Helfrich's first season had highs and lows

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 31, 2013 at 3:18 pm •  Published: December 31, 2013

Over the course of Mark Helfrich's first year as head coach at Oregon he dealt with a troubled tight end, a snowball fight, and an injury to his star quarterback that was much worse than anyone thought.

But it all ended with an authoritative win. The No. 10 Ducks finished the season 11-2 and capped it off with a 30-7 victory over Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

Helfrich matched USC's John Robinson (1976) and Stanford's David Shaw (2011) for most wins as a first-year head coach in the Pac-12 Conference.

While preparing for the bowl, Helfrich had a chance to chat with Mack Brown, who coached his final game after 16 years with the Longhorns.

"There's not too much time in this business to relax. Spending more time with Coach Brown this week, it's funny hearing how he talks, after a win, how your emotions go, then how devastating a loss is. You don't get to celebrate. I'll take his advice and think about it for 24, 48 hours, then get back to work," Helfrich said.

Helfrich, Oregon's offensive coordinator for the past four seasons, took over as head coach when Chip Kelly went to the Philadelphia Eagles. Helfrich inherited a team that had gone to four straight BCS bowls under Kelly.

Led by quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back De'Anthony Thomas, the Ducks were expected to finish atop the Pac-12 North and advance to the league championship. Oregon was ranked No. 3 in the preseason.

Oregon reeled off eight wins to start the season, despite a right ankle injury that sidelined Thomas for nearly four games.

Helfrich faced a challenge in October, when talented tight end Colt Lyerla was suspended for Oregon's game at Colorado for an unspecified violation of team rules. The next day, he abruptly left the team, citing his desire to go to the NFL.

Less than three weeks later, Lyerla was arrested for cocaine possession. He has since pleaded guilty to a felony possession charge, but plans to train for the NFL combine.

Through all this, the Ducks climbed to No. 2 in the AP rankings and were seemingly on course for a national championship bid. Then came Stanford.

It turns out Mariota had partially torn the medial collateral ligament in his left knee against UCLA the week before. Ducks offensive coordinator Scott Frost said that just two days before the game against the Cardinal, the Heisman hopeful couldn't even jog.

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