Helton hopes to bring exciting offense with him in return to the Hill

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Matt Stahl

The introduction of new football head coach Tyson Helton carried one major theme: WKU’s desire to return to its former success, which Helton was part of.

The emphasis was clear from the moment that President Timothy Caboni took the podium in the Jack and Jackie Harbaugh Club Tuesday.

“We are going to return to a style of offensive play for which WKU has been known,” Caboni said. “I’m very excited that we’re going to move to that.”

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The hire of Helton came very quickly after the firing of former head coach Mike Sanford on Sunday. Helton, who spent last season as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Tennessee and also served in the same role for the Hilltoppers under Jeff Brohm, said that he was extremely excited to be back on the Hill.

“If I’m going to be criticized, I want to be criticized for dang taking chances and trying to make plays,” Helton said. “I don’t want to be criticized for being conservative—let’s try to go win games, getting after people and being aggressive.”

Athletic director Todd Stewart said that he had put the plan in place to approach Helton to be WKU’s next head coach long before the announcement of Sanford’s firing, and that helped make the process go quickly.

“It just consistently wasn’t going in the right direction that we needed to for a variety of factors, but it really kind of became more and more apparent as we went on that we might need to make a change when the season was over,” Stewart said. “So, the process of what to do if that happened began long before this weekend. Now in the case of Tyson, the fact that he was here … there was a level of familiarity there that certainly wasn’t there with other people, and he was the number one guy.”

Helton had a hand in recruiting some of the players currently on WKU’s roster before leaving the school after the 2015 season. He’ll now get the opportunity to coach some of those players.

“I’m excited to get back and get under his wing,” redshirt sophomore quarterback Steven Duncan said. “Just get started with him. Like I said, he’s the guy who recruited me. I committed to him three days after he offered me so I’m excited to work for him, and I think the whole team is.”

Duncan also expressed excitement about playing the offensive style that Helton touted during his introduction.

“That’s the style of football I committed to play here for,” Duncan said. “Whenever I heard it, I had a grin on my face.”

Helton said that one of his major goals was to restore the program’s previous national relevance. In his final season before leaving WKU, the Hilltoppers won the first of back-to-back Conference USA championships and finished ranked 24th in the nation.

“No matter what’s going on, they need to be talking about WKU football,” Helton said. “Western Kentucky Hilltopper football. We need to be sound bites all over America. We were at one time and we will be again, so I want to get us in the national conversation.

Helton said that he planned to get to work evaluating his roster and recruiting immediately following the press conference.

“I had an opportunity to visit with our team prior to coming up here,” Helton said. “I love the look in their eye. I really do. I’ve been very blessed to be on a lot of teams and address teams and you get a feel immediately, what is the demeanor in the room? I saw a bunch of guys who were ready to go win, ready to go work, that were excited.”

Helton was particularly excited to coach players who he had recruited to WKU.

“It’s a unique experience to be able to now be in charge of those guys,” Helton said. “Looking forward to that.”

Reporter Matt Stahl can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @mattstahl97.