What was anticipated after a disappointing season has happened: Mark Helfrich has been fired as the head coach of the Oregon Ducks football program. The announcement was made late Tuesday night after Helfrich met with Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens.
Head Coach Mark Helfrich of the Oregon Ducks has been fired, costing the university millions. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens announced a change in leadership in the football program Tuesday, ending the four-year tenure of head coach Mark Helfrich.
“We want to thank Mark for his eight years with the University of Oregon and appreciate his efforts on behalf of Oregon football,” Mullens said. “We wish Mark and his family the best.”
After taking over for Chip Kelly, who exited to explore opportunities in the NFL, Helfrich took over in 2013 guiding the Ducks to a 37-16 record. He guided the Ducks to the College Football Playoff championship game after the 2014 regular season losing to Ezekiel Elliot and Ohio State 42-20.
Since then, Helfrich has had spotty results. In 2015, the Ducks went 9-4 and then lost the Alamo Bowl where TCU mounted a 31-point comeback. This season the team had an anemic 4-8 record with their last loss to Oregon State in the Civil War where the Beavers broke a losing streak to the Ducks that had stood since 2007.
While talk of Helfrich’s firing had been discussed in college football circles for most of the 2016 season, Oregon currently has no replacement in place.
A press release from Oregon announcing Helfrich’s firing makes no mention of any plans going forward other than saying the program is “moving in a new direction.”
The move by Oregon comes with considerable salary considerations. According his contract, he has $11.6 million in buyout from under the contract the five-year, $17.5 million extension he reached in February of 2015.
And that’s not all. According to the Eugene Register Guard, eight of nine assistant coaches are under guaranteed contracts through January of 2018 while defensive coordinator Brady Hoke is under contract through 2019.
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What’s stunning in the move by Oregon, besides no replacement in place and the guaranteed contracts of not only Helfrich, but his staff who would likely also need replacing should the head coach vacancy be filled from outside is that Oregon could have saw their buyout of Helfrich drop to approx. $3.7 million if the Ducks had a losing season in 2017.
Helfrich had guaranteed base salaries of $3.5 million for 2017-18, $3.7 million for 2018-19, and $3.85 million for 2019-20. If Oregon were to try and lure a top-tier head coach from another program, additional costs could come with. As an example, it’s costing Texas approx. $19 million to buyout Charlie Strong and his staff and bring in Tom Herman.
As to where the money would come from to cover the costs at Oregon, it’s possible the Ducks’ most-famous booster, former U of O alum and co-founder and chairman emeritus of Nike, Inc. could assist.
What is certain now is uncertainty. The student-athletes in the Oregon football program have no idea who is going to take over the helm next season, ostensibly leaving the players in limbo. If Oregon truly is about “Win The Day”, they head into the off-season looking like “Searching For Tomorrow.”
Maury Brown is the owner of Bizball, LLC, a research and analytics company, as well a member of the BBWAA. Follow him on Twitter @BizballMaury or on Facebook