Before each game as head coach at the University of Oregon, Chip Kelly would touch a picture of UO legend Hugo Bezdek at the Casanova Center.
The parallels between Kelly and Bezdek are a bit eery. Kelly is from New Hampshire; Bezdek was raised in New Jersey so they’re both from the East Coast. Bezdek was 127–58–16 as a college coach with a 1-13 NFL record. Kelly was 44–5 in the NCAA and the San Francisco 49ers are 1-10 under the former Oregon coach this season.
But both Bezdek and Kelly are still considered University of Oregon legends even though neither returned to the program.
“He totally revolutionized the game in every way. He was Kelly a century before,” Kurt Liedtke, a staff reporter at Herald and News in Klamath Falls, Oregon told us.
“Everything people talk about with the innovative, mad genius? This guy was running the spread offense — by 1914 standards.”
Liedtke was once explained as the “Official Unofficial Oregon Ducks Football Historian” by ThePostGame.com. Here are some of the crazy parallels Liedtke explained to The Big Lead about the two eras.
In the 1917 East-West Game, quarterback Shy Huntington accounted for every point in the victory over Pennsylvania. He both threw and rushed for a touchdown and added three interceptions as well.
Oregon became the premiere school west of the Mississippi, and all attention was on the UO for the four years that Bezdek led the team from 1913 until 1917.
Bezdek eventually left Eugene to coach a professional team in Pennsylvania, much like Chip Kelly did with the Philadelphia Eagles after the 2013 Fiesta Bowl victory.
When Bezdek left to coach in the pros, Oregon replaced him with Huntington because they wanted to keep the system in place. In the first few seasons with Huntington, they did really well.
UO even appeared in the 1919 Rose Bowl under Huntington, much like Helfrich did in 2014. His final season with Oregon, however, the team finished below .500 with just three wins in 1923. Sound familiar?
Huntington lacked the full support that the Oregon fanbase had for Bezdek. Whenever the team lost a game, folks would call for his job because many wanted Bezdek.
“There were rumors behind his back to get Bezdek to return,” continued Liedtke. “They eventually convinced Hugo to come back to get a key to the city, and they were going to honor his teams.”
Huntington was told that he had to give a speech saying that Bezdek was the best coach in the history of the program.
That was all she wrote for his coaching career. Huntington then sent a letter of resignation to the UO.
Another strange similarity is that Helfrich said he reached out to Kelly to ask if he would return to the program. Helfrich added that Kelly is not interested in the job.
Huntington finished his career as head coach for UO with a .684 winning percentage excluding ties. Helfrich, meanwhile, ended his Oregon career with a .698 record.
“Because they weren’t their predecessor, they never really got their full support,” said Liedtke.
What happened after Huntington left should concern Oregon fans. In the four years after Huntington, the Ducks won nine games and lost sixteen games.
Even worse: from 1925 until 1927, they won just one conference game.
The program then spiraled into mediocrity until the 1940s and won just one conference title between 1919 and 1948. The University had eight head coaches in that time span, including three over the next three seasons.
Oregon has been a stable, successful program since the late 1970s. Helfrich was just the fourth coach over that span. Change may be needed.
But as history shows, change isn’t always for the better. The Ducks’ next hire will be vital.