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Are Marcus Mariota and Mark Helfrich “too nice” to be champions?

Call this a topic for discussion, in a world where everything is a two-edged sword.

Both Mariota and Helfrich are celebrated for their easy-going, pleasant natures. Mariota is unfailingly polite, the product of what is obviously a very solid upbringing. He's been raised to be a gentleman and to share credit in everything he accomplishes. Duck fans love him for his modesty, his unassuming nature and his genuineness.

Brain trust: the 2014 Oregon football team will go as far as Mark Helfrich's and Marcus Mariota's leadership will carry them (Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports photo).

Helfrich, meanwhile diffuses every serious question with a joke, often a self-deprecating one. The adjective most often used to describe him is affable. Oregon fans love his small-town roots and the fact that he's a man who remembers where he came from, one who deeply values the opportunity to coach at Oregon, something he described as "my dream job" when he was promoted a year ago.

But there's another side to competing at the highest level. In an article in Grantland.com yesterday, Chris Brown wrote a thoughtful profile of Peyton Manning, Super Bowl quarterback of the Denver Broncos, one of the greatest of all time at his position. Among the telling observations was this anecdote about a young Manning vying for the starting job back at Tennessee in 1995, a fierce head-to-head battle with a highly-touted passer from Texas named Branndon Stewart. Brown writes:

While Manning and Stewart were always on friendly terms, Manning never missed a chance to gain an edge. “I locked [Stewart] out of a quarterback meeting one night,” Manning wrote. “We were scheduled to meet with coaches at eight o’clock, when a lot of the buildings on campus are closed and everything looks deserted. I was walking through one of the doors they had kept open for us and it ‘accidentally’ closed behind me, locking automatically. I knew Branndon was running late and that he’d have to get through that door. I didn’t bother to prop it back open.”

Brown adds a quote from Peyton's father Archie, from his book, Manning: “Peyton doesn’t laugh off defeats. He examines them, over and over, like laboratory specimens.”

It would be foolish to question the dedication, character or commitment of Mariota and Helfrich. Each devotes long hours to getting the most out of their ability and the talents of the Oregon team. But in a sport where the line between achievement and being forgotten is so fine, another element of the equation is "the killer instinct." Great coaches and athletes have it, a willingness to do almost anything to win or get an edge. Michael Jordan is probably the foremost example. Chip Kelly is another one.

Oregon fans love Mariota, justifiably. Most like and respect Helfrich, who is by all measures a decent and intelligent man.

Mariota doesn't have to lock anybody out of a meeting, because no one is going to beat him out for the Oregon starting job. Yet there are times fans might wish he had the capacity to be a little meaner, a little more assertive, more willing to "be confident in everything you do."

His modesty is admirable and his talent is undeniable. But in 2014, he needs to shut the door on Brett Hundley, Cody Kessler and the rest of the PAC-12. And his coach has to start pushing the right buttons and levers, starting with the next team meeting and film session with his coaches.

 

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