Just when many thought Oregon’s football season couldn’t get any worse, it did.
Oregon had one bit of hope left to close out the season at least becoming bowl eligible. Those hopes were dashed last night in front of a dwindling Autzen crowd hoping to send the seniors off on a good note at their final home game.
The final score: 52-27.
It’s not a good time to be a Ducks player, coach or fan. These are the roughest waters the Oregon ship has navigated in over a decade and the sea sickness is definitely setting in. Making the waves even worse is the fact that Oregon has had huge success and been a top team, not only in the Pac-12, but in the nation for several years now. Simply put, these are uncharted waters and Lady Oregon seems to be lost at sea.
Inevitably, fans are disgusted and want someone to blame. Chances are, Oregon’s top booster, Phil Knight, does too. As the head coach, Mark Helfrich is taking a direct hit, but is that really fair? If you ask me, the situation just isn’t that black and white.
Listen, I’m frustrated too. Despite predicting the loss, I could barely watch the game yesterday and admittedly checked out a few times in between analyzing the dismal stats sitting in front of me. This is not the season any of us, including Mark Helfrich, wanted, but a knee jerk reaction to fire Helfrich may not be the best plan.
I feel like a broken record this season and I know it’s not a popular opinion but again, as I wrote about last week, I firmly believe this coaching staff, two years removed from a National Championship, didn’t suddenly forget how to coach. It just didn’t happen. They also didn’t suddenly forget how to recruit players and the notion that Oregon has lost the fight in recruiting is Ludicrous.
Modern-day Oregon football has always managed to land a few top recruits but has never been a recruiting hot bed like Alabama, Ohio State, Nebraska, etc. Have things seen a steady decline over the past couple of years? Sure, but not to the point that warrants a complete coaching overhaul.
I don’t care how much Nike swag, beautiful buildings with Ferrari leather seats and state of the art training facilities there are, Oregon is not yet the traditional dynasty those other programs currently are to bring in top recruiting classes year after year. Someday it may be. Right now, it’s not. A blank check to some imaginary coach isn’t going to change that, at least not as quickly as it seems fans would demand.
What has happened and continues to happen is a perfect storm that has set things back a bit. It feels like more than that, but realistically, it’s not. Oregon Football hasn’t taken an in-correctable turn into darkness. That perfect storm happened before the season started and wasn’t going to immediately calm overnight (clearly), or even in one season. Oregon lost its Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, several key players left for the NFL and “youth” happened. A new defensive coordinator happened. A new defensive scheme happened. Two new quarterbacks happened. A new quarterback’s coach happened. Oh yeah! And injuries happened. Lots and lots of injuries.
Add to that perfect storm, a ton of guys, a mix of a lot of underclassmen and a few veterans, who aren’t accustomed to losing and are likely struggling to bounce back. If you are finding yourself wanting to quit, imagine how they feel?
Some will argue that “the play calling is horrible” and “the guys have quit playing for Helfrich.”
First of all, perhaps youth, inexperience, a freshman quarterback and a new defensive scheme has something to do with some of the “vanilla” play calling. Also, dare I say it, no coach is perfect all the time and no amount of money is going to change that. Let’s be clear, Helfrich is a young coach and didn’t get where he is today without reason. Again, he isn’t going to be perfect. No one is. News Flash! The names flying around out there to replace Helfrich aren’t perfect either.
Second of all, no one except the guys in the locker room knows if they have quit on Helfrich. Perhaps they are getting frustrated (like we all are) and perhaps they are struggling to find motivation after being blindsided by a record number of losses. My point is, no one expected this and it takes time to work through these things. If it ends up taking an entire other season, then fine. I’ll eat my words. My guess is it won’t as long as the powers-that-be decide to be patient.
Look, I get it. This isn’t denial. The storm is ugly. Records are being lost, streaks are being ended, fans are leaving early, or not even showing up at all, and lots and lots of money is being lost. People want to point fingers and because of that, Helfrich’s days are probably numbered. The sad part is they shouldn’t be. If we all just took a deep breath and looked at things a little more critically, we might just see the perfect storm for what it is. . .
A temporary and important part of a short-term growing process.
Yes, the storm will calm and Helfrich and Co. probably know better than anyone at this point how to begin cleaning up the mess. They just need a chance to do it. Unfortunately, money (and the pursuit instant gratification) is likely the actual captain of this ship.
One final note. . .
I read a piece yesterday by a well-known Portland-based writer who talked about Helfrich being “vanilla” in news conferences and failing to connect with media, boosters and recruits. As someone in the media (albeit a small fish in a big sea), I couldn’t disagree more.
First, Helfrich is not hard to connect with. He’s respectful, answers questions and does his best to protect the team from the daggers being thrown. Oh! And by the way, he doesn’t HAVE to connect with the media. Look at Chip Kelly, Nick Saban, and many others.
Second, as far as failing to connect with recruits, I’d love to hear the proof said writer has to back up that kind of accusation. For what it’s worth, I personally have to think a coach who sat teary-eyed with pride at Mariota’s Heisman Trophy ceremony and continues to talk about “loving his guys” as they navigate through these losses (despite knowing his own livelihood is on the line), isn’t “failing” to connect with anyone except those who wrote him off way too soon.