Oregon Head Coach, Mark Helfrich, is just two years removed from leading the Ducks to a National Championship, but after a failing to muzzle the Huskies on Saturday and leading the Ducks to a current 2-4 record this season, many are calling for a complete shake up from the top down. After all, in the modern world of Oregon Football, losing one or two games, much less three or four, especially in a row, is not acceptable.
Whether or not that is fair is up for debate.
Last week I wrote that Helfrich was essentially facing a “perfect storm“ of issues, many of which may not be his fault. After Saturday night’s performance and post- game statements made by players, however, the issue may run much deeper and Oregon is now desperately trying to keep that prefect storm from becoming a catastrophe.
It turns out the problems on the field may be starting in the locker room. Over the past couple of weeks, several players, including true freshman, Troy Dye and Brenden Schooler, and veteran, Cameron Hunt, have publicly said that many players are calling each other out for not putting in the work to win and essentially having a sense of entitlement. In short, it’s become apparent that coaches may be losing the locker room.
But who or what is to blame? And, more importantly, what should be done about it?
It’s a million dollar question. Literally.
After years of dominance, Oregon fans, and certainly Oregon mega booster, Phil Knight, expect better. When the lowest ticket prices are nearly 100 dollars or more, per game, losing, especially the way they have been, isn’t going to be tolerated for long. Growing pains? OK. But an all-out implosion and major discord on the team will prompt change. Make no mistake.
Again, the problem is figuring out a solution. A knee-jerk reaction (ie: firing Helfrich) could set the program back several years. Just look at USC. A tarmac firing of its head coach in 2013, and at least two coaches later, has translated to a continued mess despite the talent it continues to recruit.
But staying the course may, at this point, be disastrous too. The answer is not as cut and dry as we’d all like it to be.
First of all, Helfrich’s contract buy-out is nearly 11 million dollars.
Let that sink in.
Add to that, the fact that bringing in a new head coach would likely mean an entire shake up of the program, including the possible loss of coaches with extensive time in the program-coaches that have been a huge part in Oregon’s success.
All that said, something has to give and the missing pieces to Oregon’s puzzle need to be found.
It’s not necessarily the losses that are the problem; it’s that the team appears undisciplined, out of hand and completely chaotic. You’ve got players calling each other out publicly (good for reporters, bad for the team). You’ve got a defense that seems to be getting worse. You’ve got a quarterback change happening mid-season (albeit a good decision, in my opinion). And you’ve got a team that has seemingly lost its way.
Coaches-mainly Helfrich- have to take the heat for that but what if they aren’t the entire problem? What if they truly are in the middle of a perfect storm that no one could have fully anticipated? Or, Heaven forbid, what if this truly is a legitimate re-building year.
News flash: Deep pockets and a successful run with Chip Kelly (and yes, post Chip Kelly) doesn’t mean continued playoff berths. Teams do go through both peaks and valleys, especially in the Pacific NW.
I hate to burst the “but-we-have-Nike-gear- bubble,” but recruits aren’t generally chomping at the bit to live in Oregon. Yes, there are wonderful facilities and a Heisman on display, but Oregon isn’t yet a historical powerhouse that can offset the rainy weather and boring night life. And guess what? There are many other top schools with great facilities and yes, Heisman Trophies.
There is one thing, however, that player after player has said brought them to Oregon.
In just the few years I’ve been covering the team, the word “brotherhood” has surfaced many times. Players have said over and over again that it was the family-like atmosphere that brought them to Oregon. It was the coaches caring about them as young men and helping them build character in the process. And it was the fact that players were close, mutually respected each other and played unselfishly, sharing success on and off the field.
As Marcus Mariota used to put it, it was about “The brother to your left and the brother to your right.” It was that same brotherhood that played a huge role in getting a very battered team to the National Championship just two years ago and a strong six game winning streak last season to close out the regular season.
Currently, it appears that brotherhood has been lost, perhaps in that perfect storm- a very young team, injured veterans, new coaches and coordinators and at least a small group of players who reportedly aren’t putting in the effort. Regrouping and building relationships take time.
Admittedly, I’ve never played a team sport and I’ve never put on a uniform. I have however, studied people and relationships my entire career. I also happen to understand football and at least through my lens, there is light at the end of this currently very dark Autzen tunnel.
Hear me out.
There are clearly many improvements to make if Helfrich and Co. have any chance at survival, but if they can take their blindfolds off long enough to see their brother to the left and their brother to the right, they may in fact find their way through that tunnel. They may trip along the way, but maybe, just maybe, those tough times will help them find the brotherhood they may not even realize they lost.
For now, they at least deserve a chance to find it.