Hire makes sense, but it's not without some unknowns

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - New University of Oregon head football coach Mark Helfrich says he is ready to lead the Ducks in his 'dream job.'The perception, fair or unfair, was that Mark Helfrich was along for the ride, a passenger on Good Ship Chip that sailed through defenses the past four years.

Chip Kelly made a name for himself as Oregon’s offensive coordinator for two years and then, as head coach, led the Ducks to even greater offensive heights, along with 46 wins in 53 games and four BCS games before leaving for the NFL.

But, clearly, it takes more than one guy to run an “operation,” as Kelly often called his program. And, Kelly got the coaches to buy into his system of “Win The Day,” hard-core practices, fast-paced football, execution and speed. Especially Helfrich, who Kelly brought in as coordinator for his spread-option.

Kelly called the plays, but Helfrich developed game plans and served as Kelly’s eye-in-the-sky in the press box.

Which brings us to today, as Helfrich enjoys his honeymoon period as Kelly’s successor. Whereas the positives of promoting Oregon born-and-bred Helfrich are obvious — consistency in offense and program and coaching staff — the ascension of Kelly’s right-hand man doesn’t come without risk and questions:

• Was somebody better out there?

• How do longtime assistant coaches Steve Greatwood and Nick Aliotti, who both wanted the job and have long desired a higher profile, feel about being passed over? (This reporter has always thought that O-line coach Greatwood — tough, demanding, even-tempered, knowledgeable of offense and defense — would make a good head coach). How does their disappointment affect coaching chemistry?

• Helfrich might have absorbed a lot from his former boss, but he ain’t Kelly, which can be a good thing in regard to public relations. But Kelly was a one-in-a-thousand coach — a brilliant football mind, ultra-competitive, walkin’ and talkin’ every day with an edge. Will “Helf” have the same, er, chip on his shoulder?

• Helfrich, 39, has to be a buck-stops-here fellow as head coach. He’s friendly and affable — but it’ll be interesting to watch him assert command and control.

• Will Helfrich and Scott Frost, expected to be the new offensive coordinator, have the same synergy and relationship as Kelly and Helfrich? As a matter of record, Helfrich played quarterback at Southern Oregon College, and coached at Boise State, Arizona State and Colorado; Frost led Nebraska to the national championship as a quarterback and spent six years in the NFL as a defensive back.

• With Helfrich taking on the head coaching responsibilities, he’ll have less time to work with quarterbacks. Chances are Marcus Mariota continues to ascend under Frost’s guidance, but who knows?

• Will Helfrich display the same acumen in calling plays as Kelly, who always seemed one step ahead of the guys on the other sideline and coaching box?

The Ducks have had plenty of talent over the past four years, and put themselves on the map.

Let’s see whether the system and a protégé can produce the same results.

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