A few weeks ago, Duck Sports Authority asked for readers opinions about the most interesting position battles heading into Spring camp.
Today, we add in a "position" that was much discussed but not included in any polls or other previous topics. The last part of this series is not about a defender or an offensive plyer; nor is it about a kicker or other special teams player. Our final position review: head coach.
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Clearly the biggest story of the off-season for Oregon was the departure of head coach Chip Kelly. When Kelly left to take the head coaching job for the Philadelphia Eagles, there was a huge void left in one of the nation's elite programs.
Many had expected, and had discussed openly, that Mark Helfrich, the offensive coordinator for four seasons under Kelly would be promoted and the Oregon program would move forward. When news of Kelly's reversal first came to light, there were many questions about how much of the coaching staff would be affected.
When the dust had settled, the only position coach to leave was defensive line coach. Kelly did take a couple of key staff positions along with him as long time employee and former Duck athlete James Harris left along with two graduate assistant coaches, one intern and one member of the football operations staff.
WHAT WE LEARNED
The most important lesson learned during the lead up to Spring camp related to the hiring decisions Helfrich would make. As expected, Helfrich promoted Scott Frost to offensive coordinator leaving two position coach slots to fill.
Helfrich took advantage of Oregon's high profile to nab two exceptional coaches. Matt Lubick, the son of former Colorado State head coach Sonny Lubick was brought to Oregon from Duke. Lubick's past success with Arizona State as well as an incredible run with the Blue Devils show not only his coaching acumen, but also his ability to recruit. Duke is one of the toughest places to recruit for a football coach. There is no tradition of success and the academic standards are very difficult. Despite those recruiting disadvantages, Lubick's receivers were highly successful at Duke.
Ron Aiken, hired to replace the departed Jerry Azzinarro, brings with him an NFL pedigree few recent Oregon position coaches can challenge. Aiken's success with the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL brings a credibility to high school players that will be valuable.
Defensive linemen have been some of the toughest recruits to pull, Aiken's pedigree from the NFL should create a better chance to nab highly sought after defensive linemen.
Counting the promotion of Frost as a hire, these three hires set the tone for the stamp Helfrich would place on the Oregon program as its head coach. Helfrich stated in the press conference announcing his promotion that Oregon is the pinnacle. As long as he sustains the excellence, he does not aspire to anything other than being the Oregon head coach. That will create an additional stability for the program that will be critical moving forward.
The next lessons we would learn about exactly what "0.8 percent" means when it comes to this football team began to be answered during the Spring game.
One major lesson revolved around practice. Yes; practices will still be closed. The players voted and said they preferred practice to remain closed. Yes, practice pace will still be fast. In fact, by many accounts, the pace of practice was even faster this year than in years past.
As a former quarterback coach; who hired a former quarterback to be his offensive coordinator and replaced him with another outstanding wide receiver coach, it appears that passing will increase under Helfrich. While there may have been many legitimate reasons for the increased percentage of passing plays in the Spring game this season, those same reasons were present in years past. This year saw the percentage of passing plays in the Spring game increase by about 4% over last season. Not a significant increase, but enough to suggest that the Ducks may throw the ball just a bit more in 2013 than they have the past four seasons
ANALYSIS: So far the changes that have been made appear to be positive for the Ducks as the hires made by Helfrich are outstanding. Aiken and Lubick bring a mix of college and NFL success that should work well when sitting in living rooms talking to parents and student-athletes.
The promotion of Frost was very important as he had become a highly sought after assistant coach while at Oregon. His experience as an option quarterback along with his work coaching wide receivers for the past four seasons make him a valuable asset to Helfrich and Oregon.
Aiken's experience at the collegiate level with Iowa and at the NFL with the Cardinals will sit well with many parents and players alike.
The on-field product looked as potent as ever. It helps to have an All-Conference level quarterback returning to smooth the transition, but the Ducks success will continue to be about more than one player; it is about the entire team.
The 2013 Ducks will be just as fast and furious on the football field as in years past. They may throw the ball a little more than they have, but with the talent and depth at wide receiver along with one of the most physically gifted tight ends in the nation and an all-conference quarterback, the team should throw the ball a little more.
Stay tuned to Duck Sports Authority for all the developments and competition throughout the summer and fall camp.