He says all the right things, and so do his players. Every day Mark Helfrich and a handful of his student-athletes come out to the sidewalk in front of the Hatfield-Dowlin complex and take questions from the media, and each time they echo the talking points of the Chip Kelly era, referencing faceless opponents and preparing the same way and focusing on improving.
They give credit to Virginia for having a big, quick defensive line and report that they're working on correcting the physical errors and mental glitches of a first-week victory over an outmanned and overscheduled Nicholls squad that didn't belong on the field with the #2 team in the country.
Fifty shades of green: Mark Helfrich and the Ducks face their first road game on Saturday, against a charged-up Virginia team fresh off an inspiring victory over BYU. He's mastered the soundbites, but does he have his team's full attention? (Kirby Lee - USA TODAY SPorts photo)
The 66-3 win over the Colonels doesn't teach fans much about how good this edition of the Oregon Ducks really is. Mark Helfrich looked comfortable and in charge on the sideline directing the easy victory, but it isn't a definitive indication of his readiness to replace Chip Kelly.
What Kelly's teams did better than everyone else was to take care of business against lesser teams. Under The Visor, Oregon had a 33-3 record in conference play over four years. They never had a hiccup game, a loss to a tragically inferior opponent. They dispatched bottom feeders and pretenders with cold menace.
46-7 overall, every one of the Ducks losses under CK was to a quality foe: #14 Boise State at Bronco Stadium, a 2009 Stanford team that featured Toby Gerhart and Andrew Luck at Stanford Stadium, #8 Ohio State in the 2010 Rose Bowl, #1 Auburn in the 2011 National Championship Game, #4 LSU in the 2011 Cowboys Classic, 10-2 USC in November of that year, #13 Stanford in 2012, the eventual conference and Rose Bowl Champion that finished 6th in the country. There wasn't a clunker loss in four years. Never a game in which fans would look on in horror and disbelief, smacking their heads and saying, "How in the hell did that just happen?" The Ducks didn't suffer any Eastern Washington or Sacramento State moments under Kelly. They were always prepared and seldom outplayed.
It wasn't always so. During the Mike Bellotti era, Oregon attained a level of reasonable success, but occasionally fans witnessed inextricable and horrible implosions, some that lasted half a season. In 2006, Bellotti's Ducks were 7-6 and lost their last four games, including a 37-10 pasting at home by a charged-up Arizona Wildcat squad that finished the year 6-6. Willie Tuitama passed them silly, and Chris Henry ran for 191 yards. The Ducks had six turnovers and looked lifeless and disinterested. The Autzen faithful were in shock.
You'd like to say it was the lowest moment of the Bellotti era, but the misery had company. Later that year, the team mailed in another lackluster effort in a 38-8 loss to BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl. The coach telling ESPN after the game, "I'm disappointed. I'm shocked. We didn't play well. We got outplayed, outcoached." BYU quarterback John Beck shredded the Oregon secondary, which featured three future NFL players, for 375 yards and two tds.
In 2004 the Ducks stumbled to a 5-6 record marred by a 30-24 loss to Indiana in the season opener at Autzen. The Hoosiers only needed 191 yards of offense; Oregon helped them out with three interceptions and four fumbles. The home team also gave up a 98-yard kick return. It was a brutally ugly beginning to a lackluster year, one of two in the last 19 that the team missed a bowl. Indiana finished that season 3-8.
In 2002 UO started the season 6-0 before losing six of their last seven games, a stretch that included a rain-numbed, finger-chilling thud against Wake Forest in the Seattle Bowl. Oregon hardly bothered to show up in the 38-17 loss. Quarterback Jason Fife started the game and went 1-10 passing. Wake Forest, a .500 team from the ACC, passed for 241 yards and ran for 256.
Why recite all of this painful history? Because in Mark Helfrich, Duck fans truly don't yet know what they have. He's smart. He's congenial. He has a good track record as an offensive coach with successful stints as coordinator at Oregon and running prolific passing games at Arizona State and Boise State. But this is a different deal. He's in charge of a talented team that's grown used to winning. They do their work in the most posh football facility in the country, and there's a great temptation to become too comfortable, to forget that football games are won with a punch in the mouth and attention to detail.
With the affable Coos Bay native running the show the Ducks are expected to keep winning. The script is that they'll adhere to the Chip Kelly principles and run the Chip Kelly system and that talent will win out, that the continuity and speed will equal business as usual as Oregon navigates through the 2013 schedule. That may indeed happen, but Oregon is everybody's target now. The entire conference has upgraded to keep pace.
A nice guy demeanor plays well when a team is 1-0. Getting to 13-0 takes a whole lot more. Does the first-year coach have the stuff to avoid a clunker loss, and keep his team's attention when the Italian leather seats and 56 big screen TVs are there to distract them? After this business trip to Virginia, Duck fans will have a better idea.
(Video from Mike Wines of Oregon Duck Soup.)
Helfrich's surgeon brain, hundred's of years of coaches' experience, preparation, gifted athletes and some luck should get Oregon to the top, but you're still scaring me.
@zduckfan Ifo is a singular talent, and one of the brightest and most directed 20-somethings you'll ever hear interview in shoulder pads.
@DrakeMallard That's the goal of the Thursday panic. Tomorrow we'll run through all the reasons Oregon is going to win.
From watching The Helf become more efficient on camera, it occurred to me that CK wasn't always such an entertaining interview. Maybe he started out like Mark and just became jaded, answering the same questions over and over again?