New Oregon Ducks football head coach Mark Helfrich thought he was getting a pretty sweet deal when he took over with a beyond-potent rushing attack, much-improved defense and a playmaking quarterback that was just a sophomore.
“There are some things,” Coach Helfrich said with a sigh, putting his head into his hands and then resting the entire glum expression onto his elbows on the surface of his desk, “that you just don’t see coming.”
It’s only the first year in Helfrich’s regime in Eugene, Oregon and the coach has already started to discover some of the unique challenges that being the head coach of the Ducks present.
“I know I’ve been here as an assistant for a few years, since ’09 actually, but nothing prepared me for this season. There wasn’t any way of knowing how things would start off this year.”
This may not be the kind of rhetoric you’d expect to hear from a coach who has stepped in to helm one of the most loaded offensive juggernauts in recent NCAA history. But, he has his reasons.
First, this April the coach was forced to make his first tough decision on the job.
“It’s just the kind of thing you’re not expecting to have to decide so early on in your tenure,” he said, referring to his decision to try to ford the Green River Crossing on April 23, 2013. It was a disastrous decision that cost his team dearly and left many questioning the decision to hire the new coach.
“The Blue River thing, that hurt. Bad. I mean, even if you ignore the fact that it just made me look incompetent…we still lost 10 bullets, two axles and 43 pounds of meat. I mean, we’re lucky only an oxen drowned.”
The cost to the program was dear, but Helfrich was more concerned about the morale of his program following such an embarrassing scandal. ”You know,” he said, staying shockingly candid. ”I just felt like the guys in the locker room were starting to question me. ’Oh, man, he should’ve just caulked the wagon and floated across. Everyone knows you just caulk and float. You don’t ford the river!’ You know, stuff like that.”
But Helfrich remained steadfast in his beliefs as a coach.
“I learn from mistakes. I tell players that all the time, ‘learn from your mistakes’ and I’m the same way. I know, now, that I may not have made the right choice, and I’m comfortable with that decision now. Hindsight’s twenty/twenty, you know? What’s really got me reeling right now is this whole Marcus situation.”
The coach jumped subjects abruptly here, referring to his star quarterback’s bizarre off-field issues this offseason.
“You know, first it’s that his morale is low. Then he’s injured in a hunting accident. And finally, this? I mean, you’ve probably seen the report from the doctor’s office that was leaked to the media. It’s some pretty serious stuff.”
(*Author’s note: I had, in fact, seen the report. It was a grim diagnosis and, though it contains mainly technical, medically complex terminology, I thought I would share it below if any reader would be interested in delving into it.)
Helfrich has been less than forthcoming about his star’s current ailment, and has been outspoken in his criticism of the media environment that would prompt a doctor to release confidential paperwork to the press. However, Helfrich has weathered the initial storms of an early coaching job and seems prepared to fight.
“Sometimes,” Helfrich said, staring straight at me with tired eyes. ”Being a coach is pretty damn tough. But,” he added with a fire building behind those same eyes, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Chris Hatch (@downthehatch402) covers humor/satire and more for Gridiron Grit. Be sure to ‘like’ Gridiron Grit on Facebook to keep up with the latest coverage on college football, the NFL, humor/satire and more!