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NCAA Football

Pac-12 Assistant Coaches Ready To Lead: Mark Helfrich, Oregon Ducks

The coaching carousel is in perpetual motion in college football and teams are always looking for the next assistant who will make a splash as a head coach. With that in mind, we continue our profiles of Pac-12 assistant coaches who will get plenty of consideration for future head coaching vacancies with Oregon Ducks offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich.

Helfrich is a 38-year old Oregon native who started his coaching career with the Ducks as a graduate assistant in 1997. When Dirk Koetter, who was Oregon’s offensive coordinator at the time, left Eugene for the head coaching job at Boise State, he brought Helfrich with him as his quarterbacks coach where he stayed in that role for three seasons. While there, he coached Broncos quarterback Bart Hendricks to back-to-back Big West Conference Player of the Year awards in 1999 and 2000 and guided him to the fourth highest passing total in the country in 2000.

In 2001, Helfrich left Boise, once again following Koetter, for Arizona State. There, Helfrich assumed the same role he held with the Broncos as quarterbacks coach, but was promoted to passing game coordinator in 2003. While with the Sun Devils, Helfrich coached one of the top offensive attacks in the nation which consistently finished in the top echelon of passing statistics. In his five seasons as a Sun Devil, Helfrich’s quarterbacks finished in the top three in passing in the Pac-12 (then Pac-10) every year, leading the league twice in 2004 and 2005 and second in 2001. His ASU passing units also finished in the top ten in the nation three of his five seasons, including finishing ninth in 2002, fourth in 2004, and a school-record third in 2005.

In 2006, Helfrich moved to Boulder to become the quarterbacks coach for the Colorado Buffaloes. He had an immediate positive impact on the Buffs, as his first Colorado offense averaged 4.5 yards per rush and had three different rushers who accumulated 500 yards or more for just the tenth time in school history. In his second season, the Buffs gained at least 1,000 yards more than the previous season for just the third time in the program’s history and scored 30 points or more five times in a season for the first time since 2002.

In 2009, new head coach Chip Kelley brought Helfrich back to Eugene to be the Ducks offensive coordinator, with an expressed focus on improving the passing efficiency of the Oregon offense. He wasted little time, calling an offense that led the conference in scoring at 37.7 points per game, good enough for seventh best in the nation. He also mentored Jeromiah Masoli who experienced phenomenal development under Helfrich and was selected for second-team Pac-10 all-conference honors and was named the team’s co-MVP.

Last season, the Ducks offense was lethal on the ground, using the talents of LaMichael James to field the fifth best rushing attack in the nation, averaging nearly 300 yards per game. The Ducks led the conference in scoring, and ranked third in all of football scoring 46.1 points per game. The offensive outpouring carried the Ducks to their third straight conference title and a Rose Bowl victory, Oregon’s first since the Great Depression.

When people think of Oregon’s “blur” offense, they think first and foremost of it being head coach Chip Kelley’s brainchild, which it is. However, Helfrich has mastered it himself, giving his gifted offensive mind another weapon to utilize. He’s shown an acumen with the passing game during his time at Boise State and Arizona State, and has mastered the running game with stops in Colorado and now Oregon. It’s been remarkable that the staff at Oregon has stayed together as long as it has since anyone behind an offense as explosive as Oregon’s should be at top of every school’s wishlist. When Chip Kelley was rumored to be in line for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers job in the NFL, it was Helfrich who was in line to be his successor. With Kelley sticking around, however, Helfrich’s opportunity to become a head coach will likely come somewhere else…and soon.