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 opening — Mark 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.