It seems these days that if a college football team is worth their weight in championships, awards and accolades, they have a big name head coach representing them on the sidelines. When you mention coaches like Les Miles, Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, or Jimbo Fisher, an image likely emerges of a stadium filled with crazed football fans and a big shot head coach with his arms folded, a headset adorning his possibly visored head, who is barking out orders and yelling at the refs for making bad calls.
Then, you mention Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich. If you are anything like most of the country (i.e., anyone not in Pac-12 territory), than you likely have no idea who Helrich is. As the head coach of the University of Oregon football program, Helfrich keeps about as quiet as his Heisman-winning quarterback, Marcus Mariota. That notion is unique when you realize that the coach, the player, and the team have a lot to be proud of.
Breaking down Helfrich’s numbers since his time as head coach at Oregon, and watching the improvement that has taken place there, you would think Helfrich would be boastful every chance he gets, but he is quite the opposite. For instance, at a press conference before the College Football Awards Show, Helfrich sat at a table with fellow coaches Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and Jimbo Fisher.
As opposed to boasting the strength and greatness of his own unit, Helfrich put his peers on a pedestal commenting,
“Certainly what these coaches have done in their careers is something we’re shooting for and is incredibly impressive.”
Helfrich then went on to congratulate and admire the 29 consecutive wins the Florida State Seminoles currently have under their belt, almost as if it was something entirely unheard of. This is understandable, as Oregon is not the program you immediately think of when talking about the different college football dynasties. But the Ducks aren’t exactly new to the championship scene, either.
Needless to say, the man is as humble as anyone in this sport can be, especially given his success throughout his career. Helfrich was a graduate assistant under Duck’s offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, and had ambitions to be an orthopedic surgeon. However, when Boise State beckoned to Koetter, Helfrich dutifully followed, and the rest seems to be history.
But, it is history worth mentioning.
Helfrich became the youngest offensive coordinator in Division One football at the age of 32 in 2006 when he was hired onto the coaching staff at the University of Colorado. After a three-year stint with the Buffaloes, Helfrich returned to Oregon to work under Chip Kelly.
Kelly spoke highly of Helfrich,
“He’s really, really smart and has great people skills. Sometimes smart people can’t get their point across, but he’s a great communicator.”
Boy, oh boy does it show. Helfrich has the ability to develop amazing quarterbacks. Working alongside the other coaches at Oregon, Helfrich was a major factor in evolving the Ducks’ offense, which is now one of the most dynamic in the country.
Plus, watching Oregon play is something really special. While I think Mariota is a heck of a guy to have behind center, I really think a lot of his strengths comes in the way you coach, and Helfrich does it different than most guys out on the gridiron. Helfrich is known for coaching the minds of his players and going back to the basics to fix past mistakes. Instead of watching film of Oregon’s losses, the Ducks watch footage of their practices.
The Ducks really have the ability to make things happen out on the field. They know how to control the game no matter which side of the ball they may be on and a large part of that is due to the talented and cooperative coaching staff.
That being said, it is hard to imagine why Helfrich isn’t as much of a household name as the other coaches I have mentioned. He is just as talented and some may venture to say a bit more talented than some of the highest paid coaches in the NCAA today.
Is it his humility? Is it the fact that college football fans tend to forget that the West Coast of the United States exists during football season? I can’t say for sure. But I can say that Helfrich deserves to be a household name, and there is a more than a favorable chance that the inaugural college football playoffs could make that happen.
*Section Photo credit to Doug Pensinger, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Scott Olmos, USA Today Sports.