Should Oregon fire Mark Helfrich? Everybody is asking that right now. I’ll save my opinion for later because first I want to lay out the numbers. Forget recruiting and the lack of swagger or attitude on the team, let’s just look at the numbers.
Chip Kelly’s first year as offensive coordinator, 2007, Oregon averaged 42.8 points per game on offense up until Dennis Dixon got injured. His second year, we averaged 41.9ppg. Chip’s first year as head coach, 2009, you could expect some sort of drop off considering he had never been a head coach before, but nonetheless, we averaged 36ppg. His second season as coach, we were up to 47ppg in 2010. 2011 we averaged 46ppg and 2012 we averaged 49.6ppg. Mark Helfrich’s first season, we averaged 45.5ppg in 2013 and 45.4ppg his second season in 2014. Last year, 2015, we averaged 43ppg and this year half way into the season we are averaging 36.8ppg. What do I make of this?
As offensive coordinator, Chip’s production only declined by 0.9ppg from year one to year two, even though year two he didn’t have Dennis Dixon and had to use four different quarterbacks. As head coach, the offense got better each year except for a slight 1ppg decrease in his third year. From year one to year four, Chip’s offense got better by 13.6ppg. Mark Helfrich’s first year was 45.5ppg, his second year at 45.4ppg, his third year at 43ppg and this year at 36.8ppg. From his first year to his fourth, the offensive scoring has decreased by 8.7ppg. What about the players, specifically the quarterback?
With Marcus Mariota in 2012, Chip averaged 49.6ppg. In Helfrich’s first year, with Mariota, we averaged 45.5ppg. Let’s say you give him the benefit of the doubt though, being his first year and all. You expect it’ll go up his second year. Although a tiny decrease, Helfrich’s second year with Mariota, scoring decreases by 0.1ppg. Mark Helfrich offenses with Mariota were worse scoring wise than both of Chip Kelly’s Darron Thomas led offenses, which averaged 47ppg in 2010 and 46ppg in 2011. Mark Helfrich led Mariota offenses were at least 4ppg worse than Chip’s Mariota offense. This year’s offense, at 36.8ppg, led by Dakota Prukop and now Justin Herbert, is in fact 5.1ppg worse than the 2008 offense led by freaking Justin Roper at times, Chris Harper for a game, Darron Thomas for parts, and Jeremiah Masoli for the late part of the season. The offense in Helfrich’s fourth year is barely better than it was in Chip’s first year as head coach, with Jeremiah Masoli, who wasn’t a good passer. If a Chip Kelly offense led by Darron Thomas was better than his offense run by Dennis Dixon, then why is a Helfrich offense lead by Mariota not better than a Chip offense run by Darron Thomas? Why was a Justin Roper/Chris Harper/Darron Thomas/Jeremiah Masoli offense with Chip as OC nearly as good as a Vernon Adams led offense with Helfrich? So yea, that’s just offense. Let’s go to defense!
Oregon’s never thought of as having great defenses, but normally the stats and points we give up are misleading because our fast offense allows the other team to run more plays per game, and thus score more and gain more yards. To truly get a reflection of Oregon’s defense, I compared our plays per game to Alabama’s plays per game and used math to figure out what our numbers would have been if our defense only had to play the number of snaps Alabama’s played.
In Chip’s first year as head coach, 2009, using the Alabama curve, we’d have given up 19.5ppg, the 19th best scoring defense in the country, compared to 50th that we actually were, because we played an additional 13.3 snaps per game. In 2010, Chip’s second year, we would’ve been at 15.6ppg, the 6th best scoring defense in the country, instead of 12th as we were. 2011 would’ve been 17.7ppg, or 8th best in the country, rather than 52. We played 21.5 more snaps per game that year on defense compared to Alabama. 2012, we would’ve been at 17ppg, or 11th best, instead of 25th as we were. So really, all of Chip’s defenses, when factoring in how many additional plays per game we faced, were top 20 defenses, with two of them top ten. In other words, Chip’s defenses were pretty damn good.
