Oregon may have its new football coach. That is, assuming Chip Kelly is gone.
While speculation continues to swirl that Kelly is headed to the NFL, the Ducks could easily transition to their offensive coordinator as their next coach. They did it once with Kelly in 2009 and again a year ago when Kelly was flirting with Tampa Bay. Various sources reported in January 2012 that Oregon already had a succession plan to elevate offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich to replace Kelly.
“I'm pretty sure he was head coach for about 20 minutes,” said a source close to Helfrich.
Oregon officials are said to be more than comfortable with the personable 39-year old taking over should Kelly leave. While he doesn't call plays, Helfrich has been Kelly's right-hand man offensively, intimately involved with the game plan. The former Southern Oregon quarterback started as an Oregon grad assistant 15 years ago. He rose to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Dan Hawkins at Colorado (2006-08) before coming to the Ducks.
“He's got a ton of humility,” said a coach who worked on the same staff as Helfrich. “He's a guy you could sit down with and talk about history, geography. He's at home in a lot of settings -- academically, socially and culturally. He speaks German; a pre-med major in college. He sort of worked his way up. I think he's got the full package.”
It's not like Oregon officials haven't had time to prepare. As mentioned, they're experienced at elevating offensive coordinators. Kelly was hired by Mike Bellotti as OC and eventually replaced him in 2009. Meanwhile, Kelly hasn't exactly squashed the NFL talk. Oregon probably would reach out to Boise State coach Chris Petersen, but the answer to the potential vacancy just might be spending Thursday night in the Oregon coaches box for the Fiesta Bowl against Kansas State.