The Colorado Buffaloes are in the midst of finding their next head football coach. We’re here to break down the top candidates and grade them based on how they would fit in at Colorado.
Rick George is rumored to be targeting a big name, someone with head coaching experience, and is currently in the NFL. Mark Helfrich would certainly fit that description (/ducks).
Helfrich first began as an offensive coordinator at Colorado, a fact known by many and held as a primary reason why we don’t want him as head coach. If you remember the name Bernard Jackson, you probably know what I’m talking about. If you don’t remember him, there’s a reason CU went 2-10 and averaged 16.3 points per game in 2006, and, somehow, it wasn’t really Jackson’s fault. It’s difficult to coach without much talent, but none of Helfrich’s offenses (from 2006 to 2008) were anything close to competent.
Helfrich left Colorado to fulfill the same role at Oregon. There he built up his reputation as the Ducks melted scoreboards on their way to 46 wins in four seasons. It was easy to credit Helfrich for this success, but that was Chip Kelly through and through. Kelly was a phenomenal coach whose spread option destroyed everything in its path. They would have won a National Championship if Michael Dyer’s knee had touched down. Once Kelly left for the NFL, Helfrich assumed his position, and though he did lead Oregon back to the title game with Marcus Mariota under center, his teams crashed once Kelly’s recruits graduated. Two years after being runners up, Oregon crumbled to 4-8 and fired him.
After taking two seasons off (with a hefty buyout in pocket), Helfrich is back as offensive coordinator with the Chicago Bears. The Bears are favorites for the NFC North and have an innovative offense (despite Mitchell Trubisky’s struggles), but similar to his Oregon days, he’s not the architect of that offense. That would be head coach Matt Nagy, a revered offensive mind who many credit for rehauling Kansas City’s offense last season. If you want to credit Helfrich for the Bears being solid offensively, don’t.
If there’s anything positive about Helfrich, it’s that he runs fun offenses. Even Bernard Jackson was somewhat fun as a spread-option QB. When CU had Cody Hawkins under center, they did have a wide-open offense with Hugh Charles to slash through openings. Those Oregon offenses were some of the most entertaining offenses ever. The Bears are fun too, and they would be great offensively if they had a QB who had any vision or consistency. If Helfrich could implement those offenses with CU’s scheme, splendid, but he’s never proven himself capable outside the influence of a brilliant offensive mind. As a head coach, he’s also been marked down for poor clock management among other management issues.
Recruiting & Player Development
There’s definitely a reason Oregon fell off after Chip Kelly left. Some players remained from great teams — most notably Mariota (recruited by Helfrich!), Byron Marshall, DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead — but the talent well dried up. That’s not to say Oregon didn’t still have blue chip recruits coming in, not with all that Nike money coming in. But Helfrich wasn’t bringing in elite offensive players (Royce Freeman was attached to the RB coach), and he certainly wasn’t bringing in any quality defenders. Even in 2015 and 2016, his best players were Freeman, Buckner and Vernon Adams, of whom only Adams was tied to Helfrich, though he was a ready-made graduate transfer. The only success stories would be Justin Herbert and edge rusher Jalen Jelks, and both have been developed after Helfrich’s departure.
Helfrich is a great guy and he’s a relaxed player’s coach, but that’s better suited for an assistant than a head coach. That rings extra clear considering Colorado probably needs a high-strung psycho to instill a culture change.
Helfrich was making around $6 million in salary with Oregon, though that may be inflated because of Phil Knight’s endless flow of cash. Now with Chicago, he’s making around $2 million. He’s probably somewhat afforable.
Interest in Colorado
Probably high! If Helfrich would rather have full control over a college team than have a cozy job in the NFL, Colorado would be a great place for him to stomp familiar grounds in a conference he knows well. But we don’t want him.
Cumulative GPA: 2.62
Helfrich would be a safe choice, considering his name and experience. But he’s not the head coach CU should be after. He’s only had success as an assistant under great coaches, or he rides the system his predecessor built until the wheels fall off. Helfrich is a great guy, but of all the realistic candidates in the coach search, this would be the worst decision Rick George could make.