Cal Coaching Candidates: Mark Helfrich

Harry How

Our search for the next Cal head coach continues. Today we're looking at a certain high-profile offensive coordinator at Oregon. Can lightning strike twice?

Background

As most of us Cal fans know, Mark Helfrich is the offensive coordinator for the Oregon Ducks. Although Helfrich had no experience with Kelly's zone read offense, Chipper brought him aboard after the Dan Hawkins regime was dissolved in Colorado. While Helfrich has recently learned the Kelly offense, he has long been praised as a great developer of quarterbacks.

At Boise State, Helfrich tutored two-time Big West (remember that conference?) Player of the Year Bart Hendricks. At Arizona State he coached our good friend Rudy Carpenter as well as Andrew Walter, whose 86 career touchdowns and 30 TDs his single season were school records. His 86 career TDs broke John Elways Pac-10 record.

More recently we've seen his work with Jeremiah Masoli, Darren Thomas, and now Marcus Mariota. Wherever he goes (except Colorado), good quarterbacks emerge.

Kelly could be a popular name in this year's coaching carousel. Former Colorado head coach Dan Hawkins expects his former offensive coordinator to be a great hire in the near future.

"He’ll be a big-timer," Hawkins said of Helfrich. "Where people might have been saying, ‘Holy smokes,’ (if Helfrich had replaced Kelly), in a few years they’ll be saying, ‘How can we keep him?’ "

Let's take a closer look at Mark Helfrich.

Coaching Career

He's only 39, so he does not have a terribly long resume.

  • 1997, Graduate assistant, Oregon
  • 1998-2000, Quarterbacks, Boise State
  • 2001-2005, Quarterbacks, Arizona State
  • 2006-2008, Offensive coordinator/QBs, Colorado
  • 2009-present, Offensive coordinator, Oregon

His most impressive work has been at Boise State and Arizona State. He's done a good job with the quarterbacks at Oregon, but it is unclear how big his role is with the Oregon offense.


Notable Statistics

ESPN's stats only go as far back as 2004, so you'll have to use your imagination for prior years.

As ASU's QB coach

  • 2004: Andrew Walter (senior), 3150 yards (12th), 57.3% completions (53rd), 7.4 yards per attempt (43rd), 30 TDs (8th), 9 interceptions, 138.4 QB rating (22nd); Walter was drafted in the 3rd round by the Oakland Raiders in 2005
  • 2005: Rudy Carpenter (freshman), 2273 yards (60th), 68.4% (3rd), 10.0 yards per attempt (1st), 17 TDs (44th), 2 interceptions, 175.0 QB rating (1st); Carpenter took over for the injured/ineffective Sam Keller in the 7th game of the season and ended up as one of the most efficient QBs in the nation.
Those are some impressive feats: guiding one of the Pac-10's top QBs in recent decades and turning a freshman into arguably the most efficient QB in the nation.

After some remarkable work at ASU, Helfrich moved on to become the QB coach and offensive coordinator for Dan Hawkins at Colorado.
  • 2006: 4.5 yards per rush (29). Other than generating a respectable rushing attack, Colorado's offense was terrible in Helfrich's first year. They were in the bottom-10 nationwide in most statistics.
  • 2007: Nothing noteworthy. Most categories improved to the 60s-80s.
  • 2008: Nothing worth mentioning. Several categories regressed back to the 90s-100s.
Helfrich didn't do a whole lot at Colorado, but neither did anyone else during the Hawkins regime.

When Chip Kelly was handed the reins at Oregon, he hired Helfrich to work with the offense.
  • 2009: 36.1 points per game (8th), 5.51 yards per rush (4th), 412.0 total yards per game (33rd), 71.93% red zone TDs (9th)
  • 2010: 47.0 points per game (1st), 5.93 yards per rush (4th), 151.45 QB efficiency (14th), 8.0 yards per passing attempt (26th), 530.7 total yards per game (1st), 44.86% third down conversions (29th)
  • 2011: 46.1 points per game (3rd), 6.66 yards per rush (1st), 160.36 QB efficiency (9th), 8.1 yards per passing attempt (23rd), 522.8 total yards per game (4th), 45.34% third down conversions (28th), 76.12% red zone TDs (6th)
  • 2012: 50.8 points per game (2nd), 6.06 yards per rush (1st), 159.75 QB efficiency (5th), 68.2% completions (6th), 550.1 yards per game (4th), 47.25% third down conversions (22nd), 82.86 red zone TDs (1st)
This is arguably the best offense in the nation over this four-year stretch. One major question: how much does Helfrich contribute to the offensive gameplan?

