Philadelphia, PA – Chip Kelly piled up the wins at a record pace at Oregon. If new head coach Mark Helfrich is not able to continue that success, the Ducks' 2013 roster will not be the cause.
Kelly amassed a 46-7 record in four seasons at the helm of Oregon, winning four Pac-12 crowns (two outright and two shared) before taking his particular coaching genius to the NFL.
Helfrich was hired as Oregon's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in the spring of 2009 after serving in the same capacity at Colorado from 2006 to 2008. Prior to his stint in Boulder, he spent five years as quarterbacks coach at Arizona State (2001-05) and three as quarterbacks coach at Boise State (1998-2000).
The Oregon native served as a graduate assistant in Eugene in 1997 and is the first Oregonian to be tabbed as the school's head coach since 1942 (John Warren).
"As a lifelong Duck fan, this is a responsibility that I welcome and accept the undertaking that stands before me to carry on the legacy of success that has been created by my many predecessors," Helfrich said at the press conference to announce his hiring in January.
The job, however, comes with its challenges.
Helfrich, who served as Kelly's offensive coordinator, certainly has his work cut out for him. Not only is he a first-time head coach, but his tenure in Eugene has started on a bit of a sour note, with impending NCAA sanctions for the recruiting scandal revolving around scout Willie Lyles.
While not the ideal way to begin a job, there is little doubt Helfrich has the kind of offensive mind that should make the transition from Kelly seamless.
Over his coaching career, Helfrich has been a part of some of the nation's best offenses.
This year's Ducks are more than capable of keeping up the tradition.
Helfrich has plenty to work with on the offensive side of the football, headlined by a trio of All-American types in quarterback Marcus Mariota and running backs De'Anthony Thomas and Byron Marshall.
Mariota is just a redshirt sophomore under center, but has grown up quickly in the Oregon offense. Last year, the youngster completed 68.5 percent of his passes for 2,677 yards with 32 touchdowns against just six interceptions. He also added 752 yards rushing and five more TDs as a redshirt freshman and seems tailor-made for the read option, with his great athleticism and outstanding decision making.
Of course, Mariota benefited from a ground game that was among the nation's best, thanks in large part to tailback Kenjon Barner (1,767 yards, 21 TDs). While Barner has moved on to the NFL, there is little doubt Thomas and Marshall can not only fill the void, but perhaps take Oregon's ground attack to yet another level.
Regarded as one of the nation's most dangerous offensive weapons, Thomas has earned a fitting moniker as the "Black Mamba." The 5-foot-9, 176-pound tailback plays much bigger than his stature. As a sophomore in 2012, he racked up 701 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns on just 92 total carries (7.6 yards per carry).
He also led the Ducks in receiving, hauling in 45 balls, for 445 yards and another five scores. Add in one punt return for a touchdown and another on a kickoff return and it isn't hard to envision Helfrich finding new and interesting ways to get the ball in Thomas' hands.
Marshall will see his playing time increase and, like Barner, who came out of the shadow of LaMichael James to become a star, Marshall may follow suit in taking over for the departed Barner.
Just a freshman a year ago, the 5-10, 201-pounder had only 87 carries, but averaged 5.1 yards per touch, with four touchdowns. A much bigger back than Thomas, Marshall could be the perfect backfield partner, with the ability to handle 20 carries per game.
Although there are sure to be some bumps in the road for Helfrich as he embarks on his new job, they aren't likely to come from a lack of talent on the Oregon roster.