Oregon having their worst season since 1991 has turned up the temperature under Mark Helfrich’s hot seat, with the Ducks administration reportedly looking for a replacement, and if they find one, they’ll fire their head coach of the last four years.
Oregon finished the season with a 4-8 record, their worst since the 3-8 in 1991. They lost to Oregon State for the first time since 2007, which certainly helped destabilize things, coming after a stunning win over Utah on the road. But the Ducks, with or without that win against the Utes, had only two wins in conference play this season. A win over Oregon State would have sweetened things a bit by possibly putting them in position to make a bowl game (losing teams will be picked once again), but Helfrich has been on the hot seat since this season began.
Maybe Helfrich was never the right successor for Chip Kelly, who left Oregon after some very successful seasons to try his luck in the NFL. Helfrich, his offensive coordinator, took over in 2013, and led the team to 24 wins in his first two years, including winning the Pac-12 in 2014, getting the Ducks into the first College Football Playoffs, and making the championship game where they lost to Ohio State. Marcus Mariota got drafted, and without him, Oregon and Helfrich are just 13-12, and maybe still without the right guy at quarterback despite two years that have gone by.
Helfrich is acting like business as usual. He’s been asked about his job security a number of times this season, but he says you can never be too sure in college football, which is probably true. A coach can walk up and leave to take a bigger job at anytime. A university can fire him after just one bad season. Remember, Oregon were just one bowl game collapse last season from posting another 10-win season, which might have helped put Helfrich in a much sturdier position heading into this year.
But facts are facts, and in a place like Eugene, which has grown hungry for success over the last decade or so, not coming close to competing for the conference title while getting blown out against Washington (another long winning streak that ended) is a fireable offense, even if it’s just one bad season. Oregon won against just one team with a winning record this season, and one of their wins came against an FCS team, which means there’s even less to be proud of this year.
If Helfrich does survive this coaching search, he won’t have too much credit to his name heading into 2017. Chip Kelly isn’t exactly safe in San Francisco, and might be looking to get out of a pretty bad situation. His name will surely circulate unless Oregon announce Helfrich isn’t going anywhere. One can say Helfrich deserves more time and is 37-16 in his four years as the head coach, but with half of those losses coming this season, it’s more of what have you done for me lately kind of approach to keep-or-fire Helfrich, and an overall steep decline for two years that might too apparent for him to dodge.