There are myriad ways a player can land on the recruiting radar of college football’s elite coaches. Holding that interest from Oregon’s staff, however, comes from just one reason: making it through the Ducks’ multilayered evaluation process, a system that has been the backbone of UO’s recent success yet has evolved to reflect coach Mark Helfrich’s leadership style. Like a loan application, Oregon’s recruiting is designed to minimize risk via an eight-step procedure based on “criteria that have nothing to do with football,” Helfrich said Wednesday as he announced his second recruiting class as a head coach. A recruit’s character is vetted as fully as the validity of an eye-popping 40-yard dash time, and Helfrich's descriptions of the 2014 class were peppered with descriptors like "neat kid," "team captain" or "he's from a wonderful family." Becoming a Duck involves sales pitches from both the player and the program. “We try to, as best as possible, manage the knowns,” he said. “Every time we walked out of a home visit with guys in this class we always looked at each other and said, ‘Yep, that’s our guy. These are our kind of people.’ That’s something that matters in a big way.” Quantifying a teenager’s mental readiness as much as physical maturity is a tricky business, and Helfrich called “recruiting science” an oxymoron. He meant it as a jab at the recruiting services whose star ratings and scores can vary wildly and, ultimately, mean nothing. But in truth the Ducks have developed their own, internal rating system – the only difference is the criteria, and Helfrich swears by the near-holistic approach. “The more stuff that we know up front that we can eliminate, you’re increasing the odds of the product being exactly what you envisioned,” he said, declining to detail what any of the “steps” are. “That can’t be compromised.” But changed? Absolutely. Oregon’s process has been tweaked in key areas since Chip Kelly left as head coach in January 2013, according to Helfrich and recruiting analysts who speak with athletes and coaches year-round. Though Helfrich was careful to leave in place what worked well from Kelly's philosophy during his debut season, the changes in his first full recruiting season as head coach are a subtle way he has changed how the program is run. Recruits no longer must commit to the head coach in person. Recruits no longer are barred from visiting other schools after verbally committing to Oregon. Assistants have more freedom to begin scouting the next year’s class and choose which recruits to contact. Every aspect of recruiting no longer must flow directly through the head coach. “Helfrich’s been more lenient with his staff recruiting earlier and harder, more eager if you will,” said Justin Hopkins of 247 Sports. “The coaches have appreciated more of the leash they’ve been given under Helfrich to recruit more freely and maybe a bit more aggressive. Chip didn’t allow his coaches to make many calls and visits and sat back and saw who came to Oregon first.” Arrion Springs, a cornerback from Texas, was a strong commitment since last spring, Helfrich said, but visited Florida State, Oklahoma, Miami and USC since his Aug. 30 official visit to Oregon. “That’s a big change,” said A.J. Jacobson of Duck Sports Authority, who recalled a committed Duck recruit visiting elsewhere just twice during Kelly’s four years as head coach.
The secret behind Oregon's success is changing
Oregonian | Feb 7