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Near Gone, Kelly’s Heart Calls Him Back

In the early hours of the morning, Chip Kelly changed his mind. When heads hit pillows on both coasts, Oregon’s Kelly, fresh off his third straight B.C.S. berth – and first win – was nearly signed, sealed and delivered to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Nearly, of course is key: as with recruiting, nothing is official until signatures meet dotted lines. For as far as Kelly’s discussions moved along with Tampa Bay, his cursive script never met the bottom of a contract; perhaps there’s hope after all, thought a portion of the Oregon fan base, as heads hit pillows. Then again, no Oregon fan could have been upset if Kelly followed the money, not to mention Phil Knight’s personal and professional mantra: Just Do It.

Even if he had left last night, or leaves at some point within the next three years, Kelly’s place in program history is more than secure. He’s the only coach to win 12 games in Eugene, something he’s now done twice. He, along with Bellotti, share all seven of the double-digit win seasons in program history.

Kelly in Oregon lore: built by others – Rich Brooks and Mike Bellotti – the program has taken a step forward under his watch. The Ducks have become the Google of college stock, growing exponentially while other, more historically prestigious programs struggle reclaiming past glory.

So you’d understand why Tampa Bay was interested. And you’d understand why Kelly would reciprocate any interest; the N.F.L. offers Kelly not just a large annual contract, but also the opportunity to put behind the sort of non-coaching business that plagues the day-to-day activities of a college coach.

There’s no recruiting in the N.F.L., which to some college coaching stars might be the league’s most attractive draw of all. There’s no petting the egos of high school juniors and seniors. No milking relationships with high school coaches – or a figure like Willie Lyles.

Speaking of Lyles, the N.F.L.’s enforcement committee focuses primarily on non-sanctioned sock height, noticeable bandanas and overaggressive over-the-middle head shots. Measure that with how the N.C.A.A. pursues a figure like Lyles, the Texas-based runner who factors heavily in Oregon’s past and future, and you can see why Kelly, and others, look at the N.F.L. as the promised land.

It’s an idea that goes beyond merely competing on football’s highest level, which according to reports has long been one of Kelly’s career goals – him and everyone else, it should be added. Some coaches, like a Steve Spurrier, aren’t happy until they’ve tried their hands on the N.F.L.; most come back with their tail between their legs, but they tried.

So what flipped Kelly – what made a done deal into no deal? Fairly simple, really: his heart wasn’t in it. Everything else was, but according to Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik, Kelly’s “heart is with college football and Oregon.”

Music to Oregon’s ears, and a disaster averted. And put to bed the idea that Kelly was jumping ship, much in the same way most assumed Pete Carroll skipped town at U.S.C. just as the N.C.A.A. was preparing to drop the hammer on the Trojans’ program.

The only issue with that idea, that Carroll got out of Dodge, was that Carroll had been eyeballing a return to the N.F.L. – a chance to reclaim his good name on that level – for at least two years prior to his eventual departure. He was merely waiting for the right opportunity, one that would allow him to have some degree of power of personnel decisions.

Kelly was going for the fun of it. Well, perhaps fun is the wrong word: the N.F.L. is a lot of things to a lot of people, but coaching in the N.F.L. is the opposite of fun; there’s a reason Bill Belichick, the most successful N.F.L. coach in generations, never smiles. Vince Lombardi only smiled on Sunday nights after victories, when he and his wife would entertain guests with cocktails in hand.

Kelly wanted to go because, with a George Mallory-like mentality, the N.F.L. is there. But his heart wouldn’t be there; as Dominik noted, his heart would have remained with Oregon and college, where Kelly knows his offensive philosophy remains the most devastating attack in the F.B.S.

So Oregon breaths a sigh of relief, and looks forward to a few years of coaching consistency. You forget that the Ducks have experienced precious little coaching turnover for decades, not just at head coach – three since 1977 – but also with assistants. Running backs coach Gary Campbell is closing in on three decades in Eugene, for example.

For a few hours, it seemed as if the program would need to return to the drawing board. This would be completely unlike the transition from Brooks to Bellotti, when Oregon promoted the latter, then Oregon’s defensive coordinator, from within the staff. Or from Bellotti to Kelly – offensive coordinator to head coach.

Knight and the Ducks would have looked outside the program, and things may have never been the same again. Yes, there’s that Nike money, not to mention the fact that Oregon’s national prestige continues to grow with every passing fall; once nouveau riche, the Ducks are close to joining the old guard.

There will be no new coaching search, though it was close. The program’s climb will continue under Kelly, though Oregon might want to have a transition plan in mind, should he ever be enticed once again by coaching on football’s highest level.

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Comments

  1. WashingtonDCduck says:

    Trying to be objective here and putting down the green colored Oregon Kool-Aid I think Chip Kelly did the right thing here. It’s tough to be dispassionate and impartial, but looking at all the facts Chip Kelly made the right call (albeit a late one, 3 a.m. back east Monday morning and midnight back west) by remaining in Eugene.

