Oregon Head Coach Mark Helfrich knew the comparisons would be inevitable – how do you replace arguably the most successful football coach in school history? His answer was simple – by being Mark Helfrich.
That formula proved to be successful in 2013. In guiding the Ducks to a first-year mark of 11-2 and a 30-7 Alamo Bowl triumph over Texas, the number of wins equaled three others for the conference record for success by a first-year head coach as well as surpassed his predecessor Chip Kelly’s previous Oregon pinnacle for most wins by a rookie head coach. In addition, Helfrich joined Ducks’ alum John Robinson (USC, 1976) as the league’s only other coach to win a bowl games in his inaugural season.
Only four other squads in school history have ever won as many as 11 football games in a single season (2001, 2010, 2011, 2012) – the former Oregon graduate assistant coach (1997) made it a fifth.
Helfrich helped orchestrate the continuation of the program’s offensive firepower last season as the Ducks led the league in total offense (2nd in the country) for the fourth year in a row, in scoring offense (4th in the nation) for the seventh straight season, and in rushing (9th nationally) for the eighth time in many years.
The transition to head coach has been a relatively smooth one. Six of the assistant coaches who played key roles in the program’s trio of conference championships in the past five years remain, as do three of the assistants who have called Eugene home for more than two decades.
As a result of the change there really has been little change at all.
The 40-year-old Oregon native was appointed the school’s 32nd head football coach on Jan. 20, 2013, following a quartet of seasons as the Ducks’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach during the program’s most prolific era in school history. Oregon tallied a 46-7 ledger and four BCS bowl appearances from 2009-12.
He had accumulated seven seasons as an offensive coordinator at two FBS schools and 15 years coaching quarterbacks.
The first native Oregonian to head the university’s football program in 71 years was named the program’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach following three seasons in the same capacity at Colorado (2006-08), five years as quarterbacks coach at Arizona State (2001-05) - which included his final three campaigns in Tempe, Ariz., as passing game coordinator - and three seasons as quarterbacks coach at Boise State (1998-2000).
It didn’t take long for Helfrich to be recognized for his impact on the Ducks’ offensive success as he was named by FootballScoop as its National Quarterbacks Coach of the Year in 2010 and 2012, in addition to being one of three finalists as its national offensive coordinator of the year honor.
He played a significant role in the development of Darron Thomas, who went on to lead Oregon to the 2011 BCS National Championship Game as a first-year starter, as well as the 2012 Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin. Thomas became the school’s first signal-caller ever to complete more than 30 touchdowns in a single season on two separate occasions, finishing his collegiate career with a school-record 66 scoring strikes.
Helfrich then tutored Pac-12 Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year and two-time first-team all-conference choice Marcus Mariota, who not only quarterbacked the Ducks to a 35-17 win over Kansas State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl but became the circuit’s first freshman to earn first-team all-league honors since 1989. Mariota completed his first collegiate season throwing for a freshman school and conference record 32 TDs, and found himself two scoring passes short of Oregon’ s one-season ledger.
He entered 2014 only three shy of equaling Thomas’ career mark in five fewer appearances.
Over the course of his last 14 seasons, Helfrich has played a role with offenses that have ranked among the nation’s top-eight teams in scoring offense seven times, the upper seven contingents in passing efficiency in four instances, the top six in rushing on four occasions, and the elite five in total offense five times.
Mariota established the Ducks’ freshman record for passing efficiency in 2012 (163.23), finishing seventh in the country as the Pac-12’s leader in each of his first two seasons (167.7 in 2013), while Thomas was 11th nationally in 2011 and second in the league in 2010. Arizona State’s Rudy Carpenter led the nation in passing efficiency under Helfrich’s watchful eye in 2005 after the Sun Devils’ Andrew Walter was second in the Pac-10 in total offense and third in passing efficiency in 2004.
Walter completed 2002 third in the conference in total offense and passing efficiency while Jeff Krohn led the league in passing efficiency in 2001.
Walter set Arizona State records for both career (85) and single-season touchdowns (30) in addition to shattering the previous Pac-10 record for career TD passes, previously set by Stanford’s John Elway (77). The third-round NFL draft pick finished his collegiate career as the school’s career record holder in nearly every passing category.
Ranking as the youngest offensive coordinator in the nation at a BCS school at Colorado in 2006, Helfrich’s offenses were marked by improvement each of his first two seasons in Boulder.
His first Colorado offense averaged 4.5 yards per carry and featured three different players rushing for 500 yards or more for just the 10th time in school history. His 2007 team was just the third in school history to gain 1,000 yards on offense more than the previous season in the same number of games, and scored 30 or more points five times.
During his five-year Arizona State stint, the program blossomed into one of the top passing teams in the country. In his final season there, the Sun Devils finished third in the NCAA and led the Pac-10 in passing yards per game (373.9 avg.) as well as second in the country in passing efficiency. ASU posted a school-record 4,481 yards passing that season to elevate its five-year total to 18,686 yards (306.3 avg.).
While at Boise State, Helfrich tutored one of school’s all-time greats in Bart Hendricks, the 1999 and 2000 Big West Conference Player of the Year. In 2000, the Broncos led the country in scoring (44.9 ppg) and passing efficiency (168.9) while finishing fifth in passing offense (321.6 avg.).
Born in Medford, Ore., the 1992 Marshfield (Coos Bay) High School graduate turned down an opportunity to walk on at Oregon in favor of attending Southern Oregon University, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1996. The NAIA Scholar-Athlete (1993) led the nation in total offense while earning NAIA honorable mention All-America accolades and first-team Columbia Football Association honors as a senior. That season, he accumulated single-season school records in passing yards (2,712), total offense (3,196) and touchdown passes (23), topping the 400-yard mark in single-game total offense three times.
He was inducted into his alma mater’s Athletics Hall of Fame in the fall of 2012.
He began his coaching career as running backs coach at his alma mater in 1996 before playing and coaching (offensive coordinator) in Europe with the Vienna (Austria) Vikings in the winter of 1997.
Mark and his wife, Megan, are the parents of one son, Max (7), and one daughter, Maggie (3).