Oregon’s Mark Helfrich Is Avoiding Lame Duck Status

One man’s beginning is another man’s ending. New Hampshire is where Bryan Cranston whisked away to spend the majority of his penultimate episode portraying AMC’s “Mr. Chips turned Scarface.” Chip Kelly’s rise from ordinary offensive coordinator at the University of New Hampshire to the Heisenberg of offensive chemistry is the inverse.  Since arrived in Eugene, Oregon’s offense has been the purest offensive high experienced in the last decade of college football.

Once the NCAA put the heat on his program, Kelly bolted out the door. His departure hasn’t been fully felt yet by the Ducks. The Ducks are still putting points on the board at an astronomical rate. Most impressively, they haven’t turned the ball over once and their scoring defense is the fifth stingiest in the nation.

If history is any indication, Oregon will have one of its best chances to finally win its first national championship this season. The question looming over Oregon fans is what happens over the next few seasons? Oregon's 39-year-old Mark Helfrich may be a pupil of Kelly’s, but does he have the natural instincts and acumen to make appropriate depth chart tweaks from year to year or to lure the right recruits for their system? Or is he a Jesse Pinkman facsimile on the verge of ruining the empire that his former bosses helped build? Oregon fans will find out over the next few weeks.

For every Mike Gundy, David Shaw, Jimbo Fisher and most famously Barry Switzer – who have stayed the course on calm waters atop their respective conference after getting plucked off the staff and getting promoted to head of the table – there’s a Bill Stewart, Lane Kiffin, Larry Coker or Frank Solich.

It’s smooth sailing right now for the Ducks, however, Kiffin and Coker are recent examples of college football program captains who’ve stranded or crashed a luxurious yacht in the middle of the ocean amid choppy waters. Pretty soon, the fans on board get desperate, resort to cannibalism and start with the dude who steered them into the rocks.

Forty years ago, a 35-year-old Switzer inherited the Sooner program from New England Patriot-bound Chuck Fairbanks that had won 52 of 67 games over a six-year span including two consecutive years as the AP Poll's bridesmaid as the No. 2 team in the nation. Three months into his swanky new job, the NCAA hammered Oklahoma with sanctions. Switzer did more than keep the program afloat. The Bootlegger's Boy's cruised to consecutive national championships in his second and third campaigns. The rest was history.

Helfrich is still a mystery. As Kelly was being recruited by the NFL, the perception was that the next head coach would be a brand name with proven experience. Helfrich has never been a head coach before and he’s admitted that taking over the program has been a learning process. Hopefully, he’s an inquisitive leader who’s paid attention to the miscalculations that destroyed the Trojans’ Pac-12 dynasty.