned the wisdom of new assistant Brady Hoke’s new defensive scheme, or the reliance on graduate transfers at quarterback for the past two seasons rather than long-term player development.

“Didn’t win enough games. I mean, that’s blunt. But that’s the fact. We have to own that part of it. And own the solution,” Helfrich said following the loss to the Beavers.

Whatever the reason, Oregon’s slide was a reminder of how hard it is to get good. And stay good.

When Helfrich was promoted into the job at the start of 2013, he had the daunting task of replacing Kelly, who orchestrated Oregon’s hyperdrive spread-option offense and led the Ducks to their first national championship game appearance in 2010.

Helfrich went 24-4 in his first two seasons, including a loss to Ohio State in the first College Football Playoff championship. But last year he was challenged with replacing Mariota. He lured graduate transfer Vernon Adams from Eastern Washington, but Adams struggled with injury.

The cracks were showing in that 9-4 season, the first with fewer than 10 wins since 2007. Losses to Michigan State, then at home to Utah and Washington State pushed Oregon out of the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2009.

The ultimate embarrassment came in the Alamo Bowl, when the Ducks surrendered a 31-0 lead and TCU staged the biggest comeback in bowl history to win 47-41 in triple overtime.

This season the Ducks brought in another graduate transfer at quarterback, Dakota Prukop from Montana State. But after five starts, Prukop was benched in favor of true freshman Justin Herbert.

Herbert was one of the few bright spots in the dismal season, throwing for 1,936 yards and19 touchdowns with four interceptions in nine appearances.

The overwhelming drag on Oregon’s success appeared to be the defense. The Ducks, who switched to a 4-3 scheme under Hoke, spent most of the season mired in the bottom of the NCAA defensive rankings. At times it appeared that the players didn’t know their assignments.

The defensive shortcomings were readily apparent in Oregon’s 70-21 loss at home to No. 5 Washington on Oct. 8. Huskies quarterback Jake Browning threw for six touchdowns in the victory, which snapped a 12-game losing streak to the rival Ducks.

The issues on defense were again on display Saturday against the Beavers. The Ducks’ season ended without a bowl game for the first time since 2004. Oregon had finished every season ranked in the AP Top 25 since 2007.

Mullens said he waited until Tuesday to put some distance between the emotions of the final loss.

“No one wanted Mark to be more successful than me,” Mullens said. “We were not competing in a number of games and we were on a poor trajectory.”

In the statement Tuesday night, Helfrich thanked his wife and family, the campus community, the fans, and his coaches and their families.

“Finally, to the players — thank you, and I love you,” he said. “The future is bright for this young, talented team, and we will be supporting them and their new leadership.”

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More AP college football: —www.collegefootball.ap.org and —https://twitter.com/AP—Top25

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    • 37-16 is not a shabby record at all.

      This seems like a mistake on Oregon’s part. It’s better to have consistency at the head coach position to bring long term stability to the program than to fire a coach willy nilly after a bad season.

      • If Norm Chow went 11-2. 11-12, and 9-5 his first three years, then fell to 4-8 this year, I’m pretty sure Hawaii would keep him, at least for another year. The problem nowadays is the “instant gratification” mindset. Just look at all the naysayers about Coach Rolo who already did better than any of Chow’s seasons at 6-7 and probably a Hawaii Bowl bid. Yet, we seem to keep thinking back to that miracle 2007 undefeated season, nothing less. In the past, Oregon and Oregon State were the doormats of the then Pac-8. Their annual “Civil War” at the end of the season was just to see who would not come in last place. After tasting some success, they seem to think they are “up there” with the big boys like Ohio State and Alabama. Far from it. Flashy uniforms might be cool, but they don’t win football games.

