Earlier this week, we delved into the potential replacements for Mark Helfrich, but most were up-and-coming mid-major coaches, not established Power 5 names. As the search gets serious, several well-known media outlets are linking names like Florida's Jim McElwain and West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen as serious contenders.
Is Oregon a major upgrade for these guys? Would they even want to come to Oregon?
1. The Ghost of Chip
Oregon's run as one of the 10 best gigs in college football was short-lived. When Mike Bellotti took over an aggressively mediocre Ducks team in the mid-90s, it took him years to built it into a double-digit win, Pac 10 title contender. Then he handed it off to Chip Kelly who turned Oregon into a college football super-power.
Kelly's Ducks won 10 games in each of his first two seasons, then 12 in each of the next three before he departed for the NFL, leaving behind a behind a legacy every subsequent coach will have to live up to (or not, in Helfrich's case).
2. The Highest Possible Expectations
Impossible standards or no, the program has certainly declined in the four years since Kelly's departure. You don't have to look much further than the recent Helfrich firing to find serious red flags. Helfrich was essentially butchered in the press release announcing his release, which didn't even happen until every media outlet in the country was reporting he was out the door.
This is part of the actual press release:
"Oregon's first loss of 2016 was at Nebraska, a 35-32 defeat in which the Ducks went for two after all five of their touchdowns and converted once.
The next week, Pac-12 began with a loss to Colorado in which the Ducks allowed 41 points and threw an interception on a potential game-winning TD pass in the final minute.
The recently completed season also included one-sided losses to Washington (70-21), Southern California (45-20), and Stanford (52-27). An upset of No. 11 Utah on Nov. 19 kept alive Oregon's hopes of making a bowl despite a 5-7 record, but the loss in Cornvallis ended that."
That was brutal. We get it — the Oregon brass is trying to justify the decision, but doesn't everyone associated with the program know how the season went down? Is adding insult to injury as Helfrich cleans out his over-the-top office really the best move? Other coaches pay attention to things like this. Not a good look.
3. Recruiting/The Rise of the Pac-12
The state of Oregon is not a recruiting hotbed. Never has been. It didn't produce a signle five-star recruit in the 2017 class (according to 247Sports.com), and the two four-stars it did produce signed with Chris Peterson and Washington.
It seems like the rest of the Pac-12 is rising just as Oregon is falling off. Washington will be in the College Football Playoffs if they win this Friday. USC is always good and seems to be trending up, Colorado is relevant for the first time in nearly a decade, and Utah and Washington State are the best they've been in decades.
Whoever signs on to lead the Oregon program next will have to scrap and claw for everything they get.
This isn't Chip Kelly's Oregon anymore (although every Oregon fan wishes it was). Many college football teams have moved toward the fast-paced, high-tempo offensive style the Ducks made famous. It isn't uncommon for any Power 5 program to rock multiple alternate uniforms throughout the season, either. The rest of college football liked what they saw in Eugene, imitated it and improved upon it, and the Ducks haven't done enough to stay ahead of the curve.[divider]
The football facilities are a dream for potential recruits. The locker room has a futuristic feel, with murals of each player painted from wall to wall. There is an in-house barber shop for players to always keep a fresh cut. The next coach, whoever he may be, shall make his important decisions in the best office in college football. It provides a stunning view of the practice facilities, while still maintaining a high-class feel. There's even a private hot tub. Even further, Oregon players are treated to the latest and greatest Nike swag.
Money isn't a hindrance in Eugene, either. Helfrich made just north of $3 million per season in 2016, but was showered with bonuses and add ons that weren't built in his base salary.
Most coaches probably don't care about nice things, but players certainly do. Still, are top-notch facilities enough to sway some of the top names in the FBS?
Let's break down each name getting tossed around.
Jim McElwain, Florida
Florida head coach Jim McElwain leads his team on to the field earlier this season. (Florida Athletics).
This one seems like a lengthy stretch. Oregon is not an upgrade from Florida. The SEC is the premiere conference in college football, and Florida isn't far from becoming a major contender. The Gators were getting tossed around in College Football Playoff conversations as recent as last week, and McElwain wouldn't walk away right now.
Florida has a reputation. Florida has a brand. The Gators are still considered a top destination for the nation's top prospects. Coming into this season, McElwain boasted the No. 6 recruiting class in the SEC, with nine four-star recruits. Zach Abolverdi, the lead Florida writer for SECCountry.com, dismisses McElwain's desire to leave for Oregon completely. This one seems like an unrealistic rumor. [divider]
Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
Holgorsen could be the right fit. He's an offensive mastermind, often bringing new and innovative concepts to his West Virginia squad. In the high-powered Big 12, the Mountaineers finished with the No. 4 offense in the conference, averaging 514.6 yards per game. WVU was ranked within the top 25 all season long, helping Holgorsen's case.
One factor to keep an eye on is West Virginia's inability to reach a contract extension with Holgorsen last Spring. Job security goes a long way, so it wouldn't be a shock to see the WVU front man make the move. The Mountaineers defense should also be noted. The Big-12 rarely places an emphasis on defense, but Holgorsen made it a priority. The Mountaineers own the No. 3 defense in the conference, allowing 5.54 yards per play. Oregon ranked No. 11 in the Pac-12 this season under Helfrich, so an upgrade is in store. [divider]
Larry Fedora, North Carolina
North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora addresses the media at the ACC preseason media conference. (ACC Media).
The Tar Heels front man was one of the hottest names in the country after a strong 2015 outing. North Carolina took a step back this season (8-4), but Oregon would be an upgrade from Chapel Hill. Similar to Holgorsen, Fedora runs a fast-paced offense that would be appealing to the Oregon brand. Brett Friedlander, who covers North Carolina for the North State Journal, thinks now is a good time for Fedora to leave but hasn't heard anything concrete.
"Since the buzz about LSU has stopped, I haven't heard anything about Fedora," Friedlander said. "This would be a good time for him to leave, with a lot of his top players not returning and he might consider Oregon. But I have not heard anything to this point. I can also tell you that while Baylor would be going home for him, he is 100 percent not interested in that job. After what he went through in his first couple of years at UNC, he doesn't want to have to deal with an off-the-field mess again." [divider]
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
Mullen has struggled in the SEC as of late, so a move to Eugene could actually be an upgrade. The Bulldogs' front man put together his best outing in 2014, when Mississippi State finished 10-3 and earned a trip to the Orange Bowl. Since then, Mullen's group has steadily declined, and in the SEC, it's tough to make up ground.
There are just so many better options for potential recruits. Why would a top-tier prospect choose Mississippi State when Alabama, LSU or even Ole Miss are options? Entering the year, Mississippi State held the No. 11 recruiting class in the conference. If Mullen is given the chance, he should jump on it right away.