Oregon fired coach Mark Helfrich on Tuesday night after the Ducks finished the 2016 season 4–8, their first losing season since 2004. Helfrich coached Oregon for four seasons, compiling a 37–16 record including a run to the national championship in 2014. His ouster opens up the highest profile job on the West Coast this season. No other Pac-12 school is expected to fire its coach this off-season, leaving Oregon as the most intriguing option out West. Here are five names expected to be attached to the Ducks' opening.
Chip Kelly, San Francisco 49ers
Don’t expect Kelly to take the job. Despite the 49ers’ miserable 1–10 season, he’s settled in there and committed to turning things around. But don’t be naïve to think that Kelly won’t be Oregon’s first call after he went 46–7 with the Ducks over four seasons from 2009–2012.
Bryan Harsin, Boise State
There’s no more logical candidate out West than Harsin, who is 31–8 at Boise State and has major coordinator experience from his time at Texas. He’s also won the Fiesta Bowl amid a 12–2 season in 2014. Would Harsin translate to the Pac-12? Would Oregon be comfortable hiring a protégée of Washington coach Chris Petersen as it is chasing the Huskies in the standings?
P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan
Fleck has Western Michigan coasting on an undefeated regular season, which included a visit from ESPN’s College GameDay. He is a maestro recruiter and has orchestrated a turnaround from 1–11 in 2013 to a potential New Year’s Six Bowl this year. It would be easy to see Phil Knight and Nike getting behind Fleck’s energy and vision. But MAC coaches rarely make jumps that significant, and Fleck lacks West Coast coaching experience.
Philip Montgomery, Tulsa
If Oregon wants to try to regain the schematic advantage it had when it first brought in Kelly, it could opt to hire Montgomery from Tulsa. Montgomery has gone 15–10 in two seasons with the Golden Hurricane, including a 9–3 record this season, building success with the Baylor offense. The innovative attack has begun to spread in college football but has yet to hit the Pac-12, giving the Ducks the opportunity to be the first adopters in the conference.
Kyle Whittingham, Utah
He’s never considered a sexy candidate because of his understated nature, but few on the West Coast have such a consistent track record of winning games. He’s 103–50 at Utah, a mark that includes a couple inevitable bumpy years as the Utes transitioned from the Mountain West to the Pac-12. It’s hard to imagine the defensive-minded Whittingham playing at the tempo Oregon used under Kelly, so his hire would mark a significant philosophical shift.