By Rob Moseley
With Oregon approaching a season-opening matchup against Nicholls on Saturday, the focus of new coach Mark Helfrich’s first pregame press conference Tuesday was on his UO debut more than the X’s and O’s of facing the Colonels.
True to his low-key nature, Helfrich didn’t betray many emotions.
“There’s obviously some anxiety -- of some of these guys that haven’t been in this situation before,” Helfrich said. “But by and large, I think our preparation has been good, and now we just have to go out and play.”
Helfrich will make his head coaching debut Saturday in Autzen Stadium at 1:05 p.m., Oregon’s first game following four highly successful seasons under Chip Kelly. He was asked today if it’s a moment he always dreamed about while growing up in Coos Bay on the Oregon coast.
If he dreamed about coaching one day, Helfrich said, it was actually in the NBA.
“I don’t think I ever did dream about that, and I know that makes some people mad,” Helfrich said. “I always listened to Bill Schonely on the radio with the Blazers, and I remember drawing up inbounds plays. That’s about the closest I ever came to dreaming of coaching. But I think everybody’s excited, and excited for our guys, first and foremost.”
Helfrich said he’s received plenty of advice – “some unsolicited,” he joked – about how Saturday will go. In particular, he has spoken with his predecessors with the Ducks, Rich Brooks, Mike Bellotti and Kelly.
The last piece of advice he’ll receive will come, as usual, from his brother John. The two speak every gameday when Helfrich gets to the stadium, a tradition he plans to continue, and which started innocently enough.
“We just did it one day and kind of said, ‘Hey, we should do this all the time,’” Helfrich said.
He’ll have help from his team leaders, too. Helfrich said Taylor Hart, Tony Washington, Wade Keliikipi, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Marcus Mariota, Hroniss Grasu and Josh Huff have stepped up to fill the leadership void left by Oregon’s 2012 seniors. Helfrich has also been pleased to see De’Anthony Thomas become more vocal this fall.
Mariota remains a somewhat soft-spoken individual, but he’s been progressing as a leader, Helfrich said. The coach compared Mariota to Andrew Walter, a guy Helfrich coached at Arizona State, who was also relatively quiet but learned to raise his voice with the team over time.
Overall, Helfrich said, “Marcus has been, both as a player and as a leader, he’s had an outstanding camp.”
Helfrich hasn’t just been receiving input, but providing it. He’s met with his successor as UO offensive coordinator, Scott Frost, about what to expect Saturday.
Helfrich’s primary message: “Attack. Go fast.”
Like Kelly before him, however, Helfrich has had very little input on defense, beyond personnel decisions such as redshirts, etc.
“Those guys are experts,” Helfrich said of his defensive staff. “They’ve done a great job. I’m not in there teaching (defensive line coach) Ron Aiken how to two-gap.”
Regarding the matchups with Nicholls, Helfrich said the Colonels are “very multiple” on defense, and can hurt opponents with the mobility of their quarterback.
As much as anything, though, he’s excited to see how his own team handles itself Saturday.
“We’re excited to go, as a team, as a group, as a unit,” Helfrich said. “We’re ramping up to that day.