Tomorrow Oregon kicks off against Nicholls State, which will be a blowout of epic proportions. The staff here at Addicted To Quack has pretty much been as nice as possible in all predictions and discussions about the game. When you watch the game Saturday you're not going to be watching because the game will be close. The entertainment will come from the spectacle of Oregon football and seeing as many people on the team play as possible.
Oregon football really has become a spectacle in its own right. I'm sure practices would garner ratings on ESPN 8 "The Ocho" if they were televised. Oregon is your favorite team's favorite team and is probably the "coolest" team in college football right now. It didn't always used to be this way though. My grandpa and dad have told me time and time again how bad Oregon was for a long time. It's because of a steady growth on a year-to-year basis in terms of coaching, talent, and performance that have resulted in Oregon starting the season at #3 this year.
Rich Brooks was the first coach to bring Oregon out of the slump. He led the Oregon squad that went to the Rose Bowl in 1995, which is pretty surprising considering how bad Oregon was when Brooks got there.
Next was Mike Bellotti, who had a program that was on the rise, and Bellotti once again took the team to new heights. There were upset wins over Michigan, Oklahoma, and the always exciting Fiesta Bowl win over Colorado where Maurice Morris could not be brought down. Joey Harrington was on a billboard in Times Square promoting his Heisman campaign. They hype machine of Oregon football had begun, but none of the hype would have mattered if the performance on the field wasn't spectacular.
Chip Kelly then became the head coach for the 2009 season. Kelly led the most prolific offenses in Oregon's history as offensive coordinator and it was his time to take over the helm. At this point you can see that one of the key themes of Oregon football has been continuity. Bellotti was within the program when he was promoted to head coach, as was Chip Kelly. The coaches took what their predecessor had given them, improved it, and elevated the program to the next level.
Chip Kelly took the program to heights that older fans probably didn't think were possible. In 2009 and 2011 Oregon went to the Rose Bowl, leaving Pasadena as champion in their second try. Oregon played for the national title in 2010. If you had told me when I was 6 or 7 that one day Oregon would play to be the national champions, I would've wanted to believe you, but I would have severe doubts.
Now a national championship is all that is really left to attain for Oregon football. With four straight trips to BCS games, a Rose Bowl win, and a win in the Fiesta Bowl, the only place left to go is to win the BCS national title game. Enter Mark Helfrich.
Mark Helfrich takes over as head coach after being somewhat of a mystery man since he got to Eugene. No one's entirely sure what exactly he's contributed to the offense and all the attention was on Chip Kelly.
Kelly received a lot of praise at Oregon, and justifiably so, but here's the problem with all the praise for Kelly. If he's the master genius and he's the reason why Oregon is so good, then Oregon won't maintain the level it is at right now since Kelly is no longer in Eugene. If we are giving all the credit to Kelly, then we can't assume that Oregon will be just as good as it was under Helfrich, unless lightning strikes twice and Helfrich is just as good as Kelly. Helfrich being as good as Kelly is possible but just looking at probabilities maybe isn't that likely.
Think about it this way, Sean Payton was suspended last season from coaching the Saints and for years the media and fans were praising Payton for being a genius. However, when he left fans felt that all the experience on the staff would make up for it. Anyone who watched the NFL last year saw that the Saints were hurting without the mastermind.
College football though is different from the NFL in how coaches are more important and there is less parity. In college football, coaches are the biggest constants. Players are gone in five years max and the ability of coaches to recruit and develop players is the strongest influence on team success.
One of the biggest factors that the national media latches on to is the continuity at Oregon. The coaching staff changes less at Oregon than any other school in the country. Coaches like Nick Aliotti, Steve Greatwood, Gary Campbell, Tom Osborne, John Neal, and Don Pellum who have been at Oregon forever make the difference.
Now Mark Helfrich is in the driver's seat and has made the team his own. It is important to note that whenever a new coach has taken over, they build upon what the previous coach did, they didn't blow up and start over. Helfrich is keeping the pace Chip Kelly put in, keeping the spread, and letting Aliotti have a lot of control over the defense.
The argument I stated above, that if Kelly was 100% responsible for Oregon's success and Oregon won't be that good now he's gone, is only logically true if Chip Kelly was in fact 100% responsible. The alternative is that the Oregon football franchise is where it is now because of the long-term continuity of coaches and the steady building of the program. This means that Kelly, while probably the greatest coach ever at Oregon, could be viewed twenty years from now as another caretaker of the program.
The ideas of continuity and the caretaker of the Oregon football program are pretty powerful. In a way, no one really has ownership over the team, because the ownership is spread out across everyone working with the program. Perhaps the reason why it is so hard to figure out exactly what Mark Helfrich brings to the table because of how much of a group effort it is on the coaching staff and in the athletic department.
There is no doubt in my mind that Mark Helfrich will be successful and I'm sure his first game will be a lot easier than Chip Kelly's first game as head coach. Could lightning strike twice? Could Oregon get two of the best coaches in college football one after the other? It's possible, but maybe not as likely as the Oregon football program creating great situations for coaches to succeed as a result of continuity and sustainability.
Tomorrow we see Mark Helfrich's coaching debut and it's the first round of a championship fight. This first round will be easy and will be a good feeling out process for the new head coach. There are high expectations for Helfrich and the good news is everyone believes in him. Tomorrow we also see if the Oregon program can be bigger than any one person and can be a program that constantly innovates and improves.