Helfrich at helm as Ducks open camp
Mark Helfrich opened his first fall camp as head coach of the Ducks on Monday but he got upstaged by Oregon's new football performance center.
The lavish complex adjacent to Autzen Stadium houses a locker room with showers lined in Italian tile, a team auditorium with seats upholstered in the same leather Ferrari uses, and a 25,000-square-foot weight room with Brazilian hardwood floors.
''If a building was a superhero, that's it,'' said Helfrich, the team's former offensive coordinator who was promoted to head coach when Chip Kelly left for the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this year.
The Ducks have an ever-growing national profile on the field, but the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex, as it is officially named, is undeniably world-class. Estimated conservatively at $68 million, the six-story, multi-wing football building was funded by Oregon alum and Nike co-founder Phil Knight and his wife, Penny.
It officially opened Monday.
''I was pretty speechless, and I'm still speechless about it,'' quarterback Marcus Mariota said.
''My locker room in high school was basically a bathroom,'' said running back De'Anthony Thomas when asked if he had anything he could compare it to.
The team's annual ''media day'' to open fall camp included a tour of the facility. Meanwhile, fall practice officially got underway under sunny skies with temperatures in the mid-80s.
Helfrich plans to keep most of what the team has been doing for the past several years in place, including practices that that are closed to spectators.
''There hasn't been a whole lot of difference from a football standpoint,'' Mariota observed. ''Coach Helfrich has always said, `If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' ''
Oregon finished 12-1 last season, topped off by a 35-17 victory over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. Oregon went 46-7 over the past four seasons under Kelly, who devised the Ducks' innovative hurry-up spread offense. Over that span, the Ducks won three Pac-12 championships and played in four BCS bowl games, including the national championship game in 2010 against Auburn.
Kelly departed for the Philadelphia Eagles in January, and Helfrich took over. He inherited a team that retains two of its biggest offensive stars, Mariota and Thomas.
Newcomers include home-state standout Thomas Tyner, who rushed for 3,415 yards for Aloha (Ore.) High School as a senior, setting a new single-season rushing record for the state.
On his 18th birthday last September, Tyner set a state record with 643 yards rushing and scored 10 touchdowns in an 84-63 victory over Lakeridge High School. It was the third-most ever for a prep player, behind John Giannantonio's record of 754 yards in a game for Netcong High School in New Jersey in 1950, and Paul McCoy's 661 yards rushing for Matewan High School in West Virginia in 2006.
The Ducks overall are no longer under the specter of NCAA sanctions. Earlier this summer, the NCAA stripped Oregon of a scholarship in each of the next two seasons and placed the program on probation for three years for recruiting violations.
The NCAA's Division I Committee on Infractions said in its final report that Kelly failed to monitor the program for its improper involvement with Willie Lyles and his Houston-based recruiting service. Oregon also faces reductions in paid visits and evaluation days, but avoided some of the harsher penalties handed down to other programs in recent years.
Kelly was hit with an 18-month show-cause order, a sanction that likely will have limited impact now that he's coaching the Eagles.
The sanctions had been hanging over the football program for more than two years.
Despite Kelly's departure, the Ducks were selected to finish atop the Pac-12 this season by the media who cover the cover the league. Oregon opens the season on Aug. 31 at home against Nicholls State.