Coming into this season, the Oregon Ducks started off slow, but were still able to pull-off decisive wins against U.C. Davis and Virginia in their first two matchups. However, in their next three games, the Ducks fell by narrow margins to Nebraska (35-32), future Pac-12 South Champion Colorado (41-38), and then slid to a wider margin loss against Washington State (51-33).
But, it really wasn’t until the fourth loss, which ended in a 70-21 score at home against Pac-12 rival, Washington, when topics about Oregon’s Head Coach Mark Helfrich’s job started to surface. Many believe this wasn’t just because Oregon lost their fourth straight game to a very good Husky team, but it was the way that the Ducks were completely dismantled (to the likes of which many of the Oregon faithful had not witnessed in their lifetime).
It also didn’t help that Oregon would continue to lose or be blown-out on some of the games that followed, like the first half of the Cal game (which ended in a double overtime thriller after a major second half comeback), the blowout loss against Southern California, and another major loss to a decent Stanford team on senior day at Autzen Stadium.
Some also say that Helfrich’s job seemed to be saved after a last second touchdown, which lifted Oregon past Utah two weeks ago, even though the Ducks really struggled on offense and defense during the entire first half.
But coming off of Saturday’s Civil War loss to Oregon State by a score of 34-24, one major question still loomed in the minds of most Oregon fans - Will Head Coach Mark Helfrich be fired because of poor performance, the lack of consistency, and the team’s 4-8 overall record this year - Or will he be retained based on past successes?
Following the Civil War loss during post-game interviews, Helfrich was asked if he had talked to Rob Mullins (Oregon’s Athletic Director) or if they had scheduled a meeting and he answered by saying, “I did not get to talk to Rob and I did not schedule any sort of meeting with him.”
But hours after Helfrich’s post-game comments, breaking news soon came out from various sources (USA Today, College Football News, and ESPN) that Helfrich’s time had ended and that the Oregon athletic office was in the process of searching for a new Head Coach. However, no official statement was released on Saturday from the Oregon front office following the reports of Helfrich, who took Oregon to a National Championship Game just two years ago.
On Sunday, Helfrich would face the media in his wrap up of the 2016 season, in which he said that he had spoken to Rob Mullens, and that a meeting between the two was going to happen later in the week.
Even with an $11.6 million dollar buyout looming over the Oregon Ducks’ heads, it was decided tonight that Oregon Head Coach Mark Helfrich would be relieved of his duties. This is the first time since 1977 that Oregon has fired a head coach.
In his career, Mark Helfrich was 37-14 with Oregon, and as previously stated had brought the Ducks to a National Championship just two years ago. Helfrich also recruited Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota during his tenure.
To some this news may be bittersweet, to others it is disheartening. But let’s not forget the remarkable experiences that Coach Helfrich also brought to the team during his tenure as Head Coach, and give him credit for taking the team to the National Championship, which hadn’t happened since 2010 when Chip Kelly lead the Oregon team.
Still, the biggest question now remains - Who will be Oregon’s new Head Coach?
Well, speculation over the past couple of weeks has been swirling around such names as Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck, Alabama’s Lane Kiffin, possibly Notre Dame’s Brian Kelley, and about a dozen more.
One thing is for sure, it will be interesting to see where it goes from here, and how these and other changes will start to turn things around to return the program to being a consistent top-20 contender.