The transition from Chip Kelly to Mark Helfrich has been mostly seamless and Oregon looks as good as ever, but the first-year coach might be bungling his relationship with one of his star players.
The Oregonian is reporting that tight end Colt Lyerla is upset after Helfrich blamed Lyerla’s absence from the game against Tennessee on one word: circumstances. Helfrich repeated the word several times and would not elaborate further, creating the vague impression that there was something more to the absence. Lyerla was not pleased.
“I’m really upset with the way coach Helfrich said that after the game,’’ Lyerla said Sunday. “Really disappointed. I feel hurt about this. I watched a little bit of what he said, then started reading all of it, and … it was unfair.’’
Lyerla says he was ill, causing him to miss practices on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Per team rules regarding the number of practices one needs to go through, he said he knew he wasn’t going to play. He was told to stay home Saturday and get rest.
“Circumstances,’’ Lyerla said echoing his coach’s explanation. “He didn’t say I was sick all week.’’
Helfrich will need to mend this fence quickly since Lyerla is one of Oregon’s most dangerous offensive weapons and a future NFL first round pick. Although it’s possible the normally affable Helfrich has a bit of leverage with Lyerla in the form of freshman tight end Johnny Mundt, who burst onto the scene against Tennessee with five catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns. Does the emergence of Mundt make it easier for Helfrich to take a hard-line position with regards to whatever issues he might have with Lyerla?
Whatever the case, this is a good test for the rookie coach. Stay tuned.