When Chip Kelly flipped, then flopped his way to Philadelphia, the ripple was palpable across the college football recruiting landscape. Would Kelly’s move scare off prep players eyeing Oregon?
“The timing is less than ideal, no doubt,” athletic director Rob Mullens said after Kelly left. “We’re in a critical (recruiting) period. Our coaches are on the road, and they’ll remain on the road … But we’re not going to sacrifice the future of this program (to rush the hiring process).”
Those fears seem silly now.
On Wednesday, National Signing Day, new head coach Mark Helfrich introduced Oregon’s 2013 recruiting class, composed of 18 high school players and one junior college transfer. The class is being hailed as the country’s 26th-best by ESPN. More importantly, Oregon survived the momentary head coaching doubt — few, if any, recruits considered to be favoring Oregon bolted for other schools.
To combat any misinformation, Helfrich led the coaching staff — which remained the same aside from the loss of Kelly and defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro who followed him to Philadelphia — on a “world tour” to reassure recruits no major changes were coming to Eugene.
“We wanted to maintain lines of communication,” Helfrich said. “Our approach is to be very honest with people. More or less it was a show of solidarity. When there’s eight guys that have been here the last four years that are staying here, that’s impactful for a young man and his family.”
The trip also benefited the staff, which welcomed Matt Lubick and Ron Aiken as the team’s new wide receivers coach and defensive line coach, respectively. According to Mullens, some assistant coaches felt out of the loop during Kelly’s first flirtations with the NFL back in early 2012. Mullens said communication was placed at a premium this time around.
“I don’t know how much concern there was (about Chip leaving),” Helfrich said. “I don’t know what degree we had to convince (recruits). Oregon football is certainly bigger than me, certainly bigger than any one guy.”
Among the guys Oregon likely didn’t have to persuade to stay was the class’ crown jewel, Aloha’s five-star Thomas Tyner.
“My expectations will never change,” Tyner said via Twitter. “I will do my best, and help lead the team to a national championship game.”
Tyner decommitted from Oregon on Oct. 16, causing a flurry of inquiry, but stuck with the Ducks two days later after a meeting with Kelly.
Tyner is rated as the No. 2 running back prospect in the nation by Rivals.com and Scout.com.
His fellow signees may not be as highly touted, but their new head coach stressed the importance of each player having an expectation to play — no one should come in thinking they will redshirt, because that could lead to a dip in productivity and work ethic.
“You want what you get,” Helfrich said of recruits. “We recruit guys to play, not as insurance policies in case someone gets hurt.”
Helfrich also addressed Oregon’s recent recruiting controversy, a photo posted on Twitter of potential Oregon recruits posing in a photo behind a bong.
“We’ve already discussed that with the entire team as well as the individuals involved,” Helfrich said. “The biggest crime was stupidity, and we used it as a teachable moment.”
No specific repercussions were discussed, and the owner of the Twitter account, four-star linebacker Davin Bellamy, committed to Georgia on Wednesday.