Mark Helfrich’s first year, 2013, had a pretty damn good defense too. With an Alabama curve, they’d be at 15.2ppg, or the 5th best in the country, instead of 13th. His second year though when we made the Natty against Ohio State, we drop to 22ppg with the curve, or 26th best instead of 49th as we were. Last year we would’ve been at 30ppg, or 86th instead of 116th. This year we’d currently be at 33.4ppg, or 101st instead of 125th. Read of that what you will, but it doesn’t look good. What could explain the fall off? Why was the defense so great in Helfrich’s first year, and at least still respectable his second year?
Nick Aliotti, the longtime defensive coordinator known for bend but don’t break who flourished under Chip Kelly, was still the DC in Helfrich’s first year. It was his last year though. Don Pellum took over for him, and rightfully gets a lot of heat for being a terrible DC, but his first defense in 2014 was still respectable, but then his second year, Helfrich’s third year, everything came apart. Why? Well, it takes a new coach three years to get his players into the system. A college coach’s third year is usually a near perfect indicator of the longtime direction of the program under that coach. In other words, your first two years are still mostly the previous coach’s players. The drop off from year one of Helfrich to year two was caused by Aliotti retiring. Year two to year three free fall wasn’t because Don Pellum suddenly got worse, it’s because he no longer had Chip’s players. Year four, the DC is now Brady Hoke, but the defense keeps getting worse. It’s nothing about Hoke, because at previous jobs he has proven himself to know defense. It’s because Helfrich is the coach, it’s all his players now. If you have three different DC’s and the defense still sucks, it’s not because of terrible DC’s, it’s because of the head coach.
Now, instead of points per game defense, let’s look at yards per game defense, see what we discover there. Again, I’ll be using the Alabama curve, so we get a real look at Oregon’s defense. 2009, Chip’s first year, they would’ve been at 274ypg, good for 9th best in the country. 2010, year two, would be 288ypg, 6th best. Year three, 280ypg, 7th best. Year four of Chip, 296ypg, 6th best. Using the Alabama curve, all of Chip’s defenses, in terms of yards given up, would’ve been top 10 defenses. Mark Helfrich’s first year, 2013 with Nick Aliotti still as DC, would’ve been at 274ypg, 3rd best in the country. The Stanford and Arizona games made it feel like that wasn’t a great defense, but it was, only giving up 4.6 yards per play, 0.1ypp more than Alabama. Helfrich’s second year would’ve been 357ypg, 33rd best, so not even a top 25 defense. Year three, last year, would’ve been 382ypg, 55th in the country and this year would be at 413ypg, 75th in the country. Right now, Oregon has the 126th best defense in the country in terms of yards per game, which is the same as a Nick Saban defense being ranked 75th. From year one to year four under Chip, the defense went from 9th best to 6th best. From year one of Helfrich to year four of Helfrich, the defense has gone from 3rd best to 75th best.
If you want the actual numbers without the Alabama curve, from year one of Chip to year four of Chip, the defense went from giving up 23.8ppg to 21.6ppg. From year one of Helfrich to year four of Helfrich, the defense has gone from 20.5ppg to 41.8ppg. Looking at yards per play now, Chip’s defenses went from 4.6ypp to 4.7ypp to 5.1ypp back down to 4.9ypp. Helfrich’s defenses have gone from 4.6ypp to 5.5ypp to 6.0ypp to now 6.4ypp.
Looking at Chip Kelly’s teams, they got better each season. They were great in every part of the game. No matter how you look at it, Mark Helfrich’s teams are getting worse each passing season, not only on defense, but also on offense. Oregon is heading in the wrong direction under Mark Helfrich, which is why I personally believe he needs to be fired asap. We don’t need a Tom Herman or god forbid Art Briles, but there are up and coming guys similar to what Chip Kelly was. PJ Fleck, the Western Michigan guy, he’d be a good hire. His WMU teams get better each season, similar to Chip’s teams. He has a mantra like Chip’s Win The Day, except his is ‘Rock The Boat’ which would be perfect at Oregon, because rocking the boat is how we got to be an elite program. So yup, anyways those are my thoughts! Hopefully Oregon doesn’t let Helfrich continue destroying everything Chip built.