Just about an hour and a half after Oregon’s athletic department announced Oregon would not retain Mark Helfrich as head football coach, athletic director Rob Mullens addressed a group of around 20 local and regional reporters at Matthew Knight Arena.
He answered questions about how he arrived at the decision and what he envisions in Oregon’s next coach.
“No one wanted Mark to be more successful at Oregon more than me, yet over the past several months I’ve grown concerned with the direction of the program. We were not competitive in a number of games, and we were on a poor trajectory.”
Here are highlights from his press conference:
Beyond win-loss record, were there things you were concerned about that led to this change?
When you make a change like this after considerable thought, it’s never just one thing. You look at the totality of the program, so it’s about what happens on the field as well as off the field.
Why did you not reach out to Mark immediately after the Civil War to let him know where you stood before he went on the recruiting trail?
I wanted to get some distance away from the emotion of the result of the game. The football team had a full Sunday going; they had a football team banquet, so my intent was to be able to get away from the emotion, to be able to reflect myself, let them get to their team banquet and close out the season and then have an opportunity to talk with Mark.
When did you make this decision?
The decision was made today.
What are some of the criteria you’re looking for in your next head coach?
We’re going to look far and wide. It’s going to be a broad and diverse pool of candidates. We want somebody who will embrace the student-athlete experience, who understands the high expectations at University of Oregon, who understands our community, and really, really wants to be here.
Will you be looking for a defensive-minded coach? Do you have an idea of the sort of coach you want?
Not from a football philosophical standpoint, no… We’re not going in with specific parameters on which side of the ball they’re experienced on.
What leads you to believe there’s someone out there better than Mark Helfrich?
I believe the University of Oregon is a great football program. I think it’s going to be attractive to a lot of candidates, and I’m confident in the administrative staff that we have, the facilities that we have, we compete in a great league — this is a highly desirable job. I’m confident that we’re going to have a lot of interest.
Will you give the new head coach full authority to retain whichever assistant coaches he wants?
It’s going to be the head coach’s decision on the staff that remains.
What changed with Mark since giving him that contract extension?
It’s never one thing. Everybody wants to try to pinpoint the one thing that changes. But clearly for the last couple years — particularly this year — we weren’t as competitive as we needed to be in a number of games. That’s not the only thing when you start to look at the totality of the program. There was a shift in culture, and culture has been the winning edge here and we need to get that edge back.
Where is this money going to come from to pay the bill for this? Obviously it’s going to be an estimated $15-16 million dollars. How are you going to find the money?
Obviously the sum is mitigated. We won’t know the exact amount that’s payable over a number of years. As we sit here today, we’re looking at a number of options. One is a $6.5 licensing carry forward from university licensing … Obviously we’ll have a significant savings in the fact that we won’t be paying bowl bonuses this year. We had budgeted for that. Over the last several weeks, we’ve frozen four administrative positions so we’ll be looking at resource allocation. We’ll see what other revenue opportunities exist to make this work.
What was coach Helfrich’s pitch to you to be retained as head football coach?
I don’t want to get into the specifics of our conversation today other than to say Mark is a classy guy. It was a difficult conversation but in the end it was very, very professional. I’m appreciative of the eight years he’s provided to the University of Oregon.
Why did you decline interview requests in recent months?
When I addressed it in the middle of the year, I didn’t want to do a weekly update on where we were. At that time I said I’d wait until the end of the year. I wanted to be patient and assess — even took a couple extra days to step back and reflect. What happens in the season is that you get these emotional roller coasters. … I wanted to be able to allow the full season to happen — sit down, reflect and be thorough and thoughtful and make a decision.
Where did the conversation occur?
Was your mind made up before you talked with Mark?
Did you attend the banquet on Sunday morning?
I did not.
Do you typically?
I have in the past.
Do you anticipate the next coach coming outside the coaching tree, given how there’s been so much continuity in the past?
Obviously that coaching tree has a lot of branches. It doesn’t necessarily have to, but I anticipate that it won’t come from within the staff, if that’s what you’re asking. … There’s a lot of branches to the history of that staff. It could come from a branch.
With the NFL season still going on, and bowl games as well, do you anticipate that the coach who is hired will finish out the current job or come in right away?
Recruiting is important. Our goal is to find someone who can get here, put together a staff, and get on the recruiting trail and make sure that we don’t lose much.
There were a lot of reports of potential losses of season ticket holders and revenue that would be lost if you retained Helfrich. How much of that was part of your decision?
This wasn’t an exercise in a financial formula. Obviously we had to consider what the buyouts would be — and that was part of it. But the factor of future season tickets did not weigh in on this decision.
The comment you made about changing culture — what does that mean?
One of the things that was a real edge for us was the attention to detail and adding up all the little things. We didn’t always line up with the best talent, but all the little things that added up produced a lot of the victories. That might have been some of the issue that resulted in the record this year.
So on the field, not off the field?
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