Cliff Pfenning's blog

Helfrich has a big hire in replacing himself

Sun, 01/20/2013 - 10:42pm
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Now that the University of Oregon has officially signed Mark Helfrich to replace Chip Kelly, the Ducks' cast of thousands can work on the next question for its program - who will replace Helfrich.

While the head coaching position was almost a guarantee that the Ducks would move Helfrich up, the offensive coordinator position is likely to attract many more times the interest as a hire because of its history. Oregon's offensive coordinator almost always moves up to head coach.

Mike Bellotti was offensive coordinator from 1989 to '94, the moved up when Rich Brooks moved to the NFL following taking the Ducks to the 1995 Rose Bowl. Dirk Koetter was the OC two years - '96-97, and then took off to become head coach at Boise State. Chip Kelly was offensive coordinator prior to following Bellotti in 2009.

Whoever lands as offensive coordinator is almost guaranteed to be sought as a head coach in a relatively short time based on the history of the Oregon program and the talent they'll take over. Not to mention Helfrich will be assisting the position.

And, best of all, the Ducks have an extremely competent defense led by Nick Alliotti, who's been there since 1999, giving the offense a big hand in not needing to blow a team out. Not that that's been a problem under Kelly and then Helfrich.



Don't blame the Zebras for a change

Mon, 12/31/2012 - 12:04am
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Everyone's favorite punching bag during a team sport - officials - got plenty of action during the championship season this fall, as they do for any event.

And, they had an effect on the six championship football games, although not what you might expect.

Five of the six games were won by the team that had either more penalties or more penalty yards, including Oakland, which got pummeled for 16 penalties and 119 yards but still beat Portland Christian 50-27 in the Class 2A final.

Lake Oswego lost the 6A final, but had just one - yes one - penalty for five yards.

so, what to make of that?

Fans of the Portland Timbers are continually impressed and incredibly loyal to midfielder Diego Charra, who led the MLS in fouls last year and challenged for the title this year, too - a sign fans promote as his heart showing through to his play.

That work for high school football, too?

Coaches in every sport and at every level want their athletes to lose just a little bit of discipline for a moment of passion, as long as it doesn't affect the outcome of a game. And, this year, you could argue that's what happened.

Here's the numbers:

6A: Sheldon 13, Lake Oswego 6

Sheldon 5 penalties for 43 yards, Lake Oswego 1-5

5A: Sherwood 46, Marist 20

Sherwood 3-20, Marist 3-12

4A: Baker 52, North Bend 22

Baker 11-71, Norh Bend 8-54

3A: Dayton 34, Cascade Christian 28

Cascade Christian 9-87, Dayton 7-55

2A: Oakland 50, Portland Christian 27

Oakland 16-119, Portland Christian 9-41

1A: Camas Valley 24, St. Paul 8

Camas Valley 7-46, St. Paul 5-30


So, here's the real entertaining thing - it happened that way last year, too. In only one of the games did the team that lost have more penalties, or more penalty yardage than the team that won. The only significant difference in the teams was Class 4A, where Siuslaw had a measurable difference and lost by just five points.

Here's the numbers:

6A: Lake Oswego 47, Sheldon 14

Lake Oswego 7-54 yards, Sheldon 4-47

5A: Mountain View 14, Sherwood 13

Mountain View 8-74, Sherwood 2-15

4A: LaSalle 45, Siuslaw 40

Siuslaw 15-113, LaSalle 7-57

3A: Santiam Christian 31, Dayton 28

Santiam Christian 4-31, Dayton 3-26

2A: Gold Beach 30, Scio 0

Scio 7-66, Gold Beach 7-58

1A: Camas Valley 66, Perrydale 22

Camas Valley 6-44, Perrydale 31


Without a lot of penalties the game went quickly, too. The Class 6A final, played Dec. 8, lasted just two hours, 19 minutes, and was held up far more for television timeouts than replaying downs due to penalties.

One penalty for five yards - that's the kind of discipline a coach wants to see at the end of a long season, although ...





Are the Hawks their best ever?

Mon, 12/17/2012 - 5:24pm
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It's amazing to think that just five seasons ago, the Portland Winterhawks were the worst team in, well, junior hockey - on their way to 11 wins and only 25 points in a season.

