Q&A: Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich addresses his team's offseason plans
Much of the news following the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship has revolved around the departures from the Oregon’s program. With Marcus Mariota and Arik Armstead declaring for the NFL Draft, and three players announcing their decisions to transfer, the Ducks will have plenty of starting positions to address next season.
One week after the team’s loss in the national championship Head Coach Mark Helfrich met with the media to discuss the program’s plans for the off season.
On players who have recently transferred:
There are a few guys right now that will be leaving the program. Nothing crazy here, but just guys that are looking for a better opportunity or a better fit: Stephen Amoako, Dominique Harrison and Chance Allen. Then there’s a couple other guys that, I would say, are in limbo as far as what the rest of their career holds and we will support those guys and help those guys as they make their transition.
On handling Marcus Mariota’s departure:
Being around that guys every day makes you better, it makes our team better. Marcus is a guy that obviously has an indelible mark on this program that, in a lot of ways, is somebody that will continue to motivate on on a daily basis. But, at the same time we have to flush it and turn the page, so to speak. After Dennis Dixon, or after Joey Harrington, or after LaMichael James, or after these irreplaceable guys, some how some way, either the assistants or a group of guys or somebody else steps up and that will certainly happen.
On how whether or not Jeff Lockie’s experience will help his chances to become the starting quarterback next season:
I think he should certainly look at it that way. Whenever you’re replacing somebody at any position, there’s a short term and a long term type of way to evaluate things. In the short term, that should absolutely be a strength of his and running the show behind the scenes of all the things these guys do that we can’t ve a prt of this time of year and throughout the summer. In spring ball and fall camp, you have to put on your long range glasses and put him and other in situations to compete. It’s a double-edged sword. You have to do different things with each individual guy, but still give each person a fair shot. How you’re going to game plan for one guy or another guy are totally different, so you have to work to their strengths.
On advice he would give to new starters next season:
You have to step up with confidence, but within yourself. He’s not going to run a 4.4, to use Jeff as an example, but being a distributor, being a point guard, being a great leader, being a great teacher during the off season, those are all things he can do very easily and needs to do. By the same token, it’s somebody at center, it’s somebody at left tackle, it’s somebody filling Arik Armstead’s role. Guys don’t have to do superhuman things. They have to be a better version of themselves each day and fit the scheme where they’re asked to do it.
On Morgan Mahalak’s and Ty Griffin’s progression this season:
Those guys, I think, did an average to above average job of staying dialed in. A tranfer kid that’s ineligible in Ty’s case, you never really know exactly where his mind is from an understanding standpoint of the big picture of the offense and certainly the nuanced stuff. We do some stuff, probably more than most people on getting those guys some real-life action in our system and with our words and all that stuff. They did well, they did fine, but that will be a huge step for them this winter and early spring before spring ball is getting their mind right and to truly compete and to be in as best of a position from a mental standpoint, a confidence standpoint to just go out and just play.
On coaching staff’s ability to handle adversity:
After last spring, a couple of injuries, fall camp a couple of injuries, leading up to the Arizona loss I think there were a bunch of people that counted those guys out. They just battled through everything, whether it was six guys out offensively for the Pac-12 Championship Game, all-conference players at key positions and their belief in each other and the assistants’ belief in one other with those guys was really impressive, especially given the fact of the toughest Pac-12 Conference ever.
On whether or not he expects the coaching staff to remain intact:
We sure hope so. I don’t want to say I anticipate that, but I anticipate that. There’s been several publicly, but there’s been a lot more behind the scenes of opportunities for multiple guys and we were very fortunate to have the staff that we have.
On how much Oregon will recruit transfer students for next season and the timetable they will need to learn the system:
The two magic words: It depends. There’s rules around all that stuff. We receive a “permission to contact” from guys at multiple positions a couple of times a week, at least, throughout the year and throughout the off season. Before that takes place, none of the other stuff can happen, and that’s where some of the gray area is created. We’re going to exhaust every path to find the right guy, the right fit, but we certainly believe in who is on campus and what’s to come. You look at guys like Royce (Freeman) and Charles (Nelson). They came in instantly and did an incredible job of learning and they’re ready to go and other guys take a little bit longer. It just really depends.
On the overall state of recruiting for the program:
Fifteen out of twenty-two of Ohio State’s starters were from Ohio. That’s a reality. That’s probably not going to happen here. That’s not an excuse. It’s something that we have facilities and relationships and all these things that, that’s our way to compete against that, so to speak. Given our location, we don’t have a bunch of guys drive in for unofficial visits. That’s the biggest disadvantage for us is if you’re sitting in a major metropolitan area or talent-rich state or whatever may be the case, a lot of those guys can drive back and forth or get to campus much more easily. What I would like to see is to have the ability to pay for those guys to come to camp, have that be an official visit in June, have a three-week window in June where we can pay for those guys to come. Ideally, we would love to be able to pay for one or more parents, just as basketball has started to do, and I think that would be equitable. If there’s an early signing period and we can can’t do that, then that hinders our ability to give those guys as high of a percentage as possible to come to campus. That’s a battle that we’ll fight forever with the demographics of the state. We just need to harness that to identify the right guys. Not just the guy that’s enamored by the shiny stuff, but the guy who wants to come here and maximize his existence.
On possibility of NCAA moving away from from testing for recreational drugs:
I think if something is illegal, it should be illegal all the time. We played against a couple guys that, throughout the year, are arrested for something and then they played the next week. If you pay a player in week two, that’s illegal. If you play a player in week sixteen, that’s illegal. If you player in recruiting, that’s illegal. If something is illegal, it should always be illegal. It should always have an equal measure of punishment, so I think that there’s some imbalance there. At the same time, we need to continue to educate our guys on making great decisions.
On who will become the leaders of next year’s team:
It’s one of those things you try to catalyze and spur a little bit, but you also can’t fabricate it. DeForest Buckner is going to be an outstanding leader. I know that. There a bunch of guys, maybe younger guys, offensively, that have the credibility to be that guy that probably aren’t as comfortable as they will be a month from now or two months from now behind the scenes. We kind of divvy up those responsibilities and as those roles are expressed to everybody, we will kind of put them in more leadership roles.
On how the team will deal with the losses of defensive starters:
Obviously, there’s a lot of turnover in the back end and a bunch of young talent. A lot of times, you talk about a guy that’s red shirting, they need that carrot out there of playing time. A lot of guys did a great job in the fall of competing every day. There’s a couple of guys that didn’t. We’ve addressed that with them throughout the fall but, for whatever reason, there’s always a couple of guys that need that out there to fully embrace the day-to-day grind.
Follow Jack Heffernan on Twitter @JHeffy13