The lightning speed of the Chip Kelly dalliance with the Tampa Bay Bucs over the weekend stirs all sorts of debate, but I think one aspect of it is most intriguing:
Just how important is Kelly to the pre-eminence of Oregon football?
It’s not an easy one to answer. And the Ducks, even while relieved at Kelly’s apparent about-face in turning way from the Bucs, might have to come to grips with it in the not-too-distant future.
The Oregon phenomenon is hard to parse. Among other things, it involves great facilities, Phil Knight, the appeal of multiple uniforms to Gen Z athletes, and of course, success in having made three straight BCS bowls.
Let’s face it, Oregon isn’t merely a program, it’s become a brand.
Now you parlay that with Kelly’s obvious coaching acumen, especially with hair-trigger offense, and you have a tidal wave that has been engulfing the Pac-12.
What happens if he leaves? My initial thought when it appeared Kelly was outbound was that anti-Oregon fans ought to be careful what they wish for. It might simply mean that Chris Petersen of Boise State is the next Oregon coach. Since he’s already coached there and likes Eugene, that might be the only job that will extract Petersen from Boise.
But let’s say Petersen were to come to Eugene and install the offense he has run at Boise State (minus Kellen Moore). Would that guarantee success? Maybe not. Petersen has long since proved his chops as a standout coach, but the precise ingredients that work in one place aren’t always transferrable to another.
(Besides, while Petersen seems the obvious choice to replace Kelly, the Eugene Register-Guard reported that there were other short-list possibilities like Tony Dungy and Gary Patterson, the TCU coach.)
As for facilities, while Oregon is building a football-only Taj Mahal, the gap isn’t as pronounced as it was a few years ago. More schools have joined the arms race (as silly and senseless as it is).
All this is by way of saying that Kelly means a lot to Oregon, if for no other reason than the continuity of his system. Only he knows what the next step is in the evolution of his offense, and it will inevitably help Oregon that he’s the guy overseeing it.
The question is, for how long? Kelly is a guy who doesn’t indulge all the sideshow stuff that comes with being a college coach. I can’t imagine he likes recruiting a whole lot, nor the NCAA rulebook (with which he’s already embroiled in the Willie Lyles skirmish).
He’s perpetually impatient, often short with TV sideline reporters (though if there’s ever an ilk to be short with, it’s that) and dismissive of innocent questions. He’s got Xs and Os to get back to.
Saturday at the UCLA basketball game, he declined to address the crowd for even a few seconds at a pre-planned introduction of his Rose Bowl victors. He didn’t have to announce that he was staying at Oregon another 10 years, all he had to say was, “It was a great season, we appreciate all the support of you people, and now let’s give it up for the guys who made it all happen on the field.”
He has now taken a dip into the prospective-NFL-coaches pool – Chip and dip — and whatever made him turn his back on it, it probably has a different outcome down the road. Maybe soon.
After that, we’ll know more about Chip Kelly’s importance to Oregon. I’m guessing it’s substantial.