You can trace Oregon’s new head coach Mark Helfrich to his college football roots at Southern Oregon University. He was the program’s all-time leader in single-season pass attempts, passing yardage, and total offense until Austin Dodge broke all three this season.
Former Raiders head coach Jeff Olson said, “It just was easy for others to rally around him and you know from a defensive perspective we knew going in to every Saturday this is the kid we want leading our football team.”
A talented quarterback and an even better leader, it was easy to identify even back then that Helfrich was destined for great things.
SOU athletic director Matt Sayre said, “When you’re coaching, you can recognize a player that’s going to be a dynamite coach.”
Olson said, “I could tell Mark was already starting to fit into a mold where you saw this guy could have a very bright future because of those intangibles.”
After a successful playing career with the Raiders, Helfrich became the team’s running backs coach in 1996 as part of a graduate assistant program started by Olson.
“It was easy for me to look at this kid and say this guy’s got a bright future,” Olson said. “Let’s get him on the staff. I wish we could have kept him for my entire time at Southern.”
The Raiders couldn’t keep him, though. Helfrich rose through the ranks with assistant jobs at Boise State, Arizona State and Colorado before becoming the Ducks’ offensive coordinator in 2009.
Now, before the age 40, Helfrich is taking over one of the top college football programs in the country. To those who knew him during his SOU days, they say it’s no surprise Helfrich rose through the ranks this quickly.
“He got into a good situation,” Olson said, “and I have always believed when you get into a situation, now the rest is up to you and Mark has taken this opportunity and made the most of every opportunity he’s earned.”
“He’s just very insightful,” Sayre said, “very intelligent and he has a way of communicating extremely well with those guys and you can see it in their play.”
“He’s not just football,” Olson said,”He’s not just x’s and o’s. He’s a life skill kind of guy as well, and he had the whole package a long time ago.”
And as he’s climbed the ladder of success, he hasn’t forgotten where he started.
“If there’s one thing people know about me,” Helfrich said at the SOU Hall of Fame induction ceremony, “it’s that I’m from Coos Bay, Oregon. The second thing they know about me is I went to Southern Oregon and I’m very proud of that.”
“I’m really proud of him,” Sayre said, “and we’d be really proud of him and we’d be proud to call him an SOU grad and an SOU football player.”