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January 21, 2013

Ducks name Helfrich head coach

A new era dawned for the Oregon Ducks on Sunday as they announced their new head coach to replace Chip Kelly, who flirted with the NFL for a year before deciding the Philadelphia Eagles were for him last week.

Wednesday morning at 7:15 Kelly called Oregon Athletic Director Rob Mullens to let him know he had decided to move back east. Less than a week later Mullens had an announcement to make at a 1:00pm press conference at Autzen Stadium.

"I received interest from an impressive list of coaches throughout the football world," began Mullens. "We were looking for a coach who exemplifies excellence, leadership and character, and who would embrace what our winning football culture is all about.

"We found that person in Mark Helfrich. Mark has 17 years of coaching experience at the very highest levels, he has been vitally important to our success here the past four years. He is a man devoted to his family, to his players, to his University and community and I am excited to see Mark lead the Ducks to even greater heights."

With that the Ducks identified the man who would lead the high-powered Ducks into the future. While Helfrich was long-rumored to be the top candidate should Chip Kelly depart, Mullens conducted a brief but surprisingly thorough job search.

"We talked to an awful lot of people," said Mullens. "We conducted five in-person interviews. We talked to several other people on the phone. As you might imagine there were lots of calls."

When Chip Kelly flew the Duck coop for the green grass of Philadelphia, recruiting for the class of 2013 was in full swing. With their class only two-thirds full and only three weeks remaining until national letter-of-intent day, Mullens was put to work finding a replacement with the clock ticking loudly. Luckily he was prepared.

"This didn't start on Wednesday at 7:15 when I got the call," explained Mullens. "We were very aware a year ago that this was a possibility. Very aware again shortly after the Fiesta Bowl that it was a possibility so the wheels are always spinning. You don't start the clock when you get the official resignation. These things are always happening. While people want to say it took 'x' number of days, these things, there is process that starts long before that."

The process of interviewing candidates solidified his opinion.

"Mark is a great coach," said Mullens. "We met with a lot of great coaches. What we learned from this process reaffirmed exactly what we thought about Mark. We went through the process because we felt it was important to do our due diligence and everything kept pointing back to Mark Helfrich.

"We were very thorough. Internally, externally, I talked to a lot of people; NFL people, agents, scouts, AD's, other coaches. We gathered a lot of input and fortunately for us it all pointed to one person, and he happens to live right here in the same zip code."

In fact, the new Oregon head coach has lived near the same zip code most of his life. The Coos Bay native explained his deep roots in the University.

"Growing up in Oregon, raised about two hours from here," said Helfrich. "Playing pickup ball in Autzen before there was all this other stuff around Autzen Stadium and dreaming of someday playing in Autzen Stadium. Luckily for Duck fans I was never allowed to play for the Ducks in Autzen Stadium. Coach Brooks and Coach Bellotti at that time made a very good evaluation. A couple high school games in there but that was the extent of that dream. My dad went to school here played here. My uncle played football here. My brother and his wife, my mom, so many other family and friends that went to school here make this home."

The Oregon Ducks have been building success over the last couple decades. Rich Brooks handed Mike Bellotti an improving program who in turn did the same for Chip Kelly. Under Kelly the last four years the Ducks have become a fixture among the elite programs with four consecutive trips to BCS bowls.

Helfrich doesn't expect to alter the formula for success too much.

"It is going to be 99.2% of the time we are in lock-step," predicted Helfrich. "It is going to be that 0.8% where you go 'whoa, that's totally different.' I won't wear a visor. I'll eat more vegetables. We are about a process. We know the endgame and there are different coaches who have been successful of all different shapes and sizes, personalities and temperaments. It is about the players and the process."

While known for his quick wit and ready smile off the field, the Ducks will nonetheless be an aggressive outfit under their new head coach.

"Going forward we will attack in all phases," said Helfrich. "We will embrace innovation and will try our best to win each and every day. To the great fans of this program and the University community, I promise you we will work as hard as we possibly can and make you proud. It is an honor for me to be chosen as the caretaker of Oregon football. It is a job certainly bigger than any one person, one player or any team. Thank you again and Go Ducks."

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