COOS BAY, Ore. — Mark Helfrich is the Ducks’ first Oregon-born-and-bred coach in more than 60 years.
Residents in Helfrich’s hometown of Coos Bay are celebrating the man they watched grow up.
Right on the field at Marshfield High School is where Helfrich began his football career, and his journey to his dream job as the head coach of the Oregon Ducks.
When you’re a big fish from a small bay, people keep an eye on you, especially when you’re up for the highest-profile coaching job in the state.
“When the rumors first started, we spent a lot of time googling things and spending a lot of time online. There was a buzz in the community,” said Floyd Montiel, Helfrich’s childhood best friend.
Helfrich taking over as top Duck was all the Coos Bay community could talk about until the Helfrich hearsay turned truth.
“When it happened, it’s kind of like surreal. Watching the press conference, watching him up there being introduced as the head coach of the University of Oregon, it’s special, emotional, emotional for me, for a lot of people to see that happen,” Floyd said.
Not just for Helfrich’s childhood best friend, Montiel, but particularly for his former head coach Kent Wigle.
“I know that he has to be so excited about what’s going on right now,” Wigle said.
It’s an excitement Wigle first saw in Helfrich 24 years ago.
“I got a chance to meet mark right here on this field in 1988 when I came to Marshfield as a head coach, and he was an 8th grader, going to be a 9th grader. He came up and asked me, ‘Hey coach, do you think I could try out and play quarterback?’” Wigle said.
Helfrich became Wigle’s quarterback. Wigle says he also became a smart, talented leader with a big heart. He became the man that is now more than qualified to lead the Oregon Ducks.
“It takes special qualities to be a successful team member, and Mark has those. He’s intelligent. The team always comes first,” Wigle said.
“Oregon made the right choice. There’s no question about it. He always has and always is. You can tell in the press conference he’s still himself. He’s humble. He’s caring. He’s intelligent,” Montiel said.
In short, Montiel and Wigle say he’s earned it, and they say it won’t take Duck fans long to figure out Helfrich is the perfect man for this job.
“Mark is a special guy, and I want people to know that. If you had a son or daughter that was going to the University of Oregon, you can trust them with this man, and I get a little emotional because of how much he means to me, and how much trust I have in him. He’s a great guy, and if you work with him, he’ll care about you and I love him like a son,” Wigle said.
There’s no doubt that Helfrich has a big job ahead of him, but the people here who know him best say they have no doubt that he’ll succeed.