Michigan man gets the keys at UO
EUGENE — The old guard needed a new direction.
Oregon’s coaching staff, which has maintained continuity over the years by promoting from within, added a former Michigan man to the mix on Saturday when Brady Hoke was hired as the Ducks’ new defensive coordinator.
Coach Mark Helfrich said Hoke, 57, should finish up all of the NCAA paperwork by the end of the extended weekend before joining the rest of the staff on the recruiting trail.
This spring Hoke will install a 4-3 base defense as a “walk-around” coordinator. Demoted predecessor Don Pellum, who ran a 3-4 defense, will coach the linebackers. Ron Aiken will coach the defensive line and John Neal will coach the secondary.
“It’s a huge deal to me to have a coach that has had the level of success that he has had as a head coach,” Helfrich said.
Hoke, a respected defensive mind, visited Oregon’s spring practice before the 2015 season. He was the Big Ten coach of the year in 2011 and posted a 31-20 record with the Wolverines before getting fired after the 2014 season and replaced by Jim Harbaugh.
“The title certainly jumps out. We talked through all that stuff,” Helfrich said of Hoke never officially being a coordinator before during his 30-year career. “Talking with people who have been around him, he was intimately involved with every defense when he was head coach, including being the de facto defensive coordinator.”
Helfrich said he is able to lean on former Oregon coaches Rich Brooks, Mike Bellotti and Chip Kelly for advice from time to time, but he’s looking forward to adding Hoke’s experience to the current staff.
Hoke was also a head coach at Ball State (2003-08), his alma mater, where he was the MAC coach of the year in 2008, and San Diego State (2009-10), where he was the Mountain West coach of the year in 2010.
“He’s fun to be around. Guys love to play for him, which plays into the recruiting part of it,” Helfrich said. “He’s passionate about the details. Some guys talk about details, but they can’t define details … that is certainly at the top of his list of things he can do.”
Pellum, who was promoted to defensive coordinator when Nick Aliotti retired after the 2013 Alamo Bowl victory over Texas, was bumped back down to linebackers coach on Jan. 4.
Helfrich said Oregon’s 47-41 triple-overtime loss to TCU in the Alamo Bowl two days earlier wasn’t the deciding factor in making major changes on defense.
“I think we were headed that direction,” Helfrich said. “There wasn’t a day, an hour, a minute where this had to happen. … But we needed just a different direction.”
Hoke, who was out of football last season, will sign a three-year contract at Oregon, according to a Fox Sports report.
After Oregon made it to the national championship game last year, Pellum signed a guaranteed three-year contract extension with an annual base salary of $410,000. The deal expires on Jan. 31, 2018.
The Ducks allowed a school record 37.5 points per game last season and ranked 117th out of 128 FBS teams in total defense.
“(Pellum) has handled it very well and is a part of the solution,” Helfrich said. “His contribution to Oregon football has been positive and will continue to be.”
As a Michigan assistant from 1995 to 2002, Hoke coached the defensive line and was part of three Big Ten championship teams, including the 1997 national champion and Rose Bowl-winning squad.
Hoke is no stranger to the Civil War. He spent five years as an assistant at Oregon State (1989-1994).
Oregon was also reportedly interested in hiring San Francisco 49ers linebackers coach Clancy Pendergast, who is headed back to USC to be the defensive coordinator, and Washington defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, who is staying with the Huskies.
Helfrich didn’t get into specifics about his list of candidates but said there were some false reports about who was offered the position.
After retaining the entire staff after the Ducks’ historic 2014 season, there has been significant shuffling in the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex this winter.
Former offensive coordinator Scott Frost left after the regular season to become the head coach at Central Florida. Outside linebackers coach Erik Chinander also moved to Orlando to be the Knights’ defensive coordinator.
On the eve of the Alamo Bowl, Helfrich promoted wide receivers coach Matt Lubick to offensive coordinator. Earlier this week, former Missouri offensive coordinator and Washington State receivers coach David Yost was hired to coach the Ducks’ quarterbacks.
“I think they wanted to come to a place where they were right in their groove,” Helfrich said of the new additions. “In Yosty’s case that was wanting to be back with quarterbacks and recruiting and long-term type of situation. …
“We tried to go out and get a guy that will elevate us, just as Matt Lubick has elevated us the past few years.”
In addition to handling the play-calling duties as offensive coordinator, Lubick will still coach wide receivers. Yost will develop quarterbacks and game plans.
Longtime Oregon assistants Steve Greatwood (offensive line), Gary Campbell (running backs) and Tom Osborne (tight ends/special teams) will remain in their roles.
After the defense is installed and Hoke has evaluated the talent on the roster, the coaching duties on the defensive side could be reshuffled.
“Defensively, I think we were trying to put together a lot of verbiage from three or four different systems and we kind of needed to stop that,” Helfrich said. “To have wholesale change to it was important.”