Tostitos Fiesta Bowl - Oregon v Kansas State

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


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 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 “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 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 or and as high as ninth in 2011.  This year, the Ducks currently rank 44th (Rivals), 26th (Scout) and 25th (24/ with signing day looming the first Tuesday of next month.

“It hurts,” 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 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.

Win over Grambling approved, Cal officially becomes bowl eligible

Jared Goff
Associated Press
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Earlier today we had the report that Cal, they of the normally bowl-eligible six wins on the season, were not actually bowl eligible. The hang up was due to some NCAA red tape on how many scholarships Grambling, a 73-14 victim to the Bears on opening Saturday, had actually awarded this year.

Why the number of scholarships awarded by an opponent of a 6-5 team could determine what glorified exhibition said 6-5 could or could not play is a matter for another time, but the fact is it mattered.

But according to a report from Kevin Gemmell of, the Bears received approval to count the win toward their total, meaning Sonny Dykes and company will go bowling for the first time since 2011.

“We have conferred with both Grambling and the NCAA,” Cal spokesman Wes Mallette told ESPN. “As anticipated, Grambling has confirmed their football program has met the 90 percent financial aid requirement over the rolling two-year average. Therefore, Cal football’s win over Grambling counts toward bowl eligibility. Cal football is bowl eligible.”

The Bears have a chance to become bowl eligible the old fashioned way with a win over Arizona State Saturday in Berkeley.


Tulane reportedly set to fire head coach Curtis Johnson

Curtis Johnson
Associated Press
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The end of the college football regular season brings with it bowl bids, conference championship entries and rivalry games. Along the way, though, come end-of-season firings. So many end of-season firings.

According to a report from Dan Wolken of USA Today Wednesday night, the first one is already on the books. Or at least close to it.

Wolken reports Tulane is set to part ways with head coach Curtis Johnson following the Green Wave’s Friday finale against Tulsa “barring a last-minute change of direction.”

Johnson is 15-33 in nearly four complete seasons at Tulane, reaching a high point of a 7-6 mark wtih a New Orleans Bowl appearance in 2013 but winning two, three and three games in his other three campaigns.

If and when the move becomes official, Tulane will become the 15th FBS school to change head coaches this season, matching the total number of changes during the 2014-15 cycle.

Wolken reports Tulane will hire a new athletics director within the next week, and once that hiring is complete the school will then embark on hiring Johnson’s replacement.

Reports: Michigan DC D.J. Durkin a “strong candidate” for Maryland vacancy

D.J. Durkin
Associated Press

Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin has emerged a “strong candidate” for the Maryland job, according to reports from Yahoo‘s Pat Forde and Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman Wednesday.

“Durkin, 37, met recently with Maryland officials, sources said,” Forde wrote. “No job offer was made, but the interview went well, sources said.”

Added Feldman:

Durkin is in his first season as Michigan’s defensive coordinator, helping the 9-2 Wolverines jump from 14th to third nationally in yards per play allowed (4.77 to 4.15) and 27th to sixth in scoring defense (22.4 to 14.9).

Prior to working on Jim Harbaugh‘s staff, Durkin served as Will Muschamp‘s defensive coordinator at Florida for two years, and as his special teams coordinator for two years before that. He previously worked at Stanford, Bowling Green (his alma mater) and Notre Dame.

Should he be offered and accept the job, Durkin would immediately become Big Ten East rivals with his mentor Harbaugh.

“This week is so important to our guys, my 100% focus is on this game and our players — that’s what this profession is all about. You’ve got to make sure you’re taking care of the job you have week in and week out. It’s a tough task, especially with this team we have this week,” Durkin told the Detroit Free Press when asked about the reports.

“My goal is to get the best game plan possible together for Ohio State and have our guys go play well. To answer rumors or speculation right now and put something to it, my total focus is 100% on Ohio State and nothing else.”

Illini to decide on fate of interim head coach Bill Cubit by Sunday

Bill Cubit
Associated Press

Illinois will decide whether or not to retain interim head coach Bill Cubit for the full-time job by Sunday, interim AD Paul Kowalczyk told WSKJ-FM Wednesday.

“We need to make that call and figure out which way we’re going for everyone’s sake,” Kowalczyk said, via the Chicago Tribune. “For me, it’s posthaste.”

Illinois closes its regular season Saturday against No. 16 Northwestern in Champaign. The Illini are 5-6 on the year and, for what it’s worth, Cubit desperately wants the job.

Also worth noting: the athletics department is operating under a total state of dysfunction in the wake of AD Mike Thomas‘s firing.

From 670 The Score in Chicago on Wednesday:

Sources tell 670 The Score that as overwhelmed university officials are dithering and providing little guidance, the group of trustees, boosters and alums left to run things can’t yet agree on much.  Some want to hire a search firm with a spotty recent track record, others want to form their own search committee, while another faction thinks they need to act faster by using their own contacts to target specific AD and coaching candidates right now and just get moving.

Any support for retaining Bill Cubit is getting strong push-back from those who don’t believe he wasn’t aware of Tim Beckman’s aberrant behavior, and from some who feel strongly about making a more dynamic hire.

For those keeping score at home: Illinois is dealing with a power vacuum of trustees, boosters and alums battling for control while an interim chancellor and interim athletics director work to reach a resolution on an interim football coach.

And the coaching carousel starts spinning in full four days from now.