Editor's Notebook: We all lose to Mark Helfrich’s lucre, the newest case of coach salary plunder

Admittedly, in recent months I have become a little insufferable when it comes to the topic of football.

This year I’ve weaned myself, almost totally, from the game. I know it is a hallowed American tradition, and many people find passion and joy in it, but I decided this fall I no longer wanted to be party to a game known to be dangerous to anyone who plays it. So I don’t watch games and pay almost no attention to highlights, standings, etc.

The weaning is not yet total, as I have allowed myself to catch a few sightings — yes, I know Tom Brady is sidelined with an owie — but only because the hoops highlights are about to come on ESPN.

Someone asked me the other day, not knowing of my football non-binge, about a recent column I wrote that was critical of salaries paid to college coaches (it was mostly about football, but basketball, too).

I did recently weigh in on this, and I am about to do so again, after a new and troubling development. (If you are a football fan, particularly a University of Oregon football fan, you might not enjoy what follows. And, as I am a UO DAD, you can take what I write with a grain of salt.)

News item: This month, “Mark Helfrich reentered the coaching ranks when he agreed to become the new offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears.” — website DuckTerritory.

“The move appeared to get the Ducks off the hook from the $11.6 million buy-out owed by the University of Oregon following his termination in November 2016, but according to documents obtained by DuckTerritory with eDuck, Helfrich and Oregon Athletic Director Rob Mullens had already settled the buy-out last May.

“According to documents, Oregon agreed to pay Helfrich $8.1 million lump sum in May of 2017. In return, if Helfrich’s aggregate compensation exceeds $1.7 million before 2020, Helfrich will owe 50-percent of post-termination compensation in excess of $1.7 million back to the university.”

My guess is that the wet noodle attorney who brokered this deal did not graduate from the esteemed U of O Law School.

The university got out-hustled by the coach on this one.

Helfrich was paid handsomely for an average record in his brief, unshining tenure as Duck coach. He was paid handsomely for his broadcast work since then. He will be paid handsomely by the Chicago Bears.

But it’s ultimately not a legal question or financial issue. It is a moral one.

Helfrich — an Oregon native, it should be noted — should ask himself if he has any right to this $8 million. Morally, he does not. Contract aside, it just isn’t right. He worked for the university, the arrangement did not work out, he was let go, he found other lucrative work and did so again in the coaching realm. He has his pile and his pile will get higher (hopefully so will the Bears’ record).

Mark Helfrich, and any (fired or released) coach in similar position, should ask, and the schools they negotiate with should ask, “Is this right?”

It reminds me of the old Del-Amitri song about people “snapping up Van Goghs for the cost of a hospital wing.”

Helfrich, having snapped up a sweet deal for the cost of a chemistry department wing, should simply forfeit to U of O the contract settlement, the equivalent of 25 senior tenured professors’ salaries.

Little known fact about Helfrich is that 20 years ago he coached in the European Football League. Given this unconscionable deal he has pillaged and bagged, it’s fitting given the team he coached.

The Vienna Vikings.



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