- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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Just about everyone inside the Oregon program has faith in Mark Helfrich, believes he can keep the Ducks among the nation's elite after he was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach, replacing Chip Kelly.
After all, that's what Oregon did when Rich Brooks, the grandfather of the Ducks' national relevance, handed off to Mike Bellotti and when Bellotti handed off to Kelly. Helfrich is the third consecutive sitting offensive coordinator to be promoted, and the formula has yet to let the school down.
For about a year, Helfrich was widely known as the heir-apparent to Kelly, and it was widely thought he'd ascend sooner rather than later after Kelly's flirtation with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year.
The profiles have mostly been written -- he's an Oregon guy through and through, a state native and a son of a former Duck. He's a lighter touch than Kelly. He's smart. His specialty is quarterbacks. He'll provide system continuity. And he'll retain most of the staff, one that is considered among the nation's best.
But now belief yields to actual day-to-day business results. Speculation will be replaced by performance: The signing of a recruiting class on Feb. 6. Spring practices. His first disciplinary issues. Deciding who calls plays.
The good news is he doesn't face the difficult career opener Kelly did, that regrettable evening at Boise State. Recall that shortly after that humiliating defeat and LeGarrette Blount meltdown, there was a sense of panic among some fans that Kelly was in over his head. Fair to say he wasn't.
Helfrich gets Nicholls State, then a Nevada team breaking in a new coach and a Tennessee squad doing the same. His Pac-12 opener and road debut is at Colorado. So the odds are high that he and the Ducks will be 4-0 and ranked in the top 5 -- top 3? -- when they head to Seattle to play their good friends, the Washington Huskies, in renovated Husky Stadium on Oct. 12.
Now, I don't want to blow you guys away with my local knowledge, but there could be some emotions surrounding that one. Washington looks like it has the personnel in place to make a move in Year 5 under Steve Sarkisian. Beating Oregon at home would feel transformative to Huskies fans. And to Ducks fans, though they will surely harrumph the notion.
The reality for Helfrich is one that no other Ducks coach faced before: Three losses is a bad season. Failing to win the Pac-12 is a disappointment. And Ducks fans are ready for their national title, if you please, Mark.
Helfrich now moves into the corner office in the Moshofsky Center. It's a big space to fill. No man has sat there who did any better than Kelly.
We suspect it will mostly be business as usual. But you only know when you know. Further, the true measure won't come in 2013. We'll only have a good idea of the Helfrich era if three or four years from now the Ducks remain atop the Pac-12 and ranked in the top 10.
The initial feeling among players and staffers about the Helfrich hire? Elation.
Athletic director Rob Mullens believe the program will stay on top.
Continuity was important.
The initial recruiting buzz is positive, too.
Helfrich will continue 99 percent of what Kelly did.
You can watch the introductory news conference here.
By the way, Chip, you're buying dinner (and drinks) next time. And I'm ordering the lobster.
4hChantel Jennings and Ted Miller