University of Oregon Head football coach Mark Helfrich has reached the pinnacle of college football, yet still keeps his roots in Coos Bay and Marshfield High School and attributes the community to much of his success.
“Everyone that knows me, knows I’m from Coos Bay.”
Mark Helfrich, the University of Oregon Head Football Coach, uttered these words before a large crowd in his hometown of Coos Bay. Returning for a noble cause, the fundraiser based around Helfrich speaking raised over $30,000 for the Coos Bay Community Schools Foundation. This was testament to his connection and care for the Bay Area.
“It wasn’t always easy growing up here. There were budget cuts, but at every turn people stepped up to make it right,” Helfrich said.
So, to make it better for a struggling community, Helfrich expressed his appreciation for the values learned during his formative years.
“The value of work, integrity and caring about your product I learned in Coos Bay,” Helfrich said.
Helfrich has brought those attributes to the Oregon football program, as he has led the team to a 24-4 record in two seasons, and most recently leading the team to a Rose Bowl victory over Florida State and a trip to the College Football Playoff final where the Ducks fell to Ohio State.
Helfrich was raised in Coos Bay, and had success early in his football career, leading Marshfield deep into the playoffs. Kent Wigle, a MHS Hall of Fame coach who led the program during Helfrich’s years, recalls their run in the postseason.
“His senior year we placed third in the league,” Wigle said. “But we beat Lake Oswego in the first round, Grants Pass in the second round at home and lost to South Salem in the third round, who went on to the state championship game.”
The following year, Marshfield won the class 4A state championship, defeating Ashland High School, 36-21. Floyd Montiel, Helfrich’s lifelong friend and high school teammate, believed Helfrich and the 1991 football squad set the bar for success for the following year.
“That was the turning point in the 90s for Marshfield football,” Montiel said.
Helfrich’s humility was evident even in his high school years, as Montiel described before the crowd at the fundraiser.
“I remember a time where Mark and I were talking to a Marshfield fan, who began to praise our team’s quarterback,” Montiel said. “Mark didn’t mention that quarterback was him. I asked him afterward why he didn’t introduce himself, he replied with, ‘I don’t know.’”
Despite now making over $3 million per year and receiving attention on the national level, Helfrich has not changed at his core.
“He’s the same guy, he hasn’t changed. You think you would see arrogance, but the few times we get together it’s the same guy,” Montiel said.
Helfrich continually attributes his accomplishments to the community and people he grew up around.
“We meet a lot of people in my job, it makes me realize how lucky I was to grow up here,” Helfrich said. “This is an unbelievable group of people.”
Helfrich’s influence can be seen in the younger generations. When giving the opening speech for Helfrich, Montiel recalled a time in his Spanish class where he was questioning students on somebody they looked up to, and junior Corey Shaffer said, “Mark Helfrich.” When questioned why, Shaffer said, “Because he’s one of us.”
“He’s a small town kid who went after his dreams,” Shaffer said. “He shows everybody that if you work hard anything is possible.”
A large group of Marshfield students and staff gathered a week before the College Football Playoff final to take a large picture of an “O” while adorned in Oregon apparel, which was sent to Helfrich to show support heading into the biggest game of his life.
“It’s cool to have an influence on kids. I was that kid, so I know what the influence of Marcus Mariota is like,” Helfrich said.
Helfrich was once one who looked up to the Oregon football program and grew up watching their games, as many in his family are alumni of the university.
“My Dad went to school there, my mom went to school there, my uncle went to school there, my brother did, I have a million connections to it,” Helfrich said. “I know what Oregon football means to the state.”
Helfrich admitted living the moments he watched as a kid still gives him the same excitement.
“I’m like a little kid when you turn the corner and you see the Rose Bowl picture on the stadium,” Helfrich said.
The unparalleled success of the Oregon football team in recent years has created sky high expectations for Helfrich. However, Helfrich said he focuses on keeping distractions out.
“They key is not letting other people in your head,” Helfrich said. “Being around the right people with a good attitude.”
According to Helfrich, Coos Bay contains the best people to be around. Gesturing at the crowd, Helfrich showed his love for his hometown.
“This is a very humbling experience,” Helfrich said. “This is why I come back to Coos Bay.”