Mark Helfrich is Oregon football’s next man in.
The Ducks wasted little time finding a replacement for Chip Kelly, promoting their affable offensive coordinator to head coach Sunday. Kelly left on Wednesday to become coach of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.
Helfrich is the third straight offensive coordinator at Oregon to be promoted to the top job, following Kelly and Kelly’s predecessor, Mike Bellotti.
A 39-year-old Oregon native, Helfrich signed a five-year deal with the Ducks for a reported $9 million. His promotion comes as no surprise: Even before Oregon defeated Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl earlier this month, the Ducks’ quarterbacks guru was considered the front-runner as Kelly’s successor.
“Going forward we will attack in all phases. We’ll embrace innovation and we’ll strive to do our best to win each and every day," Helfrich said Sunday afternoon at a news conference, where he was supported by players including quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back De’Anthony Thomas.
Helfrich, who embodies Oregon’s “Next Man In" philosophy of substitution without skipping a beat, became offensive coordinator of the Ducks when Kelly took over four seasons ago. The Ducks have appeared in Bowl Championship Series bowls each of those four years, including an appearance in the national championship game against Auburn in 2011.
The Ducks, ranked No. 2 in the final AP Top 25, finished 12-1 this season.
“ ‘Win the day’ (Oregon football’s slogan in the Kelly era) and all that — that doesn’t change for us," Mariota said.
Kelly, credited with creating Oregon’s innovative hurry-up spread offense, went 46-7 as head coach at Oregon. It had been widely expected that he would jump to the NFL, leaving many surprised when he announced he was staying at Oregon after interviewing with Philadelphia, Cleveland and Buffalo following the Fiesta Bowl. Nine days later, however, he changed his mind and decided to go to the Eagles.
Just hours after Kelly’s departure was announced, Oregon posted a job for a new head coach on its website. Under state law, Oregon was required to interview at least one qualified minority candidate for the job.
Former Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton acknowledged Saturday that he interviewed with Oregon before he was hired by the Indianapolis Colts to be their offensive coordinator.
Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens said the university had already started the process of finding a replacement for Kelly following the Fiesta Bowl. He said it was important to name a successor quickly, because letter-of-intent signing day for high school recruits is Feb. 6.
Mullens said he received interest from an “impressive list of coaches for the job." In the end, he interviewed five candidates in person.
“We went through the process because we felt it was important to do our due diligence and we kept coming back to Mark," Mullens said Sunday.
Before joining the Ducks, Helfrich was quarterbacks coach at Colorado from 2006 to 2008. As Oregon’s offensive coordinator, he also has been in charge of Oregon’s quarterbacks, guiding both Darron Thomas and Mariota, a redshirt freshman.
This past season, Mariota set the team’s single-season record with 38 touchdowns (32 passing, five rushing, one receiving), surpassing the previous mark of 36 held by Thomas (2011) and Akili Smith (1998).
The first freshman named to the Pac-12’s all-conference first team in 23 years, Mariota passed for 2,739 yards, completing a school-record 68.5 percent of his passes. He had 3,429 yards of total offense, second only to Smith’s 3,947 yards in 1998.
No major changes are expected under Helfrich. But he hinted that he may allow reporters and boosters greater access to practice — something that Kelly had shut down this season — and he joked about a few other tweaks.
“I won’t wear a visor (like Kelly)," he said. “I’ll eat more vegetables."
Helfrich will also face possible fallout from an NCAA investigation into the school’s use of recruiting services.
Sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it had not been announced said Sunday that Oregon promoted wide-receivers coach Scott Frost, the former Nebraska quarterback, to replace Helfrich as offensive coordinator.
Frost, 38, came to Oregon in 2009 after serving as an assistant at Northern Iowa. He played seven seasons in the NFL after leading Nebraska to the national title over Tennessee in the 1997 Orange Bowl.