With Kelly’s departure, ‘a recruiting class hangs in the balance’

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In the immediate aftermath of Chip Kelly‘s stunning about-face departure for the Philadelphia Eagles, Oregon’s attention turned to two key questions — just who will replace the Ducks’ fourth-year head coach and what kind of impact it will have on the 2013 recruiting class.

As to the former, the answer could be relatively straightforward.  Barring an unexpected development and after the interview of a minority candidate to satisfy state law — the school has already posted the openingMark Helfrich is expected to be officially named as Kelly’s successor in short order.  Helfrich, who has served as Kelly’s offensive coordinator during all four of the now-former coach’s seasons at the helm in Eugene, has been described as a clone of his former boss when it comes to attention to detail and the like, making for a relatively seamless transition both on the field and, most importantly at the moment, on the recruiting trail.

It’s on that latter front, though, where things could get dicey for Helfrich — or, as Rivals.com breathlessly put it, “a recruiting class hangs in the balance.”

Already, two of the prized verbal pieces of UO’s 2013 recruiting class, twins Tyrell and Tyree Robinson, have announced they have reopened their recruitment while still technically remaining committed to the Ducks.  USC, in particular, has already been in touch with the players in an attempt to get both to complete the flip three weeks ahead of National Signing Day.  Additionally, Ohio State is reportedly going after that same pair of UO verbals as well, with Notre Dame also named by one of the players as a possibility.

“This is crazy. I mean, [UO assistant John Neal] was just here yesterday up at school to watch me and my brother play basketball,” Tyree Robinson told DuckSports.com. “Everything was all good. Everything was all fine. It’s crazy. Right now, I have to talk to my family. I’m going to call my mom right now to talk to her about it.

It’s not all negative recruiting-wise for Oregon, though, as DuckSports.com reports that Thomas Tyner, a five-star running back rated as the No. 21 player at any position in the country, is expected to remain committed to the Ducks and follow through with a signature on signing day.  That “good news” comes with an asterisk, however, as Tyner has already decommitted from the Ducks once last October, albeit for just one day.

There’s also positive precedent on which the football program can fall back; in 2001, Butch Davis left Miami (Fla.) for the head coaching job with the Cleveland Browns a week before signing day.  A little over 11 months later, with Davis’ replacement Larry Coker patrolling the sidelines, the Hurricanes staked their claim to the BCS title.  Coker had served as The U’s offensive coordinator the previous six seasons.

Certainly keeping Helfrich and maintaining some type of continuity on the coaching staff — how many assistants Kelly takes with him to the Eagles becomes another storm cloud looming off in the distance — will help keep intact a recruiting class that was, to be blunt, fair-to-middlin’ to begin with.

In fact, this class was shaping up to be the worst, rankings-wise, since Kelly’s first class in 2009.  The past three years, Oregon’s classes have been rated no worse than 16th (2012) by either Rivals.com or Scout.com and as high as ninth in 2011.  This year, the Ducks currently rank 44th (Rivals), 26th (Scout) and 25th (24/7Sports.com) with signing day looming the first Tuesday of next month.

“It hurts,” Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said of Kelly’s departure, “but it isn’t like they have a huge class to keep together anyways.”

That, then, would seem to make it much more imperative for Oregon to hang on to as many assistants as possible to keep an average class from slipping further.  As DuckSports.com writes, “most recruits do not build the relationship with a head coach. The head coach is not allowed the same number of contacts as his assistants so many prospective student athletes develop strong ties to assistant coaches.”

Many will ask why Kelly put Helfrich, his assistants, current/future players and the football program as a whole in such a predicament just 21 days before the college version of the NFL draft.

Some will point to looming NCAA sanctions as the impetus; if that were the case, Kelly wouldn’t have turned down both the Eagles and Cleveland Browns nearly two weeks ago, risking having that NFL door shut tight for the foreseeable future and closing his Pete Carroll-esque escape hatch.  Some will point to the opportunity for a significant increase in pay; if that were Kelly’s motive, he would’ve bailed on the Ducks for the Bucs and a boatload more money in Tampa Bay last January.

While those particular points may have played roles on some level, this appears simply to be the case of an innovator looking for a new challenge at the highest level of football and with an organization he (eventually) gained some degree of comfort.  After his flirtation last year… and after a two-pronged show of leg this year… and with a consistent itch to challenge himself, Kelly took the NFL “if” out of the equation and turned the “when” into the here and now.  In the end, that’s where most thought Kelly would be at some point in the future, especially as the NFL, thanks in large part to the out-of-the-gate successes of Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick, begins to absorb more of the college-level spread concepts.

Yes, it was not the optimal time for Kelly to bolt; the thing is, there almost never is.  At the very least, though, Kelly left a powerhouse football foundation on which Helfrich or anyone else could build — 46 wins, four BCS bowl games and three Pac-10/12 championships screams “reload” as opposed to “rebuild.”

“Next man up” and “next man in” have always been two of Kelly’s most identifiable mantras.  Helfrich is up, and he’ll be officially in at some point in the not-too-distant future.  Before he can get to building upon Kelly’s on-field legacy, he’ll need to fend off the pickers looking to pluck prospects from what will be his recruiting class.  Based on the number of vultures already circling, and with three weeks left in which to swoop, that might be easier said than done.

Arkansas kicker Cole Hedlund reportedly transfers to North Texas

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And you can pardon the whole of the state of Arkansas if they let out a collective “thank goodness.”

