The head coaches of the two teams in the College Football Playoff national championship game were perceived very differently when they were hired.
Urban Meyer was a bona fide superstar in the coaching profession when he arrived at Ohio State for the 2012 season with two national championships already on his resume.
Oregon’s Mark Helfrich was the guy who had never been a head coach who followed a superstar coach.
Helfrich was the offensive coordinator for Chip Kelly at Oregon when the Ducks went 46-7 from 2009-2012 before Kelly left to become head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Oregon football reached its greatest heights with Kelly as coach, narrowly losing 22-19 to Auburn in the BCS championship game after the 2010 season and going to the Rose Bowl after the 2009 and 2011 seasons.
While Ohio State felt lucky to get Meyer, there were murmurs that Helfrich had lucked into his job.
Kelly’s teams reached a BCS bowl every year he was at Oregon – a national championship game, two Rose Bowls and a Fiesta Bowl.
The standard was set high and Oregon fans weren’t happy when losses in November sent the Ducks to the Alamo Bowl last season. They beat Texas there in Mack Brown’s final game to finish 11-2.
But the discontent grew when Oregon struggled to beat Washington State 38-31 and Arizona beat the Ducks for a second consecutive time, 31-24, on Oct. 2.
But Oregon rebounded to win the rest of its games, including an emphatic 51-13 pummeling of Arizona in the Pac-12 championship game.
So for now Oregon’s finicky fan base is giving Helfrich a chance. A win over Ohio State and Meyer in the national championship game could take Helfrich out of the big shadow cast by Kelly.
Meyer seems to get respect everywhere except, inexplicably, in the voting for Big Ten Coach of the Year.
After a season in which he drove a team with a rebuilt offensive line to a 11-1 regular season record despite losing his Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback, his record-setting replacement and an All-Big Ten-caliber defensive end for the season, Meyer lost out to Minnesota’s Jerry Kill for Big Ten Coach of the Year.
Kill’s Minnesota team won eight games this season, the same number it won last year.
If Ohio State wins, Meyer would add this year’s title to the two championships he won at Florida (2006, 2008).
Three national championships would mean that only Alabama’s Nick Saban, with four, would be ahead of him among active major college football coaches.
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