Many people around the country raised their eyebrows when Mark Helfrich was picked to replace Chip Kelly as the head coach of the Oregon Ducks. After all, Kelly had taken the Ducks to uncharted territory for Oregon. Three consecutive appearances in BCS games - the Rose Bowl, the National Championship game and back to the Rose Bowl. It was a dream come true for Duck fans, but when Kelly opted to move on the Philadelphia Eagles, there was some concern on how would Mark Helfrich do, especially considering he had never been a head coach at any level.
One thing Helfrich had going for him as he took the reigns two years ago was that Marcus Mariota was a very good quarterback but despite going 10-2 for the regular season, Duck fans suddenly faced the fact Oregon was relegated to the Alamo Bowl against Texas. Mind you, the Ducks had never made an appearance in the Alamo Bowl, and for that matter aside from the three BCS Bowl in row under Kelly, Oregon had been in the Fiesta Bowl in 2002 and the Rose Bowl in 1995, 1958, 1920 and 1917.
Not a lot of success in a game where success is measured by the number of big trophies are in the display case.
In 2013, the Ducks lost to Stanford, 26-20 and then were embarrassed by Arizona in a 42-16 thrashing in front of the Wildcats' home crowd. Were the critics who questioned Helfrich's hiring right? Was the dream created by Kelly over?
Mariota stepped up for the Alamo Bowl game and against the legendary Longhorns coach Mac Brown's last game, and Oregon handily beat Texas in San Antonio in front of a predominantly Longhorns crowd convincingly, 30-7.
Still though, critics were not convinced that Helfrich was the right man for the job.
Oregon came up with a plum recruiting effort in February 2014, showing Helfrich was at least keeping the talent flow coming in. Yet there were some who were disgruntled with Helfrich and wanted him gone; but again in 2015 Mariota showed up big, first by winning the Heisman Trophy, the first time any Duck had ever done that and also leading Oregon to an 11-1 record in the regular season with the only loss to Arizona, 31-24. The Ducks made up for the loss by stomping the Wildcats in the Pac-12 Championship game, 51-13 and then massacred defending National Champion Florida State in the Rose Bowl, 59-20. Oregon eventually lost to Ohio State in the National Championship game 42-20, but Mariota decided to forego his final year of eligibility and became the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft last spring going to the Tennessee Titans.
On the recruiting front, Helfrich has directed a recruiting effort that so far has snagged 14 recruits and according to Scout.com, Oregon has the 10th best group of recruits for the high school class of 2016.
Now on the eve of the 2015 recruiting class, the question comes up, what does Mark Helfrich have to do to solidify his position as one of the very best college coaches in the country, especially after Mariota departed?
The answer is simple -- stay the course he's developed. Helfrich is one of the brightest coaches in the business. He's a good manager and leader and has selected a very strong group of assistants that will help him and the Oregon Ducks to continue to Win The Day.
Fall camp for the Oregon Ducks starts Monday, with Oregon Media Day. Oregon opens the season on Saturday, Sept. 5, at 5:00 p.m. (Pacific) at Autzen Stadium against Eastern Washington, in a game that will be carried by the Pac-12 Networks.