Helfrich’s first season had highs and lows
Over the course of Mark Helfrich’s first year as head coach at
Oregon he dealt with a troubled tight end, a snowball fight, and an
injury to his star quarterback that was much worse than anyone
But it all ended with an authoritative win. The No. 10 Ducks
finished the season 11-2 and capped it off with a 30-7 victory over
Texas in the Alamo Bowl.
Helfrich matched USC’s John Robinson (1976) and Stanford’s David
Shaw (2011) for most wins as a first-year head coach in the Pac-12
While preparing for the bowl, Helfrich had a chance to chat with
Mack Brown, who coached his final game after 16 years with the
”There’s not too much time in this business to relax. Spending
more time with Coach Brown this week, it’s funny hearing how he
talks, after a win, how your emotions go, then how devastating a
loss is. You don’t get to celebrate. I’ll take his advice and think
about it for 24, 48 hours, then get back to work,” Helfrich
Helfrich, Oregon’s offensive coordinator for the past four
seasons, took over as head coach when Chip Kelly went to the
Philadelphia Eagles. Helfrich inherited a team that had gone to
four straight BCS bowls under Kelly.
Led by quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back De’Anthony
Thomas, the Ducks were expected to finish atop the Pac-12 North and
advance to the league championship. Oregon was ranked No. 3 in the
Oregon reeled off eight wins to start the season, despite a
right ankle injury that sidelined Thomas for nearly four games.
Helfrich faced a challenge in October, when talented tight end
Colt Lyerla was suspended for Oregon’s game at Colorado for an
unspecified violation of team rules. The next day, he abruptly left
the team, citing his desire to go to the NFL.
Less than three weeks later, Lyerla was arrested for cocaine
possession. He has since pleaded guilty to a felony possession
charge, but plans to train for the NFL combine.
Through all this, the Ducks climbed to No. 2 in the AP rankings
and were seemingly on course for a national championship bid. Then
It turns out Mariota had partially torn the medial collateral
ligament in his left knee against UCLA the week before. Ducks
offensive coordinator Scott Frost said that just two days before
the game against the Cardinal, the Heisman hopeful couldn’t even
Stanford beat the Ducks 26-20.
Because Oregon doesn’t talk about injuries, it was unclear just
how serious Mariota’s knee was.
The Ducks subsequently defeated Utah, but then fell 42-16 to the
fired-up Arizona Wildcats in Tucson. The loss dropped Oregon to No.
12 and skewered the Ducks’ chances of a national championship
The Cardinal went on to claim the Pac-12 North and beat Arizona
State in the league championship to earn a spot in the Rose
The Ducks wrapped the regular season with a 36-35 victory
against Oregon State in the Civil War. But Oregon’s sixth straight
season with at least 10 wins wasn’t enough to get the team into a
The hiatus between the Civil War and the Alamo Bowl wasn’t
Junior cornerback Troy Hill was suspended indefinitely by
Helfrich following his arrest on misdemeanor charges of menacing
and criminal mischief. His next court appearance is scheduled for
Sophomore tight end Pharaoh Brown was suspended for the Alamo
Bowl because of his role in an on-campus snowball fight that got
out of hand when passing motorists were pelted. Brown and Helfrich
apologized for the snowball attack, which was posted on YouTube and
In the days leading up to the bowl game, defensive coordinator
Nick Aliotti announced he was retiring after spending 24 years with
the Ducks, including 17 as defensive coordinator. His last game was
the Alamo Bowl.
”I think the biggest thing was through adversity we were still
able to kind of pull through and get 11 wins. That’s hard to do in
today’s day and age,” Mariota said following the victory over
Mariota has already announced he will stay at Oregon for his
Mariota averaged nearly 282 yards passing a game, and threw for
31 touchdowns with only four interceptions. He also rushed for 715
yards and nine scores. His 4,380 yards of total offense set a
”To us, 11 wins, I mean, that doesn’t happen very often. Just
to come back out here and to finish the bowl game strong really
sets us up for the future, builds a solid foundation for next
year,” Mariota said. ”Like I say, we’re looking forward to