EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Oregon has fired coach Mark Helfrich after a disappointing 4-8 season, and just two years after getting the Ducks within a victory of the program’s first national championship.
Helfrich was head coach of the Ducks for four seasons, leading the team to the first College Football Playoff championship game after the 2014 season. But Oregon faltered this year with a five-game losing streak, and finished at the bottom of the Pac-12 North with just two conference wins.
Helfrich was 37-16 record after taking over from Chip Kelly in 2013. He had an $11.6 million buyout on his contract with the Ducks.
Helfrich met with athletic director Rob Mullens on Tuesday night and was told was being dismissed. Helfrichissued a statement saying he was honored to have served at Oregon.
“Plain and simple — we didn’t win enough games this season,” Helfrich said.
Oregon had not fired a head coach since 1976, when Don Read was let go after three seasons.
Ducks started this season ranked No. 24 in the preseason AP Top 25, but lost 35-32 at Nebraska in the third week of the season, starting the team’s longest losing streak since 1996.
The Ducks had a brief revival with a 30-28 victory over then-No. 11 Utah in Salt Lake City two weeks ago, but they ended the season with a 34-24 loss to rival Oregon State in the 120th Civil War game this past Saturday. The loss snapped an eight-game Oregon winning streak in the series.
Afterward, Helfrich was asked about job security.
“Nobody’s job is safe in college football,” he said. “That’s just the nature of the beast.”
Fan discontentment with Helfrich grew as the season dragged on and wins were scarce. Some questioned the wisdom of new assistant Brady Hoke’s new defensive scheme, or the reliance on graduate transfers at quarterback for the past two seasons rather than long-term player development.
“Didn’t win enough games. I mean, that’s blunt. But that’s the fact. We have to own that part of it. And own the solution,” Helfrich said following the loss to the Beavers.
Whatever the reason, Oregon’s slide was a reminder of how hard it is to get good. And stay good.
When Helfrich was promoted into the job at the start of 2013, he had the daunting task of replacing enigmatic coach Chip Kelly, who orchestrated Oregon’s hyperdrive spread-option offense and led the Ducks to their first national championship game appearance in 2010. An affable native Oregonian, Helfrich had served as offensive coordinator under Kelly and recruited future Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.
Helfrich went 24-4 in his first two seasons, including a loss to Ohio State in the first College Football Playoff championship. But last year he was challenged with replacing Mariota. He lured graduate transfer Vernon Adams from Eastern Washington, but Adams struggled with injury.
The cracks were showing in that 9-4 season, the first with fewer than 10 wins since 2007. Losses to Michigan State, then at home to Utah and Washington State pushed Oregon out of the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2009.
The ultimate embarrassment came in the Alamo Bowl, when the Ducks surrendered a 31-0 lead and TCU staged the biggest comeback in bowl history to win 47-41 in triple overtime.
This season the Ducks brought in another graduate transfer at quarterback, Dakota Prukop from Montana State. But after five starts, Prukop was benched in favor of true freshman Justin Herbert.
Herbert was one of the few bright spots in the dismal season, throwing for 1,936 yards and19 touchdowns with four interceptions in nine appearances.
The overwhelming drag on Oregon’s success appeared to be the defense. The Ducks, who switched to a 4-3 scheme under Hoke, spent most of the season mired in the bottom of the NCAA defensive rankings. At times it appeared that the players didn’t know their assignments.
The defensive shortcomings were readily apparent in Oregon’s 70-21 loss at home to No. 5 Washington on Oct. 8. Huskies quarterback Jake Browning threw for six touchdowns in the victory, which snapped a 12-game losing streak to the rival Ducks.
The issues on defense were again on display Saturday against the Beavers.
This is the first time Oregon is out of the postseason since 2004.
Helfrich seemed resigned to his fate Sunday when he met with reporters, but he also expressed hope for next season.
“I think we have a great team coming back, a very talented team coming back,” he said. “And that’s exciting.”