    Chip Kelly has the keys to one of the most high octane football programs in the country; meaning, the guy has resources that rivals the old guard of college football and like you said he’s got the programs stock hotter than ever.

    A six-story football only facility is about 18 months away from completion, which will sit squarely adjacent to Autzen Stadium that will be the Taj Mahal of college football nerve centers, (Oregon’s football power brokers visited the likes of Austin, Tuscaloosa, Columbus, and Normon amongst others to see what they like/disliked in college football’s bluebloods offices and made blueprints financed 100% by the Knight family), Oregon is showing a tenacity to recruit kids not just from fertile grounds of California but all over the country, and Chip Kelly has complete autonomy in Eugene.

    Sure, the NCAA is rather annoying. I firmly believe Chip’s ambitions are to win, and win big in Oregon and do so consistently – but doing so in the spirit of NCAA guidelines, with integrity. There are guys running college program, not naming names, with biases aside, that reek of cheating and doing everything they can to win at all costs. In all conscience, I don’t find that with Chip Kelly.

    So, with Oregon’s Chip Kelly’s new gigantic home finally completed in north Eugene, maybe he can finally settle in there and start drawing up practice plans for spring ball instead of making plans to be at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.

    Nevertheless, Duck nation just let out one big sigh of relief. Rightfully so.

  2. JimBob says:

    “There are guys running college program, not naming names, with biases aside, that reek of cheating and doing everything they can to win at all costs. In all conscience, I don’t find that with Chip Kelly.”

    You might want to revisit this after the Lyles investigation plays out.

  3. GTWrek says:

    Chip Kelly is one of the very few names over the past few years that have been involved with a scandle and are being investigated by the NCAA. Oregon with this scandle and with it’s Nike money is the very definition of win at all costs.

  4. WashingtonDCduck says:

    “JimBob” and “GTWrek”, relax. I’m confident as an Oregon fan who’s followed the program closely from the 1980s to present day that “win at all costs” does not exist in Eugene. This is not the old Southwestern Conference where guys were getting cash envelopes from Board of Regents members, or rogue boosters.
    Willy Lyles is a shady character, looking to further his interests and not of those he associates with – i.e. the student athletes. You know what though, hindsight is unquestionably 20/20. Did you know Oregon is not the only school to associate with Mr. Lyles? Two examples, LSU and CAL both paid for his “national recruiting package”. Mr. Lyles has been involved in countless programs from coast to coast. Oregon is not the only school he’s had kids associated with him end up at.

    Alabama for example, has paid hundreds of thousands in recruiting service packages in years past. Oregon was put under an uncomfortable light this past summer, and I believe in the integrity of the program and the compliance office in Eugene.

    Because Oregon has a number of wealthy boosters who share passions of Oregon athletics and academics does not make Oregon a “win at all costs” institution. As a student in the 2000s, I was a non-athlete who enjoyed the fruits of Phil Knight’s bigheartedness by studying at a state of the art new Library and Law School library that he fully funded.

    Jealously and resentfulness will make people say foolish things.

  5. Andrew says:

    I nearly died when this came out last night.

    Oregon has a good program, a strong program. But how many recruits would have left before Feb 1 ? And how would a duck team without Thomas, James AND Kelly do next year?

    I think that if he HAD left, the ducks would have picked up Petersen. I know his name comes up with every major job opening, but he spent 5 years at Oregon as an assistant coach and with Kellen Moore Graduated the time appeared to be right. Still, i’d take Kelly over Peterson and i’m glad the crisis has been averted.

    Kelly’s comments hint that he will be headed to the NFL eventually, any guess at how much longer we have our offensive mastermind in Eugene? I think his contract is through 2016?

  6. Lee says:

    Yeah, well Ohio State fans said the same thing…”we believe in the integrity of our program…blah, blah, blah.”

    Look….all it takes is ONE rogue booster, administrator, or coach and your school is screwed.

  7. Hokieshibe says:

    WashingtonDCDuck –
    If there’s smoke, there’s probably fire. You probably shouldn’t be thumping your chest about the integrity thing right now, so much. You guys paid thousands of dollars to a guy of questionable character who was associated with recruits who signed with you, and then couldn’t produce anything when questioned about it. Enjoy having a good team, but know that Oregon’s reputation has certainly taken a hit. Just brushing it off as jealousy/resentfulness shows a lack of touch with reality.

  8. Gotham Gator says:

    Congrats to Oregon, and congrats to college football fans everywhere. It’s terrific when a top college coach makes the right choice to forego the pros and stay in the college game.

    We’ve lost one (Spurrier) and kept another (Donovan), and there is no doubt which one made the right choice.

  9. BobJ says:

    This reminds me of when Mike Bellotti was courted as the head coach at Ohio State. It was a very attractive deal until Bellotti realized that he could coach for as many years as he wished in Eugene, but a series of 8-3 seasons in Columbus, and especially losing to Michigan, would send him out the door.

    Same thing here. Kelley can coach in Eugene forever, and that’s not a bad gig.

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