by Rob Moseley
Offensive coordinators come with all kinds of reputations, from aggressive swashbucklers to conservative grinders.
Scott Frost, the first-year Oregon offensive coordinator, will call plays for the Ducks this fall. His overriding philosophy so far is, you don't mess with what works.
In 2012, Oregon set or tied school records for total offense in a single game (730 at USC), points in a conference game (70 against Colorado) and touchdown passes in a game (seven at Cal). The Ducks developed into arguably the country's most explosive, exciting offense under former coach Chip Kelly, and Frost will be its steward going forward.
"My goal honestly should be, for the average fan or the person that knows a lot about football, to not be able to tell an ounce of difference from what we've been running and what we run now," Frost said Thursday from his spacious new office in the Ducks' Football Performance Center.
"I could tell you I've learned from Bill Walsh's West Coast offense and's option, but for the most part what I've learned on offense has been learned here. And we'd be foolish to change much or have it look much different."
There are many reasons to feel encouraged that Oregon will sustain its offensive proficiency. The Ducks return quarterback Marcus Mariota, all-purpose threat De'Anthony Thomas, numerous receiving targets and three starting offensive linemen. All five members of the offensive coaching staff are back, albeit some in different positions, making room for respected receivers coach Matt Lubick to join the staff.
But the biggest key, in Frost's eyes, is the presence of new UO head coach Mark Helfrich, the Ducks' offensive coordinator the last four years. Kelly was the on-field playcaller even as head coach, but count Frost among those who feels Helfrich's impact the last four years was underrated.
"I don't think people realize how much influence Mark had on it — Mark was the primary game-planner," Frost said. "It was a real high percentage of the time that we ran a play because Mark suggested it, or because he saw something from the (press) box that you couldn't see on the field."
To some, Helfrich's decision to put in-game playcalling in the hands of Frost has been interpreted as an unselfish move. Kelly got all the glory the last four years, and here was Helfrich's chance to establish a similar reputation for himself.
The quizzical look on Helfrich's face when presented with that notion Thursday morning illustrated the extent to which that hadn't entered his thinking.
"Being involved in it is the fun part," said Helfrich, who will remain very much involved. "Our players and our assistant coaches will get all the credit, and I'll take the blame, and I'm great with that. We're going to do what's best for our team, and right now I think this is it."
Helfrich's reasons for delegating in-game playcalling are numerous. They reflect his confidence in Frost, who called plays throughout spring practices, and also Helfrich's desire to address other elements of gameday coaching.
Oregon lost several valuable leaders from 2012, the likes of Dion Jordan, Michael Clay and Kenjon Barner, and Helfrich is cognizant of that entering 2013. He wants to be available to help fill the void, at least initially.
"Our whole 'next' mentality — up 20, down 20, it didn't matter, we go to the next play — we're not going to lose that," Helfrich said. "And part of that is, I want to be able to look everybody in the eye at any moment in the game and make sure we're dialed in."
He'll be dialed into the game-plan, as well. What won't change is that the Ducks still will develop a game-plan collaboratively among the offensive coaches early each week, still will tweak and streamline it in over the next few days, and still will provide collective insights about what they're seeing on Saturdays, offering suggestions and possible adjustments to Frost.
All of that very much will involve Helfrich.
"Everybody's seen the coaches in the NFL hold up the great big call sheet in front of their face," Frost said. "I'd say the majority of the time, the play you pick is coming off that sheet. And we'll sit in here all week getting that game-plan sheet ready.
"And Mark's been the primary guy doing that. It's really a cheat sheet — it's like going into a test with a cheat sheet, that Mark has obviously helped with."
There is one potential complication that preseason camp will help with overcoming. Kelly was like a symphony conductor on the field, calling out which piece of music to play, the tempo he wanted — wicked fast, usually — and which members of the orchestra needed to be on hand. With Frost in the press box calling plays, that orchestration will become a group effort.
"We had to be really in tune with Chip — when he wanted to go fast, when we could put new guys on the field, when our guys were tired but we had to leave them out there," Frost said. "Now Mark will be able to do that. A great deal of his time will be spent doing that, making sure everything's right on the field.
"I think it will free Mark up to push tempo from the sideline since he's not having to spit out the verbiage of the play. … So it might work out better. It's just going to be a little bit of an adjustment period."
One Oregon's offensive staff will experience as a group, despite the attention paid to Frost's designation as in-game playcaller.