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Heir apparent Mark Helfrich moves up to head man

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Mark Helfrich is the new head football coach of the Oregon Ducks.Mark Helfrich has officially come out of Chip Kelly's shadow.

Helfrich has made the leap from offensive coordinator to head coach of the Oregon Ducks, who went to four consecutive BCS bowl games under his predecessor, Kelly, recently named head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens said Sunday that Helfrich will have a five-year, $9 million contract.

"The opportunity of a lifetime," Helfrich said, of his new role. "It's an unbelievable honor to be around our players each and every day. ... I had an unbelievable meeting with those guys last night."

Helfrich said of his plan for the Ducks: "We will attack in all phases. We'll embrace innovation and strive our best to win each and every day.

"We're going to try to score. We're going to try to win. More importantly, we're going to try to prepare."

Helfrich said he expected the program to be about 99.2 percent similar to how it was under Kelly and "not going to be too much noticeably different."

Asked about the differences between himself and Kelly, Helfrich quipped, "I won't wear a visor. I'll eat more vegetables."

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota said the players are "all very excited. The meeting last night was awesome."

Another star of the Oregon offense, De'Anthony Thomas, said "I feel like our team has a great vibe. We're ready to go. Our team is excited to step up for Coach Helfrich."

Defensive back Brian Jackson noted that the players gave Helfrich a standing ovation in the Saturday night meeting, adding that Helfrich was the players' choice to be the new head caoch. "We'll be ready to perform," he said. "He knows the process."

Mariota agreed with Jackson's assessment and said he doesn't expect much change in the Ducks under Helfrich. "I'm looking forward to it," Mariota said, of spring practices.

Helfrich came to Oregon four years ago, when he succeeded Kelly as coordinator when Kelly replaced outgoing head coach Mike Bellotti. On Saturday, the Ducks gave Helfrich their head coaching position, and reportedly were set to move receivers coach Scott Frost up to the coordinator role.

Helfrich's team will have a relatively easy schedule in 2013. The Ducks will open Aug. 31 at home against Nicholls State, which lost to Oregon State 77-3 last season. Oregon's other non-conference games are Sept. 7 at Nevada and Sept. 14 at home against Tennessee. Oregon beat Nevada 69-20 in 2011 and won at Tennessee 48-13 in 2010. Oregon's Pac-12 slate has a Nov. 7 road game with Stanford and a Nov. 23 away game with Arizona, but the Ducks don't play USC or Arizona State and get UCLA and OSU in Eugene.

Helfrich, 39, was born in Medford and played quarterback for Southern Oregon. He is described as "affable" in his official university biography. He was an NAIA scholar-athlete who earned a biology degree and led the nation in total offense as a sophomore. His first major college coaching job was as a graduate assistant at Oregon in 1997. He went on to coach QBs at Boise State, Arizona and Colorado, where he also served as coordinator, before coming back to the U of O.

Frost also has been on the Oregon staff since 2009. The 38-year-old Nebraska native starred for the Cornhuskers in 1996-97, playing quarterback as they posted a combined record of 24-2 and won a national championship. In his two seasons at Nebraska, after his transfer from Stanford, Frost passed for 2,677 yards and 18 touchdowns, with seven interceptions, and ran for 1,533 yards and 28 TDs. He went on to play six seasons in the NFL as a defensive back, then coached at Nebraska, Kansas State and Northern Iowa before getting the call from the Ducks.

The Ducks' search took about three days. Mullens held a press conference Wednesday afternoon, after Kelly told him that morning of his decision to leave for the NFL. "We had multiple internal candidates," Mullens said, adding that he followed a state law requiring the Ducks to interview at least one qualified minority candidate. The Ducks, he added, had done a lot of ground work already, anticipating that Kelly would have the chance to jump to the pros, as he did the year before, when he turned down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"We talked to an awful lot of people and conducted five in-person interviews," Mullens said. "Everything kept pointing back to Mark Helfrich. He exemplifies everything we want. The continuity is a bonus."

Mullens said Oregon's "last in-person interview was conducted on Friday and the decision process started on Friday night, when we really were getting after it."



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