The most memorable part of the season was the 22-game losing streak. Yes, 22 straight games. The team set the league record for saves by a goaltender twice.

Five years later, the Hawks cannot lose, and take care of their goalie better than any team in the Western Hockey League.

It's the kind of turnaround that might inspire some people in the community to think that whatever their circumstances are, they can change for the better.

The Winterhawks have been aided significantly by something like an open checkbook to support their efforts, but money doesn't automatically turn into wins on an athletic surface in any sport. A team still has to work together and perform better than an opponent on a nightly basis.

Portland is having a fantastic season performing better than virtually every opponent this season, having lost just five times in 34 games and been to overtime only once.

They lead the league in most goals scored, and lead the league in fewest goals allowed.

It's not too early to start looking at what the team records are for wins in a season and points scored in a 72-game schedule.

Portland's record for wins is 56 in 1980-81, when they scored 113 points in 72 games.

Amazingly, they finished second in the Western Division to the Victoria Cougars, who won 60 games and beat the Hawks in the division final.

The Hawks have reached the league final the past two seasons with 50 wins two seasons ago and 49 last year.

What's truly amazing about the season is that they were 4-4 after eight games. Since they, they're 25-1-1. At that pace, they headed for at least 60 wins and more than 120 points.

The NHL lockout has a role in this in the return of goalie Mac Carruth from the American Hockey League, but the Hawks were pummeling opponents with shots prior to his return and have finished with the edge in that stat in all but two games this season.

It's a stunning turnaround for Portland's hockey fans. Now, the team just has to keep that domination going through the playoffs and into the Memorial Cup.


Life sucks and then you end up in the Fiesta Bowl

Sat, 11/17/2012 - 10:50pm
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Wow, what a crapfest Saturday turned out to be for the University of Oregon football program.

With the top spot in the BCS Rankings just a field goal away, the weakness in the program for years came through and the Ducks lost 17-14 to Stanford in overtime at home.

Forget about the national title game. Maybe even the Pac-12 title game. Hello Fiesta Bowl or one of the other BS games.

Anyone excited about travelling to a game the Ducks haven't been looking forward to all season?

Oregon State fans would be thrilled to be in the Fiesta Bowl, or Orange Bowl, or Sugar Bowl, or any Bowl game played in 2013. Oregon?

This is what the top-level fans get without a playoff system.


How often have field goals been the bain of the Oregon football program? Way too often, starting with last year when the difference between a possible win over USC that derailed a spot in the national title game was a field goal.

Saturday, Oregon was 0-2 on field goals, the first one being the real difference in the game.

Maybe the Ducks should start recruiting a place-kicker.

So, now Oregon fans have to pull for another upstart - UCLA - to have a monster game and beat Stanford just to have a shot at the Pac-12 title game.

Wow. If Stanford wins, that would be Stanford vs. UCLA, not Oregon vs. USC, in the conference title game.

Wow. What a season that could have been - for both Oregon and USC, which both started out in the Top 5.


Oregon's football drama is on the other sideline

Mon, 11/05/2012 - 4:15pm
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For the University of Oregon football fans who can remember the 1994 season that culminated with a trip to the Rose Bowl, times have certainly changed.

The team wins more - a lot more, and it's expected to win basically every week. Heck, not basically, just flat out. And, it does.

Oregon wins so often that it's sort of moved right out of the Pac-12 and into the nation's BCS title contenders.

Look at the Ducks' schedule this season and is there another game that sparks any real interest like Nov. 3 at USC?

Washington? Saturday's opponent? Maybe the Huskies will hang on for a half, like Washington State did last year.

If there's one down side to the Oregon football team being so good, it's that there are never any real wins anymore. They're all just waiting to happen. They're all supposed to be victories. The only real drama in any of the games nowadays, is if they can prevent a loss. The real drama for every game the Ducks play is on the opposing sideline. That's what will always make the 1994 season special, because Oregon was the other sideline.

And Washington was Oregon's big rival. OSU hadn't done anything in decades other than lose, and Oregon had been to a couple bowl games in the recent past, so they were due for a special run. The best way to know it was going to happen? Washington. Beat Washington.

