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Helfrich’s Ducks need a new identity before it’s too late

Steve Conner/Icon Sportswire

Whether Mark Helfrich stays on as Oregon head coach remains to be seen. Right now, it’s probably 50-50, and the last half of the season will weigh heavily in Athletic Director Rob Mullens’ decision.

Assuming Helfrich is granted a fifth season, if he wants a sixth and beyond, he’ll need to do something he doesn’t want to do. It won’t be popular, but for the good of his tenure at Oregon, he needs to do it.

A thought put forth by Justin Myers of 750 The Game, the Ducks radio affiliate in Portland, Helfrich must put Chip Kelly in the past and leave him there. Scraping everything Kelly brought to the Oregon program won’t be an easy thing to do and a lot of fans will be turned off by it, but if the end result is wins, fans will get over it.

Ever since he got the job shortly after Kelly departed for Philadelphia, Helfrich said that nothing would change, and ultimately that might have been his biggest mistake.

Helfrich kept the same exact offense, even after Marcus Mariota left. He kept the same defensive schemes with worse players or players that didn’t fit that scheme. He even kept the Duck mantra of Win The Day.

The mantra was recently asked about by ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi, and Helfrich’s answer wasn’t exactly stellar. Fans of a team that has lost four straight with few winning prospects down the road do NOT want to hear that the coach and players are winning the day the majority of the time.

Helfrich needs to break away from all of that and formulate his own era of Duck football. Win The Day signs should come down, and Oregon should come up with something that is Helfrich’s stamp upon the program.

Each recent era of Oregon football has been distinct, starting with Rich Brooks of the late 1970s to the mid-’90s. It was a program that resembled the little guy who worked hard without much of a reward. When they did finally go to the Rose Bowl, it made that success even sweeter.

Next was the Mike Bellotti era, in which the goal was to make sure Oregon didn’t take a step back after that initial trip to Pasadena. The change of uniforms started with Bellotti, as did expectations. Although Bellotti never led the Ducks to another Rose Bowl, the thought that the Ducks could actually be a national title contender and have a Heisman Trophy winner originated with Bellotti. Many say Bellotti’s 2001 Oregon team could have played for the national championship, and quarterback Joey Harrington was a finalist for the Heisman.

Next came Kelly, with the innovation and unprecedented success. He took the Ducks five steps beyond Bellotti, but it was Bellotti who scouted out Kelly at New Hampshire and had the foresight to see that style of football could work at the Division I level.

Now it’s Helfrich’s turn, and it’s difficult to describe what he has brought. It’s Diet Chip. It looks like Kelly’s program, the offense looks the same, but the results are vastly different now that many of Kelly’s recruits have gone through the program.

Helfrich has been trying to plug his recruits into a system that doesn’t fit them. He’s trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, and it just doesn’t work. The Oregon coach must discover what he is as a head coach because so far, we have all seen what he’s not.

The only thing Helfrich should keep that Kelly started is to lock down what his assistant coaches and his players say in the media. They are using the media as a soundboard to vent what is wrong within the program. Assistant coaches are guaranteeing wins and players are calling each other out. Even Helfrich himself needs to button it up, as the ESPN GameDay interview showed.

The changes need to start immediately with the Cal game Friday night. A new type of Duck team better show up in Berkeley and then for the rest of the season. The Diet Chip Oregon team won’t win another game the rest of the season, and if that happens, Helfrich will never discover what kind of stamp he can put on the Oregon program.

He’ll be out of a job.

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