The fate of Arizona State’s quarterbacks coach — whom Dirk Koetter calls "one of the best-kept secrets in college football" — seemed to be the worst-kept secret in Tempe in recent days.
On Sunday, however, it was made official: Mark Helfrich is leaving ASU to accept the offensive coordinator job at Colorado, where he will more than double his salary and take another step toward his ultimate objective of being a head coach.
"It’s a different challenge," said Helfrich, who has been the Sun Devils’ passing-game coordinator for three seasons and has assumed much of the play-calling responsibilities in games.
"I’ve been with Coach Koetter nine years, and it’s been great. I’ve learned so much. It’s time to see if I’m ready. I think I am, and I’m appreciative of this opportunity."
Koetter, who has the title of ASU offensive coordinator, said that there is no timetable to fill Helfrich’s position. Though he has a couple of coaches he wants to talk to, he is also eager to see who expresses interest in the job.
"I’ve already had some calls," Koetter said. "It will all work out. This is a great spot, and a lot of people would want to work in this offense."
Helfrich, 32, will be reunited with new Buffaloes coach Dan Hawkins, whom he worked with on Koetter’s staff at Boise State. Hawkins has been Boise State’s coach since Koetter left for ASU after the 2000 season.
From the instant Hawkins was introduced at Colorado on Friday, Helfrich was rumored as a candidate to join his staff.
Helfrich will earn $250,000 annually — $100,000 of which comes out of Hawkins’ deal (he will receive up to $1.6 million per year) as an "assistant coaching stipend." He has a $113,500 salary at ASU.
"He’s going to be 32 and an offensive coordinator at a Big 12 school, and pretty soon, he’ll be a head coach," said quarterback Sam Keller, who was recruited by Helfrich. "I know that’s what he wants to do eventually, and he will be awesome. It’s a great opportunity for him. . . . They will be very happy with him when he gets there."
Under Helfrich’s guidance, Andrew Walter became a record-setting quarterback for the Sun Devils, and in 2005, Keller and Rudy Carpenter directed an offense that ranks fourth in the nation overall, third in passing.
Helfrich said that he feels the Buffaloes’ offensive scheme will be "similar, but not identical" to ASU’s. Colorado is 77th in the nation in offense.
ASU will get an close look at Helfrich’s new offense when it meets Colorado on Sept. 16 in Boulder. The schools will play in Tempe the following season.