The 1994 game, played at Autzen, provided the Ducks the opportunity that set the program up for two decades of success. Kenny Wheaton, just a freshman, returned an interception the lentgh of the field for a touchdown and the Ducks won 31-20.

But, that was a long time ago.

In the following decade, OSU started winning and even went to a BCS game, which made the Civil War important again. And, the Huskies just haven't kept pace. They win sporadically and celebrate when they are able to beat Stanford. The Huskies are ranked thie week - wow!!!

Oregon fans will get pumped when they start drawing votes for No. 1 away from Alabama.

So, Saturday, get out the frankenweenies and marshmallows as the Ducks roast the Huskies across Autzen. Again.

Pac-12 goes on trial at Arizona State

Thu, 10/18/2012 - 9:27am
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With the college football season heading for the second half and the BCS Rankings entering every fans' inner man cave, Oregon's game at Arizona State Thursday night carries a lot more weight than just a regular Pac-12 game.

It's an Oregon victory just waiting for the opening kickoff, but the key part most of the nation will be watching isn't the Ducks, but the Sun Devils. The nation won't be looking at how much the Ducks win by, but how the Devils lose - can they make the game interesting for 60 minutes?

How Oregon blows apart the league - other than USC and Stanford last year, is the key reason why Oregon got bumped behind Florida in the BCS even though the Gators have a loss on their record. That's the same deal that happened last year with Alabama and LSU (which ultimately led to the least entertaining championship game in years).

ASU enters the game at 5-1, so it's got the record to promote there's an exciting game waiting to happen. But, the Ducks have gone right through those cases on the way to the conference title the past three seasons.

So, ASU looks like a good team - on paper, but can they put it together on the field and not only play well, but make Oregon have to play really well to win?

What's a good score that'll show that off to the BCS computers?

Oregon 31, ASU 23

The Devils have the ball at the end of the game, but Oregon shuts 'em down at the 25.


Is there a limit to Thomas Tyner?

Wed, 10/10/2012 - 5:29pm
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After a 10-TD performance, and another two scores and 254 yards, Thomas Tyner has the community at Aloha High School looking directly at a second Class 6A state title in three years, something that would still be stunning for a school stuck at the bottom of the Metro League for decades.

The energy starts with Tyner, a senior running back already headed for the University of Oregon. Two weeks ago, Tyner ran for 10 touchdowns in an 84-63 win over Lakeridge. Then, Tyner's two scores and the team's solid defense beat Sunset 13-8 to improve the Apollos to 4-0 overall.

While Tyner's season has dazzled the state and prep fans across the Northwest, there's one number that's got a bit of intruigue in it - 42 - as in times Tyner carried the ball Friday night.

At 42 carries, that's more than 10 per quarter, which is something very few college and no professional coaches would dole out to a running back.

After reading about those 42 carries, it's again intruiguing to wonder if the University of Oregon got in touch with Aloha coach Chris Casey and asked if they had another back who could use some extra work to showcase their skills to the college world?

The U of O, as we know, is all about making things happen in the football world, and that requires healthy players. If Tyner gets the ball 42 times a game and gets worn out before he even gets to Eugene, how's he going to wind up on the cover of Sports Illustrated?

Tyner's 10 TDs, those UO reps could be casually pointing out, were against a defense that gave up 49 points the previous week and 59 points in its next game. Was Tyner the lone player in the Aloha backfield who could've scored more than a couple touchdowns?

And 42 carries. Westview, Aloha's opponent Friday, has given up four or five touchdowns in three of its four games this season.Even if the game is tight like the Sunset game, those same reps could be pointing out a team doesn't win any playoff games in September.

There's likely to be plenty of attention focused on Tyner for the rest of the season, but one misstep and his season, and maybe career, goes onto physical therapy.Forty-two carries is likely to be his career high, and I'd wager a few bacon cheeseburgers at any local restaurant he doesn't get 30 carries in any game - even against Jesuit - until, perhaps, the state final. That's when you know he's gotten the attention of the Ducks, not so much for what he's done on the playing field, but for what the Ducks don't want him doing anymore - getting hurt.




Terry Stotts is as good a good fit for Portland

Tue, 10/09/2012 - 1:47pm
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The Portland Trail Blazers finally answered the question about their head coach by naming Terry Stotts to the position Tuesday afternoon.