        • That is straw man argument Norm Chow did NOT go 11-2, 11-2 and 9-5 his first three years. FACT is he was 3-9, 1-11, 4-9 and 2-7 and besides many players quitting or transferring while he was coach, at least two active players were arrested for drunk driving. He also got so mad and had such a bad temper he kicked SA writer Reardon off of Cooke field which is State property. And like Scott Caan of Hawaii 5-0, he did not even want to live in Hawaii, rather choosing to live most of his time in California. People should be given a chance but his failure from day one was so absolute in all aspects both on and off the field that his removal after his 4th season was not only appropriate, it actually took too long and should have been sooner.

      • Most of his wins are because he had mariota as QB. After mariota he had vernon adams jr. He seemed to heavily depend on the talent of his qbs. once his do it all qbs were gone so were his wins

      • College football is a BIG business to these high profile schools. There is absolutely no time to wait and see if a coach is going to produce a good team. Schools like Oregon CANT afford to let years drift by with losing seasons and they surely CAN afford to bye him and his staff out!

  • $11.6 million buyout? That alone would pay for over 20 years of Rolo’s current salary. Talk about the big difference between the budgets of the haves and the have nots like UH.

  • The Ducks and Chip Kelly’s GIMMICK offense has finally exposed !! Oregon, with no tradition, will fade back into obscurity for the next 25 years as Phil Knight spends millions of dollars trying to halt the slide.

    • True. It’s really the same or similar story with Hawaii. JJ’s run and shoot, like Oregon’s high speed offense, initially took everyone by surprise. Defenses had not seen anything like it, so it took a few years for D-Coaches to come up with schemes to stop it. But once they did, the offense was far less effective. THe problem with Hawaii, and maybe Oregon, too, is that we are unable to recruit the really blue chip athletes like Alabama or Ohio State, so we need some kind of “gimmick” to win games. Whatever you think of Norm Chow, he actually had the right idea initially to play old-school fundamental football like the big boys. His problem was that we cannot recruit the same type of players at Hawaii and as a result, we failed. JJ recognized the problem and put in the run and shoot but again, the surprise factor only lasts for so long. But to me, football is won on defense. For many years, Oregon’s defense was not all that great, but their offense was able to score so many points that opponents were constantly on their heels trying to play catch up, meaning that they usually became one-dimensional having to pass a lot, so Oregon’s defense only had to key on the passing game. If you look at Oregon’s few losses during the Chip Kelly era, they were usually against teams that established the run and ate up clock time like Ohio State and Stanford.

      • cmon, Oregon cannot recruit? Maybe washington state or Colorado but not Oregon.
        As a staff Oregon did not adapt and did not recruit a QB same ting that was Hawaii’s problem under chow.

        • Oregon was able to recruit better because of their flashy uniforms and fabulous facilities in the past, but other teams have now caught up in both respects, so they needs something more to entice top recruits. JUst look at them defensively this past season. They ranked near the bottom. If they had so much success recruiting, they should not be where they are defensively. Maybe its just coaching? I’m sure the players have a little to do with it.

    • Always trying to find a Hawaii tie-in. That’s how it’s done here. Anyway, hope Helfrich also tried to recruit St. Louis’s Tagovailoa. He only verbally committed to Alabama who’s offense is nothing like St. Louis’s. A better fit would be Oregon. He’d probably have a better chance of starting right away as well.

      • Yup, tiny minds on a “tiny island” catering to “never been anywhere except Vegas” and “never seen anything” mentality where being “local” trumps all reason or is a reason in itself for the natives to get all riled up.

  • You have a winning season year after year, then all of sudden you have a junk season, Fired! Thats how it is… I guess. but remember, dynasty is not made over 5 years… it takes much more than that. If the fan base is weak… Bandwagon types…(like everywhere) that is what happens…
    God Luck Coach!

    • I think Helfrich rode Chip Kellys wave for a couple of years all the way to the championship game. He couldn’t stand on his own for the last couple of years. Defense was bad and offense was not the same under Frost. With so much money coming in from Phil Knight the team cannot perform the way it has the last couple of seasons.

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