Oregon OC Helfrich is glad to be home

August, 26, 2009
8/26/09
1:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

He was born in Medford, grew up in Coos Bay, starred at Marshfield High School and played quarterback for Southern Oregon.

So if you're wondering why Mark Helfrich jumped at the chance to leave Colorado to become Oregon's offensive coordinator -- even if that meant surrendering play-calling duties -- just know that his Oregon roots run deep.

He's 35 and the offensive coordinator of the team he grew up rooting for, so he's not going to fret about Chip Kelly retaining play-calling duties when he moved up from coordinator to head coach.

"That's not something that entered my thinking at all," Helfrich said. "I'm here because this is a great place, a place where I've always wanted to be. That part is secondary in my mind."

Another reason he won't be calling plays: This is Helfrich's first experience with a spread-option offense.

"We ran some element of almost everything they've been doing here," he said. "Just not as a total-commitment type thing."

Not that Helfrich, whose first coaching break came when Mike Bellotti hired him as a graduate assistant for the Ducks, doesn't have something to bring to the playbook. His previous mentors include Dirk Koetter -- Helfrich was quarterbacks coach at Boise State and Arizona State -- and Dan Hawkins, who hired Helfrich to coordinator the Buffaloes offense in 2006.

Both Koetter and Hawkins are highly respected offensive coaches. Bellotti wasn't too shabby on that side of the ball either.

Of course, it will be interesting to see what sort of mark he puts on the Ducks offense. When Kelly was hired, he promoted line coach Steve Greatwood to running game coordinator, so there will be a number of chefs in the kitchen, particularly as Helfrich digests Kelly's scheme.

"That's an ever-evolving deal. You say, 'Hey, what about this off of this?' Or you change a formation to do this. Those are things we do on a daily basis," he said. "[The spread-option] wasn't the core of my knowledge base, but it's certainly something we can complement and augment and keep taking it to the next level."

Helfrich has the advantage of working with a quarterback, Jeremiah Masoli, who seemed to break through with the scheme over the latter quarter of the 2008 season. That will ease the pressure on Helfrich.

In fact, the biggest question on offense falls on Greatwood. The Ducks offensive line is replacing three productive starters, two of whom were NFL draft picks.

"Whenever you lose that many starters, there's going to be an initial drop-off in cohesiveness," Helfrich said. "That's part of offensive line -- that instant, speaking in secret codes and playing together. But Coach Greatwood does a great job, and I think that's been a little bit of a chip on their shoulder, being the stepchild of the team. I heard somebody commenting the other day, 'Hey, we can read the paper, too.' If that's their motivation, great."

As for his immediate contribution, Helfrich's use of helmet cams to help the coaches see what a quarterback was looking at when he made a decision has been a big hit.

"It looks cool," quarterback Jeremiah Masoli said. "It's a little shaky. But you can really see if your eyes are on the right read key or if you're looking at the coverage."

Helfrich admits that he sometimes catches himself his old offensive terminology, but that is fading. Returning home might make him nostalgic, but he's primarily forward-thinking as he tries to produce another blockbuster offense for Oregon.

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