It’s no coincidence that as I sat down to write this post, the first thing I heard on the TV in background was “Nice guys, as it turns out, often finish first”. As you may know, I recently wrote a post about how disappointed I was in how Chip Kelly departed Eugene. Now I know we’ve all move on from that, but as I’ve been out at Spring Practice, getting a good sense of who Mark Helfrich is as a coach, I got to thinking about some of the feedback from that post.
Ultimately, it seems many fans really liked Chip’s no-nonsense and gutsy demeanor, both on and off the field. There was a consensus that as long as the Ducks were winning, he must be doing something right and his approach should not be questioned. When he left, many questioned if Oregon’s success would unravel with Coach Helfrich’s softer hand. Did Helfrich have what it takes to “go for it on fourth down” or run risky trick play at a critical moment? Was he going to be “too nice”? Honestly, as much as I wanted to see a “nicer” coach lead the Ducks, I had those same questions myself- until this week.
There’s no doubt Coach Helfrich is nice. He listens, speaks gently yet confidently, and somehow makes you feel comfortable almost immediately. Something he said this week though, squashed any lingering questions I had about his ability to continue Oregon’s success. As Coach Helfrich answered media questions following Monday’s practice, he was asked about being described as more “fatherly” (presumably compared to Coach Kelly). He replied,
“I’ve always liked being around the guys. That’s my favorite part of this. Being around those guys and seeing them do stuff. Seeing their faces in the locker room after the game, or seeing these guys who are going to graduate, that that never entered the realm of their consciousness when they first came here. Just those kinds of things. I love what I do and I’m very lucky to do what I do, and I try to work hard everyday to the right.”
With those words, I realized that perhaps Coach Helfrich’s approach would not only preserve the Ducks’ success, but might even increase it. He is clearly a guy who wants a connection with his players, and I have to believe that is something the players will be motivated by.
To get a player perspective, I chatted with former Ducks, Kenny Wheaton and Damon Griffin to get their perspective. When asked if they, as players, were more receptive to a no-nonsense, tougher coaching style, or more a softer, fatherly style, both told me they preferred a fatherly touch. Griffin went on to say,
” Every “great” coach I’ve been around had the ability to do both. When you’re a one dimension style of coach there will always be a disconnection with some of the players…At the end of the day, because we come from different backgrounds and environments, every player is different”.
I can’t help but think about Running Backs Coach, Gary Campbell, as a good “fatherly coach” example. A 30 year veteran of the Oregon Football coaching staff, he has long been described as a father-like figure for many of these young guys- especially LaMichael James. And well, we all know how well that turned out. As the Register Guard’s, Adam Jude, Reported in his article, “Campbell has been a mentor to UO players for 28 years “, When LaMichael was homesick and ready to go home, it was Coach Campbell who convinced him to stay. When, he had a brush with the law, it was Coach Campbell who “coached” him through an important life-lesson.
Sure, as Griffin described, successful coaches have to find a balance. They obviously can’t go in the back yard and toss the ball around all the time- college football is serious business after all. However, my point is this: A fatherly coach, especially at this level where young boys are maturing into men, is a great asset that just might propel this team (do I dare say it?) to even greater heights.