EUGENE, Ore. -- Mark Helfrich took over the seat as the new head coach of the Oregon football program a few weeks ago. Oregon NewsLab had a chance to interview Coach Helfrich in their Making A Difference series to follow the progress of his team throughout the offseason.
Oregon NewsLab: Can you tell me a little about yourself and the evolution of your coaching career?
Helfrich: Sure. I grew up about two hours from here in Coos Bay, Oregon; on the coast – kind of a timber fishing town. I had great parents, a brother, who actually all went to the University of Oregon. My dad played football here. And then I started coaching at the end of my college career. Was a kind of a graduate assistant at Southern Oregon, where I went to school. And then, I’ve been mostly west – I’ve coached at Colorado, at Boise State, at Arizona State; I was a graduate assistant at Oregon in ’97. Got hired by Mike Bellotti back then as a G.A., and kind of made my way back here. And I’m very excited to be back. And I consider this kind of home.
ONL: Can you explain to me what was on your mind when you first got dubbed head coach?
Helfrich: What was on my mind? Don’t mess up the press conference! No. There’s so much going on, it doesn’t seem like you really contemplate much. My dad passed away last year and he would have been very proud. He was definitely in the forefront of my mind. Then, it was just go recruiting. You know, hit the ground running and start that way. So, not a lot of time for contemplation yet.
ONL: So, we all know Oregon’s on the rise, and they’re only getting better. Do you believe you’re going to keep that trend going?
Helfrich: Well, I sure hope so. We’ve had a ton of success and Chip did an incredible job. Obviously there’s some expectations that go along with that, which is good. If you’re at a place that has no expectations, then that’s kind of tougher to a certain extent but that would also be a lot easier to a certain extent. If you go to a program that’s 0 and 12 and there’s not too much expectation, that’s an easier job, but I don’t know if that’s a place that you necessarily want to be for your life. And hopefully we’re here for a long time. We’ve had a tremendous track record. This staff has been together for a long, long time. Eight of the 10 of us have been here for this whole run with Coach Kelly and we’re going to do everything we can to keep that rolling.
ONL: Knowing your history as a quarterback coach, a running backs coach, and an offensive coordinator, do you think that it’s going to be an easier transition into head coach?
Helfrich: All of the head coach stuff is ongoing. It’s almost on a daily basis where something changes. There’s 105 guys on the team, so if 104 are happy, and one guy’s got something going on, that’s what you’re concerned about. There are so many personalities and so many guys that go into making up a team and that’s the one thing that people don’t always think of. It’s that these guys are kids. You know? They’re young adults with problems and emotions, and whether it’s girlfriends or homework or family issues, financial issues. There’s stuff that you have to deal with. And so that’s something certainly to that extensive of a reach I haven’t dealt with before. But that’s part of it. And at some weird level, the enjoyable part of it too is trying to affect those guys and help them out and get them to see the big picture and hopefully find a solution.
ONL: Can you name one big thing that Coach Kelly has taught you before leaving for Philly?
Helfrich: He taught me a ton. I think we’re, philosophically, very, very similar. One thing that he taught me, I think just in the evaluation process of recruiting, is just never sacrifice on the character part of it. There’s a lot of things that go into being an Oregon Duck football player and we ask a lot of our guys. They work tremendously hard. They put in a ton of hours, and those types of guys have to be high character individuals. That’s something that we really value, the character of our team and trying to maintain that and even, you know, notch that up a little bit. It can only be done by bringing in the right type of guys.
ONL: And do you think it’s going to be a big difference without Kelly and defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro here?
Helfrich: The thing about this place is, again, we had tremendous success over the last four years. Coach Bellotti had been to a BCS bowl. Coach Brooks, there was no BCS then, but had been to a Rose Bowl obviously. This place is a special place. And hopefully, when I’m long gone, it’s still going to be a special place regardless of, maybe, who sits in this chair and that is, again, a tribute to all the guys that built it. And we’ve had tremendous support, whether it’s in terms of our boosters. Obviously, Phil Knight and his family and Pat and Stephanie Kilkenny, had an immeasurably positive influence on this place and that’s special. All the people that live and work here are special in their own way. We’re the pro sports team in town and it makes it special, and I think that’s bigger than any one or two guys and hopefully that’s been proven with our ability. You know, you go from a guy like Pat Chung who was an incredible player to then, you know, the next man up type of thing in the secondary or Dennis Dixon to all the quarterbacks that have followed. You just have to be ready to jump in there.
ONL: Who’s going to be calling the plays?
Helfrich: We’re going to define that this spring. Scott Frost is going to be the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach. And we’ll go from there. He’s going to do it this spring. And then we have a couple different plans. I would feel very comfortable calling the plays and so that’ll work itself out fine.
ONL: Are you excited?
Helfrich: Definitely. Definitely. You kind of just get in the grind of the job. There’s a lot of stuff to do in a day, but absolutely. [I’m] very excited to be here. It’s an honor to be here, and this is a place that I’ve been a fan of my whole life, and, you know, it’s a great place to be.