After months of uncertainty, the team has a leader with experience in the position.

Stotts gets credit for helping develop the offense the Dallas Mavericks used to win the 2011 NBA Championship.

Of course, that offense had Dirk Nowitzki at its center, Jason Terry dashing down the lane and Jason Kidd handling the ball. Don't forget the energetic, involved owner, Mark Cuban, and years of previous near-misses as a playoff team.

In Portland, Stotts takes over a franchise basically re-starting its drive to become a playoff team, which chose him as coach over ... Caleb Kanales, who is regularly noted for having started with the team as a video coordinator.

Stotts inherits a team with an All-Star in LaMarcus Aldridge, but is mostly waiting to be developed or recogonized for their consistency such as Nicolas Batum. Only Aldridge has as many as six years of experience in the league among the current roster.

Portland's has - plenty of potential - had to be a key in Stotts wanting to move to the Rose City, something that plenty of other possible coaches apparently weren't hyped about, even without the stress of needing to win right away. Stotts can grow with the team, as Portland's fans learn to love the roster of young guns.

So, it's "Rise With Us!" again. From the coach to rookies to international standouts.



Jefferson is a source of trouble, opportunity

Mon, 09/17/2012 - 8:10am
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“Accept the challenges so you may feel the exhilaration of victory.”

George S. Patton

“An association of men who will not quarrel with one another is a thing which has never yet existed, from the greatest confederacy of nations down to a town meeting or a vestry.”

Thomas Jefferson

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

“If you cannot punt, do not face fourth-and-long.”

Cliff Pfenning


There’s about a million famous quotes that can be referenced to the situation the Jefferson High School football program is facing this week.

The varsity team is 0-3 and lost its league opener on Friday, so reaching the state playoffs is what the players might be focused on. But, the bigger issue is one relating to the sidelines, where the coaches are during a game, or should be, anyway.

Friday, coaches from the team were so verbally abusive of officials during the 30-12 loss to visiting Madison that the head official actually stopped the game with time remaining.

The game outcome had been decided – just 2 minutes, 59 seconds remained – but those few remaining plays are the ones regularly used to get second- and third-team players into a game.

And, they’re part of the 48-minute game. No one there that I talked to had ever been to a game actually ended by officials because of coaches.

It’s a mini-disaster at a school that regularly encounters mini-disasters, both inside and outside its hallways. Jefferson is the lone school in the state where African-American students are a majority of total population. It’s had a constant rotation in its administration and was nearly closed just a couple years ago. Football and basketball home games attract what you might call and police outpost, around the ticket booth because shootings during those events are not uncommon.

So, what to do?

The team. The athletic department. The school. The district athletic department. The school district itself? The state officials association is involved. Even the Oregon School Activities Association has a reason to become involved.

When I tell people about the game’s end, and I was standing 20 feet from where it all went down, the response is consistent: how can adults act like that in front of kids they’re supposed to be setting an example for? In front of the community they represent?

Jefferson has faced and overcome similar challenges in the recent past. In 2009, the team had what amounted to a bench-clearing brawl during a road game at Crater in Central Point. That circumstance got the OSAA involved, and it was caused by players.

The Democrats lost the game and were 0-4 at the time, but won their next nine games to reach the Class 5A state final, where they lost to Hillsboro and Colt Lyerla.

What makes the coaches’ actions more of a challenge is the coaching staff itself – head coach Aaron Gipson had not coached at any level before being hired in late spring to lead the program.

His hiring was seen by more than a few members of the surrounding community as something of a “glam” hire because of his connection to the University of Oregon, where he played from 2002-05. Everything connected to the UO football program these days seems to exude excellence, regardless of the logic that leads to that conclusion.

Gipson played at Oregon, so he must know everything about football, including all the elements of coaching.

Having met him several times as both a community member – my kids can attend Jefferson – and as a reporter, and even watched two of the team’s three games, Gipson is the kind of coach I can see having my son play under:

• Jefferson’s players are well conditioned. In the two games I’ve seen, not one player has left the field from muscular cramping, even though they’ve played in conditions that would lead to that, especially as the key players are on the field virtually the entire game.

