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Mullens: Ducks will look 'far and wide'

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: DAVID BLAIR - Mark Helfrich (left) and Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens talk in happier days than Tuesday, when the AD informed Helfrich he was being let go as Ducks football coach.No new head football coach is imminent, Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens said Tuesday night, shortly after firing Mark Helfrich.

“We’re going to look far and wide,” Mullens said.

Mullens offered little in the way of what qualities he seeks in the next Oregon coach, including whether the AD wants someone whose expertise is in offense or defense.

Mullens said head coaching experience is one thing to look at, but not the only thing, either.

“If you have success as a head coach, that’s one parameter, but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t be open to coordinators or others,” Mullens said. “But obviously a proven track record of success is another (parameter).”

One thing is certain.

“We want somebody who understands the high expectations at the University of Oregon, who understands our community and really, really wants to be here,” Mullens said.

There is “no timetable” for the hire. “It’s about getting it right,” he said.

The AD made it sound as though Oregon would look at a good number of candidates.

“Our pool will be broad, diverse. We’ll be extremely thorough and find the right person,” Mullens said.

Interest in the job will be high, he predicted.

“The University of Oregon is a great football program. It’s going to be attractive to a lot of candidates,” Mullens said. “I’m confident in the administrative staff we have and the facilities we have, and we compete in a great league. This is a highly desirable job. I’m confident we’re going to have a lot of interest.”

Whoever replaces Helfrich will have full say on who is on the new coaching staff, Mullens noted, and “we’ll seek a coach outside of our current staff.” Mullens did add, though, that “there are a lot of branches in the history of that staff, so (the next coach) could come from a branch.”

That presumably means the Ducks would be open to former football staff members, such as Scott Frost or even Chip Kelly, if they were interested in the UO vacancy, even though they have head coaching jobs at Central Florida and with the San Francisco 49ers, respectively.

Why fire Helfrich?

“We were on a poor trajectory,” Mullens said.

The AD said he had “become concerned with the direction of the program” over the past several months and made the decision to dismiss Helfrich after taking all of his four years at helm into account.

“Clearly over the last couple of years, particularly this year, we weren’t as competitive as we needed to be in a number of games,” Mullens said.

The decision wasn’t based primarily on wins and losses, or poor defense, or locker room or off-the-field issues, or money, or anything else, Mullens said.

“It’s never just one thing. You look at the totality of the program, both what happens on and off the field,” he added.

A drop in attendance at Autzen Stadium and the issue of "future season tickets did not weigh into this decision," Mullens said.

The move was based on football and the overall success of the athletes, on and off the field, and of the coaches, in recruiting as well as coaching, Mullens said.

“Throughout the year, you assess the entire program,” he said.

To that, Mullens said he concluded that “there’s been a shift in culture — and culture’s been the winning edge here, and we need to get that back.”

Mullens said he informed the players Tuesday night, just before his press conference.

“It was difficult. Players were upset, because they’ve lost a family member,” Mullens said.

But, “I have an obligation to this great university and to our student-athletes to put them in the best position for success.”

Mullens called Helfrich “a quality person” and said Helfrich “handled (the dismissal) with the same class, professionalism and character that we’ve come to know.”

Mullens had come under fire from some for not making a quicker decision on Helfrich — and for being absent and quiet on Sunday as the coach conducted his postseason press conference, one day after the 34-24 Civil War loss at Oregon State concluded the U of O season at four wins, eight losses.

Mullens explained that he “wanted to get some distance from the emotion of the result of the game” and let the team get through its Sunday awards banquet.

The decision to fire Helfrich “was made today,” Mullens said, “and communicated with Mark tonight.”

Mullens insisted at Tuesday night’s press conference that he had not yet started to look for a successor.

“As soon as we’re done here, that’s where my focus will be,” he said.

To relieve the coaching staff members of their duties could mean eating contracts worth $15 million or more. Mullens, however, said the sum of the money owed to departing coaches would be “mitigated” by various factors and “we won’t know the exact amount, and it’s payable over a number of years.”

Mullens said licensing revenue of $6.5 million would help cover some the cost, and he pointed out that four administrative positions have been frozen in recent weeks.

Helfrich’s departure appears to end an era of Oregon football and the most successful run in school history, during which some assistant coaches have endured and head coaching duties have been passed down, notably from Mike Bellotti to Kelly to Helfrich.

“A system has been in place here for eight years … there’s been a formula that has worked,” Mullens said. “One of the things that was a real edge for us was the attention to detail, adding up all the little things. We didn’t always line up with the best talent — all the little things that added up produced a lot of victories here.”

But now it’s on to a potentially new era of Oregon football, whether the Ducks choose someone with experience in their system and familiar with their success formula or who will come entirely from the outside.

“We’re very grateful for all that’s been done here over a long period of time,” Mullens said. “We’ve just reached a point where we need a change of direction.”

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