Colorado Offensive Coordinator Mark Helfrich
The rumor mill has been circulating for nearly a week now. Today it became official - Sun Devils quarterbacks coach Mark Helfrich is leaving for the University of Colorado, where he will assume the title of offensive coordinator. Helfrich was naturally excited, but said the departure wasn’t an easy decision.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Helfrich who will earn $250,000 per year as a result of this career move. “I love a lot of guys on this football team, and any transition is difficult. Being here for five years, you get to know a lot people in a lot of different ways. But on the same token I’m excited. It’s a different challenge. I’ve been with Coach Koetter for nine years and it has been great. I learned so much, and he has been awesome throughout all this process.”
“This will show me if I’m ready (for the position) and I think I am,” Helfrich continued. “I’m very appreciative of the opportunity that Hawk (Newly appointed Colorado Head Coach Dan Hawkins) has given me.” He added that the process was very quick from the time Hawkins was reported to possibly be named as head coach.
Hawkins was the offensive coordinator under Koetter at Boise State. Thus, the natural assumption is that Hawkins’ offense is a mirror image to Koetter’s schemes.
“They are very similar, but not identical,” commented Helfrich. “We’re gonna adapt (to the team’s talent) and make something better hopefully, if that’s possible.”
The last couple of years, Helfrich was the team’s passing game coordinator, and his play calling duties were expanded. “All that stuff (passing game coordinator) is just words and titles,” he remarked. “We did a lot of collaborative stuff. I’ve been in that role (offensive coordinator) per say, sure. Now, I’ll be the one to blame and that’s great (smile).”
The new Buffaloes offensive coordinator stated that he wasn’t “licking his chops” for the Colorado-ASU match up in 2006. He was probably equally non-eager to break the news of his departure to his quarterbacks. “I cried like I lost my puppy when I told those guys yesterday (Saturday), and that was the most difficult part,” he recalled. “You spend everyday with those guys and they are great people. That was the single hardest factor by far in this whole thing.”
Coach Koetter said that from a personal standpoint, Helfrich’s decision was tough to take, but at the same time Helfrich’s decision was very understandable. “He has been with me nine years – longest tenure of any coach (on ASU’s staff),” said Koetter. “I think he’s one the best kept secrets in college football, until today. He’s very very sharp, he’s energetic, he knows quarterback play. The players love him…”
“Hawk made him a tremendous offer,” Koetter continued. “A chance to run your own show in a major BCS school…all good things…I would be doing the same thing if I was in his shoes. That’s part of the game, and we’ll have to get the next good guy. The good thing about this position, if we don’t find the right guy I coach this thing myself. Sam and Rudy may not want to hear that, but it’s always an option (smile).”
When asked about the 2006 game, Koetter replied: “That’s just an unfortunate byproduct. I guess the good news is that they (Colorado) aren’t in the Pac-10. Familiarity – that’s a two-way street. I’m sure he’ll do a lot of things different and he’ll do some things the same. It’s just a weird quirk in the schedule. But that’s in the future, and we got other things to worry about right now.”
The Sun Devils skipper said that he has already heard from some candidates that wish to replace Helfrich, and that he would consider some of those individuals who already contacted him. “I got a couple of guys I definitely want to talk to,” he remarked. “I always keep a list. But the problem is that after nine years, a lot of the guys that I thought were up and comers are now head coaches. It will work out. This is a great spot.”
There are several factors that will guide Koetter in his decision on a replacement.
“We just have to find the right fit,” he explained, “and when I say fit, obviously because of my offensive background they have to be able to fit with me. Second, they gotta fit with the offensive staff and the rest of the coaching staff, and third they gotta fit with the quarterbacks.”
The ASU Head Coach said that no timetable has been set to name a replacement. Helfrich will coach the Insight Bowl game, and since no coaching will take place following that game until spring practice, it will be important to take time in finding the right person for the job.
Signal caller Sam Keller was visibly disappointed over Helfrich’s decision, but was also full of praise for someone that wasn’t only his position coach the last three years, but also a coach that had recruited him out of high school.
“I’ve known him for a long time,” he said. “I spend more time with him than anybody in my family. I’m kinda being selfish in this statement, but I’m gonna miss this guy a lot. He’s a young vibrant guy and I just felt comfortable around him. So much time spent together since I got here. All the great things, the wins, meetings, individual drills, all the little things that’s what I’ll miss a lot. It makes me a little bit depressed. I care about him so much, and this will totally benefit him. He’ll be a 32-year old offensive coordinator in a Big 12 school, and soon he’ll be a head coach and that’s what he wants to do.”
Keller feels that Helfrich excelled in terms of play calling and performance of the quarterbacks on the field. “Him and Coach Koetter worked together on the game plan, but he had more responsibility,” Keller commented. “He’s so smart, and he puts us in a such a great position to be successful. He learned from Koetter who’s one of the smartest coaches. You look at Andrew (Walter) and he’s a great quarterback, and then I come in and there’s no drop-off at all, and then Rudy (Carpenter) comes in and there’s no drop-off at all – something has to be said for that. That’s why he had more responsibilities. He makes our offense look good so many times. He’s a perfectionist and he makes us work for it.”
“A good portion (of play calling) came from Coach Helfrich,” Keller continued, “because Coach Koetter had a lot trust in him seeing it from up there (in the coach’s box). He was good in setting up three, four plays down the line. He could call out a (defensive) coverage just as they’re breaking it (out of a huddle).”