• Even under a first-year coach, the Democrats are a competitive team. They don’t have much of a running game, but a lot of teams don’t have much of a passing game. They focus on their strength.

• Jefferson’s players play with a lot of heart, a ton of heart. Despite being the smallest school at the Class 5A level (Jefferson would be one of the smallest schools at Class 4A, too), the Democrats have made the state playoffs six years in a row, and won the Portland Interscholastic League title four of those years. And, of course, they played in the state title game just three years ago.

The team’s big problem currently, is the simple lack of experienced leadership on the football field on game night.

Gipson’s background is in speed and agility training, so it follows the team would be set up to play for a whole game without cramping up.

Gipson’s further training is as a mentor, which is how he got involved with Jefferson in the first place - talking with athletes after a shooting at the school last year. So it figures the players might be able to overcome challenges and play with a lot of heart under his leadership.

Gipson just lacks the kind of coaching experience that would lead him to jump in the face of an assistant and keep them from getting a game halted. It might lead him to better control the flow of a game so that the Democrats might win in a close contest.

I can’t help but think Friday’s game would not have ended the way it did if only the Democrats could punt effectively, as in when it’s fourth and long, they were able to snap the ball to a punter, who kicked it away so that the strategic value of field position was affected.

Jefferson’s defense might not have given up four touchdowns if it was able to defend 60 yards instead of 35. The Demos set up to punt four times, but only got one punt away – the other three were disasters and didn’t involve the ball getting kicked.

In a closer contest, the Jefferson’s assistants would have had more reason to control their emotions to avoid penalties for their actions.

So, what to do?

Suspend coaches? The level of penalties suggests this to some degree.

Fire coaches? There’s at least one assistant who should be removed.

Fire the whole staff?

This would be a significantly harsh move and would affect the players on the field to an unfair level. Gipson and his staff have guided the team to a competitive level, but just had a really bad game.

It was a rough game to watch, too, because of all the penalties. There were a lot of penalties, especially holding calls. Without having kept track, I can’t say how many, but if someone suggested there were 20 holding calls in the game, I wouldn’t doubt it. There were a lot of holding calls, on Madison, too.

Coaches from virtually any team would have been frustrated with the level of penalties called in the game, and the state officials association might look into the game as well.

What Jefferson needs is access to an experienced coach, and not a replacement for Gipson, but simply a mentor. There’s tons of experienced coaches who might step in and sit down with Gipson and his staff and provide some expertise on how to move forward.

“Guys, here’s how we can succeed off the field, and on the field as well.”

The leadership of Portland Public Schools district doesn’t have a strong reputation, but this would be a fabulous way to look at the challenge of Friday night as an opportunity to show a path to success.

There’s corrective action that needs to happen, but there’s guidance that can happen, too.

The Jefferson football program is a chance to showcase what leaders of Portland Public Schools have learned. Let’s see what they’ve learned.












Is Seattle win or loss better for GW Out?

Thu, 09/06/2012 - 11:52am
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   Imagine if the Portland Timbers had won Wednesday's game in Colorado. 

   At 30 points, with seven games, left, there might actually have been some considerable excitement about the team maybe squeezing into the playoffs, especially with one game left against Vancouver - the team in fifth place.

   And, the winless streak on the road would have been history.

   All gone.

   So the Timbers are back to where they've been all season on the road - seemingly somewhere else.

   General Manager Gavin Wilkinson had some momentum on his side entering the game with those eight points in August, having named an incoming head coach, and sending an inspired line-up onto the field game after game, regardless of the status of Kris Boyd.

   All the grumbling about GW being replaceable, just like anyone else, seemed like an early pounce on the team's savior. Calm down, Armed ones!

   What now?

   What's all that momentum matter without a win?

   So, the GW Out crew has reason to show up in force Sept. 15 when the team returns to Jeld-Wen Field for a crucial Cascadia Cup match against Seattle, a win that would wrap up the Cup for Soccer City USA.

   That's going to be a challenging game for the GW Out crew. On one hand, a Timbers win would be fantastic because it would secure the Cup. On the other hand, a loss would be great fodder for sending GW to another post in the organization, or, perhaps, another organization.

   That's going to be an entertaining game on and off the field, more than usual.


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