SOU looking for creativity in next head football coach

Unique situations demand thinking outside the box.

So says Southern Oregon University athletics director Matt Sayre, who will be looking for that quality, among others, as he begins his search for the school's next head football coach.

Sayre on Monday informed head coach Steve Helminiak as well as offensive coordinator Jake Olsen that neither will be back for a sixth season at Southern Oregon. A day later the search for Helminiak's replacement was on, and when asked what kind of qualities he was looking for Sayre said that ingenuity was a must.

"Creativity is the one positive approach to the game and to some of the challenges that SOU has as a football program," said Sayre, a former offensive coordinator who helped the Raiders qualify for NAIA National Championships in 2001 and 2002. "I think you could come into this situation thinking that there are all kinds of things that could go wrong, or you could look at it as a situation with lots of potential. "… We want somebody who's going to come in here and draw the sword and swing it."

Under Helminiak, the Raiders' swing never gained enough momentum to make a serious run at a postseason berth. Hampered at times by key injuries and rough schedules, but also by shoddy play, the Helminiak-led Raiders were 15-32, including 3-7 in 2010. That .319 winning percentage ranks 10th out of 14 coaches in SOU history.

Helminiak's final season looked promising after the team's 2-0 start, but turned out to be another letdown thanks in part to a disastrous Week 4 showdown with Menlo. Armed with a hotshot quarterback and a renewed sense of optimism, the Raiders lost both on one play when junior QB Mike McDonald suffered a season-ending leg injury while attempting to make a tackle after an interception.

Menlo went on to beat the Raiders with a 17-0 fourth-quarter comeback and SOU never recovered, losing its next four games by a combined score of 120-46.

Sayre aims to replace Helminiak with somebody who either has a proven track record, or has learned the ropes in a successful system.

"We're looking for somebody who has demonstrated success and is part of a program that is successful," Sayre said. "And that doesn't necessarily mean a head coach. Maybe somebody who is up and coming."

When asked what his definition of a successful college football program is, Sayre was more philosophical.

"I think it's when both your star and even the least proficient player on the team both feel valued in their contributions to the program," he said. "I think that's success.

"I also think retaining coaches and retaining players here is also important.

You've got to keep high school graduates here for four or five years and rely less on the transfer."

That could be viewed as a change of direction, at least when compared to Southern Oregon's 2010 roster make up. This season, the Raiders suited up 42 transfers on a squad of 93.

"In the past, we've had success recruiting out of small schools — like (former SOU running back) Dusty McGrorty," Sayre said, referring to the record-breaking halfback out of Warrenton High School. "I think we need somebody with the recruiting acumen to go out and get the kids that, honestly, Western Oregon is passing on."

While the school announced Monday that its goal is to bring in a new coach by the end of January, Sayre said that a more realistic goal would be to replace Helminiak by mid-February. Between now and then, the school will assemble a committee made up of about "10 officials on campus and off," which will eventually be responsible for narrowing down the field of candidates.

One major question mark that could affect the number of applicants is whether or not the Frontier Conference will accept Southern Oregon as a football-only member. That decision is expected in early December.

The SOU football team has mostly struggled as an independent since the Columbia Football Association disbanded following the 1998 season.

Even if the Raiders are rejected by the Frontier, however, Sayre expects top-notch candidates to consider SOU.

"It may have an effect on the number of people who apply for the job but I don't think it will affect the quality of people," Sayre said of the possible move to the Frontier Conference. "A lot of people see potential to win football games here. And if we get in I think it's dynamite, and will solve a lot of problems. But if we don't, I already have a schedule for 2011 and 2012.

"We're really looking for that next guy to come in and win some football games and do it creatively, because I think you need to."

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