Citing multiple sources with knowledge of the situation, Brett Vito of the Denton Record-Chronicle is reporting that Cole Hedlund is transferring to North Texas.  After redshirting as a true freshman in 2014 at Arkansas, Hedlund spent the next three seasons as a placekicker for the Razorbacks.

The Argyle, Tex., native opted to transfer from UA for his final season of eligibility.  He’s the youngest son of UNT women’s soccer coach John Hedlund.

For his career with the Razorbacks, Hedlund hit on 14 of his 24 field goal attempts.  He also connected on all 91 extra point attempts.  His best season came in 2015 when he led the team in scoring with 85 points.

The past season, however, was a rough one.  After missing both field goal attempts in a Sept. 9 loss to TCU — the misses came from 20 and 23 yards out — Hedlund never attempted another kick for the Razorbacks the rest of the season.

“It was basically a PAT, and it was a perfect protection and a perfect snap. It’s inexcusable,” then-head coach Bret Bielema said at the time.

Longtime BYU defensive assistant Steve Kaufusi steps down

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A constant on BYU’s defensive staff for nearly two decades has taken himself out of the football program’s equation.

The Cougars announced Friday that Steve Kaufusi has stepped down from his post as linebackers coach.  Per the school, Kaufusi’s departure was triggered by his desire to pursue other unspecified interests.

Kaufusi, whose wife Michelle is the mayor of Provo and has two sons who will play for the Cougars this season, had spent the past 16 seasons with BYU.  From 2002-16, he coached the defensive line; he took over linebackers in 2017 and spent one season overseeing that position.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to coach at BYU for the past 16 seasons,” Kaufusi said. “I’m honored to have had the opportunity to represent the University and everything it stands for. I will always be a Cougar and look forward to watching my sons play at BYU.”

“Anyone who knows Steve knows he is an exceptional coach and mentor to young men, which you can see in the players he has coached over the years and also in his own family,” head coach Kalani Sitake said. “I wish Steve nothing but the best for his future.”

In tandem with the Kaufusi announcement, the program also confirmed that Preston Hadley has been hired.  Hadley, who played defensive back for the Cougars and coached at Weber State the past two seasons, will coach safeties in his return.

Ed Lamb, who was responsible for safeties, will take over Kaufusi’s linebackers.  All other coaches on the defensive side of the ball will maintain their current positions.

Michigan State promotes Mike Tressel to DC, adds ex-Kent State HC as DBs coach

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Mark Dantonio looked inside and out of his football program to fill some holes in his Michigan State staff.

Nearly two weeks ago, Harlon Barnett left as MSU’s co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach to take a job at Florida State.  That left Dantonio with two openings, one of which the head coach closed Friday by promoting Mike Tressel to defensive coordinator.

Tressel and Barnett had served as co-coordinators the past three seasons; the nephew of former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel will now serve as the Spartans’ solo coordinator moving forward.

“Mike has done a tremendous job working with the defense,” said Dantonio in a statement. “He’s been deeply involved with everything with the defense since we first arrived here, and has helped coach some championship defenses that have been ranked consistently among the best in the nation, year in and year out. He did a great job as co-coordinator the past three years. He’s certainly earned this opportunity and I think he’ll do an outstanding job.”

To replace Barnett as defensive backs coach, Dantonio turned to Paul Haynes.  The past five years, Haynes was the head coach at Kent State before being dismissed at the end of the 2017 regular season.

This serves as a homecoming of sorts for Haynes as well.  From 2003-04, he was the defensive backs coach for the Spartans under John Smith.

The 48-year-old Haynes has also been a secondary coach at Arkansas (2012), Ohio State (2005-10), Louisville (2002) and Kent State (1999).

“We’re very, very excited about Paul,” said Dantonio. “He’s coached here before so he’s got a Spartan background. He was secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State, so he’s coached on the highest level with the secondary. He was a defensive coordinator at Arkansas as well. He’s been a head coach at Kent State, so I think that gives him a big picture feel. I think he’s an excellent recruiter. He’s a dynamic person as well, so we’re excited to have him on campus.”

Willie Taggart finalizes first Florida State coaching staff

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Exactly 45 days after being announced as Florida State’s new head coach, Willie Taggart has put the finishing touches on his first Seminoles staff.

Friday night, FSU confirmed that Taggart has completed his 10-man staff with the additions of five new assistants.  It was reported this week that Maryland offensive coordinator Walt Bell would be taking the same job at FSU; the school confirmed as much today, with Bell also taking over as quarterbacks coach.

The other four hires consisted of Greg Frey (offensive line/running-game coordinator), David Kelly (wide receivers/recruiting coordinator), Mark Snyder (defensive ends) and Alonzo Hampton (special teams coordinator).

That fivesome joins the other five assistants previously announced:

  • Harlon Barnett, defensive coordinator and defensive back
  • Odell Haggins, associate head coach and defensive tackles
  • Raymond Woodie, linebackers
  • Telly Lockette, tight ends
  • Donte’ Pimpleton, running backs

Haggins is the lone holdover from Jimbo Fisher‘s last staff.

“From the beginning of this process, my goal was to bring in the best coaches for our program and I believe we have done that,” Taggart said. “This group will do a great job of recruiting, developing, coaching and mentoring our student-athletes to reach their highest potential. I’m excited for the next few weeks as we are finalizing our 2018 signing class and then working with our team as we prepare for spring practice.”