Over the next several weeks, we will be catching up with the coaches preparing for their first season in a new location and/or role. From recruiting to staff moves and personnel decisions, we will take a look at how the first months have gone and preview the 2013 season. Next up, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich.
Coaching experience: None as a head coach, but 16 years as an assistant at Boise State (1998-2000), Arizona State (2001-2005), Colorado (2006-2008) and Oregon (1997, 2009-2012). He was the offensive coordinator for the Ducks the last four seasons, helping former head coach Chip Kelly produce some of the most prolific offenses in college football history.
Reason for the change: Kelly was hired away this past offseason by the Philadelphia Eagles and Oregon tapped Helfrich to step in as the school's 32nd head coach. Athletic Director Rob Mullens wanted continuity in the program and the well-liked 39-year-old knows the up-tempo, spread option Ducks offense as well as anyone.
The First Months
2013 Recruiting Class Ranking (according to 247 Sports): No. 19 nationally, No. 4 in the Pac-12.
Notable prospects: There was a bit of uncertainty regarding Kelly's status during the heart of the recruiting period. This tended to blunt whatever momentum Oregon might've gained with various prospects in the early going. But once Kelly left for Philly on Jan. 16, Helfrich got rolling. He stole big-time offensive lineman Cameron Hunt from California, lured speedy wide receiver Devon Allen away from Stanford and UCLA, tore defensive end Torrodney Prevot from the clutches of Texas A&M and secured the signatures of super-athletic twins Tyree and Tyrell Robinson (they can play any number of positions). But his most important recruiting accomplishment might've been holding on to the commitment of running back Thomas Tyner, a five-star back with 10.3 100-meter speed and Heisman-level potential.
Style points: By all accounts, the transition to the Helfrich era has gone smoothly and spring practices were a success. Even Stanford coach David Shaw told ESPN: "I think he's done it perfectly so far." Helfrich has focused on continuing the modern Oregon football culture started by Rich Brooks, then carried forward by Mike Belotti and Kelly. At the same time, he's put his own imprint on the program, bringing a more media-friendly approach than his closed-off predecessor.
Fan reaction: Oregon fans appear to be confident that Helfrich can keep the program running at a high level. After all, the past two Ducks coaches before him were themselves promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach and look how that turned out. Above all, Helfrich is more personable than Kelly and has the potential to be a fan favorite for years ... provided he keeps winning.
Advantages: Not many first-time head coaches walk into the kind of situation in which Helfrich finds himself. This is a program that has won 46 games over the past four years while going to four BCS bowls. With a couple of favorable twists and turns, the Ducks might've won a national title or two already. Oregon has recruited well and the cupboard is stocked with speed to burn. There could be more title runs in the foreseeable future.
Toughest challenge: For all the positives surrounding Helfrich, questions remain. Does he have what it takes to be a head coach? Can he handle the pressure of the spotlight? Will he live up to the standard set by Kelly, who won 91 percent of his games? To be fair, these are the types of questions all first-time head coaches must face. In addition, he must fend off the rising Stanford juggernaut in the Pac-12 North Division and continue to recruit well in Southern California, where UCLA has experienced a resurgence. Tall tasks to be sure.
2013 Outlook: The Ducks are one of six teams that is a serious contender for the BCS title. Eight starters return on offense, including Heisman candidate Marcus Mariota at quarterback and all-purpose dynamo De'Anthony Thomas. Tight end Colt Lyerla is a likely first-round NFL Draft pick.
The line must replace departed tackle Kyle Long, but it will be as efficient and dominating as ever with rising-star bookend tackles Tyler Johnstone and Jake Fisher. Incoming frosh tailback Tyner could be an instant sensation. In other words, this offense shouldn't miss a beat this fall. The Ducks return seven on defense and the two-deep is as talented as any in Oregon history thanks to recent recruiting prowess. Ifo Ekpre-Olumu is a lockdown corner and the bedrock of one of the nation's best secondaries. The defensive line is deep and talented despite the loss of first-round draft pick Dion Jordan. If the Ducks can effectively reconfigure their linebacker corps, this could be a very good defense. The schedule is favorable with no USC or Arizona State, and UCLA coming to Eugene. The potential is there and the pieces are in place for Helfrich to join Larry Coker as the second first-year coach to win a BCS title.