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Mark Helfrich Is the Larry Coker to Chip Kelly’s Butch Davis

These days, the only thing more aflame than Oregon’s uniforms is coach Mark Helfrich’s hot seat.

Just two seasons after finishing runners-up in the inaugural College Football Playoff, the Ducks stare down the barrel of extending a three-game losing streak to four in this week’s matchup against the #5 Washington Huskies. They’re allowing 210 rushing yards per game, they’re the sixth-most penalized team in college football, and they’re endangering their shot at earning a bowl invitation.

How have Oregon fans responded? By launching a GoFundMe page to bankroll Helfrich’s massive buyout.

Have faith Oregon fans. At the time of this writing, there’s only $10,999,790 left to go.

To his credit, Helfrich isn’t making any excuses. “Anything that’s bad in this program is my responsibility,” he insisted after a disappointing loss to Nebraska. “Anything you think of that’s bad is my fault.” Don’t get me wrong- that degree of integrity and accountability in a head coach is truly admirable. I like Mark Helfrich. Maybe he doesn’t know a lick about how to play defense (or how to choose a defensive coordinator), but Mark Helfrich is still a quality individual.

Except, quality individuals make awful head coaches. As far as I can tell, that’s the college football reality we live in. Show me a coach with 409 career wins, and I’ll show you someone who reprehensibly covered the tracks of a child rapist. Oh, is it too soon for those questionable Joe Paterno references? Apparently, it isn’t too soon for Penn State to roll out the red carpet in questionably honoring him.

Also, I’m almost certain one of the top five coaches in college football spends his Sundays posterizing middle schoolers at the local YMCA. Is that coach Jim Harbaugh? The world may never know.

Enabling sexual assault. Committing blatant recruiting violations. Hiring coaches recovering from alcoholism. That’s the kind of college-football-isn’t-supposed-to-be-fun mentality you need to coach in college football. Mark Helfrich lacks that mentality. Mark Helfrich looks more like Kermit the Frog than somebody willing to drown a litter of puppies to secure a five-star recruit. When I see Jimbo Fisher, I see a man who would trample a sea of helpless baby orangutans just to re-polish the encased ACC Championship trophies perched so prominently atop his mantle.

Helfrich is clearly more understated than his mentor and predecessor, and while that can have its benefits, it doesn’t help him in either recruiting or developing players and assistant coaches. Helfrich earned his reputation under Chip Kelly by tutoring a number of high-skill quarterbacks, including, most notably, Marcus Mariota. Truth be told, Chip Kelly and Scott Frost (currently at UCF) deserve an enormous amount of the credit assigned to Helfrich. As luck would have it, both men have surfaced in coaching carousel discussions surrounding a potential Helfrich departure.

Helfrich is the Larry Coker to Chip Kelly’s Butch Davis. The latter halves of the comparison each continued onto questionable coaching careers in the NFL. The former half failed to fill the shoes of their coaching mentors. The University of Miami has finally left a downward spiral triggered by inept coaching. If the Ducks don’t act fast, now may be only the beginning of that spiral.

Chip Kelly and Mike Bellotti built the Oregon program to stardom in the previous two decades, yet a decision to stand pat with an average coach in Helfrich threatens every last ounce of that stardom. The Ducks are currently trending away from a winning season and trending away from the offensive firepower that led them to a national championship. A handful of graduate transfers at quarterback have kept the program momentarily afloat, but in a matter of years, the full incompetence of the Helfrich regime will become fully exposed.

And by then, it’ll be too late.

Oregon tried and failed to maintain operations in-house. It’s time for the athletic department to expand the coaching search beyond the boundaries of Eugene- and whatever the hell they call that offense- to bring in an regularly-credentialed asshole with some know-how. If the Ducks waste the 2017 season with a proven lost cause at the helm, who knows whether the former glory of the Oregon program can ever be fully salvaged.

Then again, at least they’ll always have those jerseys.

Email Cole Hankins at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins.