Would He Take the Job?

This is a big question Cal and other programs must be wondering.

Helfrich was a favorite for the Oregon head coaching position early last year when Chip Kelly appeared to be headed to Tampa Bay. Although he remained at Oregon as an assistant, many within the program expect him to be a head coach soon (whether at Oregon or elsewhere).

"He's going to be a head coach someday, probably in the very near future," [Oregon running backs coach Gary] Campbell said. "There's a lot of interest in him, believe me."

When asked about potentially leaving Oregon, Helfrich said he believes the coaches at Oregon have a special chemistry together. Many others have had opportunities to leave but decided to stay.

"The grass," [Helfrich] added, "isn't always greener."

More straightforwardly, Helfrich says he's happy to stay at Oregon.

"I love it here — I love our staff, I love where this program has been and is going," Helfrich said. "I’d love to stay here for a long time."

It's unclear whether he's saying this to be gracious or if he truly is committed to Oregon for the long haul. I'm inclined to believe the latter, especially if he was inches from the head coaching position earlier this year.

How Much Would He Cost?

Helfrich's base salary is decent, but incentives can nearly triple it if Oregon has a very successful season. In 2010, for example, his base salary was $231k but he received $392k after incentives. He would have received an additional $192k had the Ducks won the national championship game (via three more incentives: winning BCS championship game, winning 13 games, finishing with a #1 ranking).

His base salary is up to $311k this season after Oregon poured another $460k into its pool of assistant salaries. With the Ducks in the top-15 in coaching salaries, they seem more than capable of throwing enough money at Helfrich to retain him. Obviously we can give him a boost with a head coaching-level salary, but he may receive a more lucrative offer if he replaces Chip Kelly as head coach (again). Can we afford to get in a bidding war with Uncle Phil?

Cultural/Academic Considerations

Helfrich was born and raised in Oregon and he also spent his playing days in Oregon. He has had positions all over the West, so he probably wouldn't object to taking a position at Cal. He does, however, appear to be very happy at Oregon.

Not much is known about Helfrich and academics. I haven't heard him say much about off-the-field development of his players. Most of his interviews revolve around gameplanning and quarterbacks.

Recruiting

Helfrich has been a solid recruiter at Oregon. He is often the lead recruiter for their QB targets. He has brought aboard two four-star QB recruits (Bryan Bennett and Jake Rodrigues) and one three-star (Jeff Lockie). Interestingly enough, he was the lead recruiter for a three-star prospect named Johnny Manziel. How glad are the rest of us Pac-12 fans that he didn't join the Ducks?

Other than recruiting a handful of QBs, there's not much information out there about Helfrich's recruiting prowess.

Other Considerations

During games, Kelly was on the sideline, with Helfrich as his eyes in the sky from the press box. His ability to recognize coverages in the pass game, or analyze how the safeties and linebackers fit against the run, and then communicate them to Kelly, "has been awesome," the head coach said.

"That’s probably one of the most important things as you get into a game against an opponent," Helfrich said.

"It’s, ‘Hey, are they doing what we thought?’ Because everybody’s going to have their different counter-punch to what we do — how they’re going to play the tailback, how they’re going to play the quarterback, all those variations of how people fit our formations differently."


Final Verdict

Pros

  • Quarterback development
  • Studied for four years under the leader of best offense in college football
Cons
  • Doesn't call plays on offense
  • Mostly an unknown commodity

We had a tremendous hire the last time we brought aboard an offensive coordinator from Oregon. This hire would be a pretty big risk, though. Chip Kelly is clearly the mastermind of the Oregon offense. Mark Helfrich has undoubtedly learned some tricks from Kelly, but we do not have much evidence of how well he can run the offense. Additionally, we do not know much about his recruiting prowess, his off-the-field development of players, or whether he would make a good head coach.

He may turn out to be a wonderful head coach. We should let Oregon take that gamble to find out.

Profiles of Prospective Cal Coaches

Boise State head coach Chris Petersen

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