Oregon’s night, just like it’s season, ended in ugly fashion on a cold, rainy night in Corvallis as the Ducks fell to its in-state rival 24-34. Once again this season, Oregon and its fans had to watch a conference foe celebrate after taking revenge for the years of beatings Oregon had dealt out.
How quickly things change.
The season has been frustrating to watch and if there is any silver lining, it is the fact that the Band-Aid has now been completely torn off and the healing can now begin. The question, especially over the next few days, will be what ointment to rub on the wound.
Following tonight’s game, a brave reporter addressed the elephant in the room.
“Mark, this is blunt, but do you think your job is safe?” the reporter asked.
Helfrich, as expected, provided a safe, yet reasonable, answer, explaining that no job is safe in college football and that coaches are evaluated on 12 games per year.
The questions continued about whether or not a meeting had been scheduled between him and Athletic director, Rob Mullens, and whether or not he had seen improvement in his team over the course of the season.
According to Helfrich, no meeting had yet been scheduled and yes, he has seen improvement. At this point, to me, the details are not important.
Although there were some flaws tonight, the team did show they had made improvements last weeks against Utah. At the end of the day though, there were too many problems (youth, new coaches, new quarterbacks and a whole lot of injuries) to overcome this season, but there is absolutely every reason to believe there will be a solid turnaround next season. If the program and it’s fans stayed the course.
Unfortunately, that’s not likely to happen and if Helfrich does get fired, perhaps Oregon didn’t deserve him anyway.
How’s that for being blunt?
Anyone who knows me, at least in the world of college football, knows I try hard to be optimistic and uplifting, especially in the wake of a loss. This time though, my rainbows and sunshine have run out; and no, it’s not because of the loss/losses.
This time, it’s about the fans. If you’re a “Fire Helfrich” bandwagoner, you may want to get off the bus. In fact, I’m happy to escort you off.
Look, if you are concerned about the direction of the program and want to see if a change can work, I get it. I really do. Against what may be popular belief, I’m not completely delusional. The problem in all of this is how ridiculously spoiled many fans have become. I’ve heard and defended it for years. I love the Oregon fan base. I am part of it, after all.
Quite honestly though, the fact that there is even a discussion about Mark Helfrich (and likely most of the staff) being fired after one bad season, two years after competing in a National Championship is ridiculous and yes, spoiled.
The Ducks have had a tremendous run over the past decade. Phil Knight and other boosters have certainly had a hand in that. Talented players, including an incredible run of good quarterbacks, have had a hand in that. One could even argue that the dedicated fan base has hand in that, buying tickets and gear.
You know who else had a hand in all of that success? Mark Helfrich.
Less than two years ago, Helfrich led Oregon to the first College Football Playoff and then to the National Championship. A month prior, he sat teary-eyed as a quarterback he recruited years before, Marcus Mariota, brought home Oregon’s first Heisman trophy. Suddenly, after one bad season, Helfrich is being widely criticized, called terrible names and having most of his success credited to Chip Kelly because “he was playing with Kelly’s players,”
Coach Helfrich surely took notes from Chip Kelly, but he absolutely gets credit for leading that season’s players all the way. Whether or not, Chip Kelly helped recruit the players or not, they simply didn’t coach themselves after Kelly left. Arguing otherwise is disrespectful and absurd.
Have there been some bumps in the road since that Natty run? Of course. So much was put into that season in attempts to bring home a championship to the program, there were sure to be some sacrifices. And to those that would argue, “But look at Alabama,” give me a break. Oregon isn’t Alabama or another other historical dynasty. One day it may be, but a few great seasons does not propel a team to dynasty ranks. And by the way, most programs take a dip after losing a Heisman winning quarterback.
It takes time to rebuild from that. Again, this isn’t Alabama.
Back to Helfrich.
Here is a coach that is homegrown and loyal. He’s been a success that many programs across the country would love to have. Mark my words (no pun intended). According to the players and his staff, he’s done an incredible job keeping the team battling this season despite the adversity. I imagine that doesn’t just include losing games, but losing the support of a fan base that so quickly left them. This may have been a rough season, but it no way warrants the disgraceful response from many Oregon fans and media pundits. “Fire Helfrich” hashtags, comparing him to sin, blaming him for crashing football super-god Chip Kelly’s Ferrari, and leaving stadium seats empty in protest.
Get a grip.
I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again, even after tonight’s loss. Oregon’s 2016 season woes are not entirely on it’s head coach. They are a combination of many things, most of which were not his fault and many of which he can easily turn around. if given the chance. Is there some house cleaning to do? Sure, just like in most programs (ie: Stanford) across the country. This coaching staff has a lot of work to do, especially on defense. Side note: I’m still not sure how you take last year’s horrible defense and make it worse, but like most, I’m willing to give Hoke more time.
And if I am being really honest, there are many players that need to step up. If anything, the biggest problem this season was quite possibly a lack of player leadership. Whether it was from injuries, youth or whatever, enough leaders simply didn’t step up. Does that fall on Helfrich? Maybe, but as they say, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.
Following tonight’s loss against the beavers, Oregon RS Jr. defensive back, Tyree Robinson, addressed the leadership issues.
“This is not at all on Helfrich,” Robinson said.
“We respect Helfrich and at the end of the day, we are going to play for him. But it’s more than that. It’s players, it’s not just the coaches. My freshman year, we had guys like Ifo, Dargan, Hroniss, it was multiple leaders. I think now it’s probably like two or three guys and we can’t have that because it shows.”
At the end of day a select few will be the ones to really address the elephant in the room. They likely already have.
As Helfrich explained, in the world of college football, coaches get evaluated on 12 games a year. In this day and age of instant gratification, it very well may be that Oregon will make a knee-jerk reaction to silence the growing protest. That may end up being best for Helfrich anyway.
If this is what one bad season gets you at Oregon, maybe they never deserved you in the first place.