Mark Helfrich is still coach of the Ducks — for now
EUGENE — Oregon coach Mark Helfrich was heading out to recruit while speculation swirled about his job security — or lack of it.
Helfrich spoke to reporters Sunday, a day after the Ducks ended the season with a 34-24 loss to the rival Oregon State Beavers in the 120th Civil War game.
Oregon finished 4-8 and 2-7 in the Pac-12.
The loss meant that Oregon wouldn't be making a postseason appearance for the first time since 2004. It also increased chatter that it might be Helfrich's last game as coach of the Ducks.
Helfrich said he was going to meet with athletic director Rob Mullens in the coming week. Helfrich was due to attend the team's postseason banquet on Sunday then head out on a recruiting trip.
"We needed to win more games this year — and I get that," Helfrich said at the somber postseason media availability.
Helfrich said he reached out to Mullens by phone on Sunday morning but travel schedules did not allow for a face-to-face meeting.
Mullens released a statement later.
"Now that our season is complete, I will evaluate all aspects of our football program, as I do with all of our sports after their seasons have ended. That evaluation includes meeting with coach Helfrich in the coming days to discuss the future of Oregon football," Mullen said.
Helfrich, whose contract with Oregon includes an $11.6 million buyout, was 37-16 as head coach of the Ducks. He was Oregon's offensive coordinator under innovator Chip Kelly, taking over the top job in 2013 when Kelly went to the NFL.
After going 9-4 last season, Oregon started this season ranked No. 24 in the preseason AP Top 25. But the Ducks lost 35-32 at Nebraska in the third week of the season, touching off a five-game losing streak.
The team's defensive shortcomings were readily apparent in Oregon's 70-21 loss at home to No. 5 Washington on Oct. 8. Huskies quarterback Jake Browning threw for six touchdowns in the victory, which snapped a 12-game losing streak to the rival Ducks.
Oregon had a brief revival last weekend with a 30-28 victory over then-No. 11 Utah in Salt Lake City last weekend — which temporarily staved off questions about Helfrich's future. The Ducks went into the Civil War in Corvallis with slim hopes that a win could at least get them consideration for a bowl berth with a five-win season.
Oregon took a 24-14 lead in the third quarter against the Beavers, but Oregon State tailback Ryan Nall ran for three consecutive touchdowns. Nall finished with 155 yards rushing and four touchdowns.
With the loss, the Ducks finished last in the Pac-12 North standings.
True freshman Justin Herbert, who took over for graduate transfer Dakota Prukop at quarterback and started Oregon's final seven games, was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing season. He threw for 1,936 yards and 19 touchdowns with four interceptions in nine appearances.
Junior Royce Freeman, mentioned as a Heisman Trophy hopeful at the start of the season, rushed for 1,009 yards and nine touchdowns but was slowed by injury. A possible NFL draft prospect, Freeman said after the Civil War that he had not made a decision on whether to return for another college season.
The overwhelming drag on Oregon's success appeared to be the defense. The Ducks, who switched to a 4-3 scheme under new defensive coordinator Brady Hoke, spent most of the season mired in the bottom of the NCAA defensive rankings.
Helfrich said Sunday he has no plans to make any changes on his staff. He also expressed hope for next season.
"I think we have a great team coming back, a very talented team coming back," he said. "And that's exciting."