Photo courtesy – Wikipedia

Playoff Positioning: Conference Edition

At the beginning of the year everyone had their own picks for what teams would make this year’s playoff. No matter the teams, most people had the same general feel for what conferences would get in. Florida State from the ACC, the SEC champ, the Pac-12 champ (mostly Oregon or UCLA) would get bids, and the remaining spot would go to the Big 12 or Big 10 champ. We figured there would be a little debate over that final spot considering there would be five major conference champions and only four playoff spots.
Six weeks into the season and things are even more of a crap shoot than I and most others anticipated. Three of the most popular pre-season picks already have a loss with Alabama, Oregon, and Oklahoma going down this past weekend. One weekend dramatically increased the number of teams who now have realistic shots at making the playoff. But where do conferences stand as a whole? Certain conferences are now more at risk than before the season of not getting a team in the playoff. There were already only four spots for five major conferences, and three of those conference’s major contenders already have losses. Throw in Notre Dame who is undefeated and ranked in the Top 10 and that makes five conferences plus Notre Dame and only four spots. And this assumes only one team per conference. The possibility of crazy scenarios is slim, but would we be that shocked if two 1-loss SEC west teams made the playoff over a conference champion with multiple losses? I certainly wouldn’t.
So which conferences are in the most trouble currently? Here’s a conference shakedown about which ones should be most concerned at this stage. We’ll have a better idea of where conferences stand in a few weeks when the playoff committee releases their initial standings but one thing is clear about this college football season: Expect insanity.
The SEC is the conference that should be least concerned and is surprising to absolutely no one. Some may think the conference is even better this year because of Ole Miss and Mississippi State’s play and subsequent rise in the rankings, but I think the conference is just as good as it has been (not too shabby). LSU is down as well as the whole SEC East so that offsets the SEC West gauntlet, but the conference is still the best in the country. The Auburn/Mississippi State winner will be the leader in the clubhouse but even a two loss SEC champ from the West would be worthy with multiple wins over the Auburn, Alabama, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M group.
Notre Dame
I think Notre Dame is actually the team in the best spot at this point. They do have a few tough games remaining, but they don’t have to face brutal Pac-12/SEC schedules the rest of the way and don’t have being in a weak conference hanging over their head like the Big 10 and ACC winners will. Notre Dame’s biggest test comes next week when they play at Florida State. After that the schedule consists of Navy, Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville, and USC. Playing at the Sun Devils will be tough, but I think Notre Dame’s defense can stop Arizona State’s offense more than the other way around. The Irish’s season will come down to that game at USC, and we have all seen how inconsistent the Trojans are this year. The Irish don’t even have to win at Florida State. If they go 11-1 with their only loss in Tallahassee against the defending champs, it’s going to be nearly impossible to leave them out of the playoff.
The ACC is the simplest of conferences to assess. If Florida State loses a couple of times the ACC isn’t getting anyone in the playoff. That seems unlikely since outside of Notre Dame the Seminoles’ toughest games are on the road against Louisville, Miami (Fl.), and Syracuse. Not exactly the SEC West. Chances are Florida State will go undefeated. Even if they lose to Notre Dame, if they go 12-1 and win the ACC a single loss to an 11-1/12-0 Irish team won’t be enough to keep them out.
Big 12
The Big 12 is in a better position now than it was heading into the season. The Pac-12’s struggles obviously help. And even though front-runner Oklahoma lost, TCU’s win will help the conference as a whole. Going into the year Baylor and Oklahoma had a small margin for error since it was viewed as just them and a bunch of decent not great teams. TCU’s play gives the conference another really good team and another chance at a high quality win. If either of those three go 11-1, their resume will look pretty good with at least one win over a team from that trio. If a team outside of them somehow wins the conference, they would obviously have a great shot having had to beat at least two teams out of Baylor, Oklahoma, and TCU. There’s one thing that could be fun for college football fans and terrifying for the selection committee. What if that trio of teams all goes 11-1 only losing to each other? How do you leave one, let alone two of those teams out?
Big 10 and Pac 12
That leaves the two conferences that are in the most trouble right now. The Big 10 is obviously down. Even if Michigan State wins out, their best wins would be over Nebraska twice and Ohio State. That in and of itself wouldn’t be the worst, but now their one loss to Oregon looks like it might not end up being as great of a loss as we thought at the time. Even if Oregon wins out, they’d make the playoff over the Spartans so Michigan State needs a lot of teams to start losing. They definitely need Notre Dame to because if the Irish make the playoff it will be hard for the Spartans to make it over two conference champions.
Things look bleak for the Pac-12 as well. It’s never a good weekend when your top two contenders both go down at home. Oregon and UCLA have shown some weaknesses in the past couple of weeks and right now it is hard to see either team winning out. They play this Saturday and the loser’s playoff chances are likely toast. Arizona has the best win so far but it is still unclear if they are more for real or if Oregon was overrated. The best chance for the Pac-12 (short of Arizona going undefeated) is for Oregon to win out and avenge their loss to Arizona in the conference championship game.
The 2014 season has already been full of excitement, and it is anyone’s guess who will escape the upsets and survive until the playoff. One thing is clear, the committee is going to have an impossible task, and I look forward to the heat they’ll inevitably take from crazed fan bases.