You can feel the relief, even now.
A week has passed since Oregon coach Chip Kelly appeared to be out the door on the way to the NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers only to let it be known in the midnight hour he wasn’t going anywhere.
For the Duck fans who stayed up until the story played itself out, it was eight or so hours of disbelief, shock, sadness, and finally jubilation.
“The only decision I made was to not accept the job,” Kelly said in a Thursday interview with Eugene radio host Steve Tannen. “I never changed my mind. I never committed to the job and then flip-flopped and went back.”
If there was anything gained from that emotional roller-coaster of a day, it was lessons learned and truths retold. Here are a few from this writer:
Nothing is forever: Death and taxes are a certainty. So is the eventual departure of the ball coach. When times are good — and, oh, they’ve been that and more for the Oregon program for several years now — it’s easy to picture the guy on the sidelines remaining forever. The Kelly-not-to-Tampa saga is a reminder that such thinking is like the wish you make before you fail to blow out the candles.
They fear Oregon: Washington fans like to dismiss Duck success with Rose Bowl talk. USC fans do the same with their 11-national-championships smack. But make no mistake about it, both fan bases have grown to fear Oregon. It was never more apparent during that 8-hour period a week ago when the glee in Seattle and L.A. was enough to conclude alcohol is not always a necessity for happiness.
Kelly is revered: The depressed mood in Eugene was palpable that Sunday night. There was genuine sadness in households, stores and bars. A friend of mine stepped into the Safeway on 18th Street and encountered moping checkers and ashen-faced shoppers. Kids went to bed crying. Students held vigils in dorm rooms, following the latest on Twitter. Yes, it’s just football. But the ‘Chipisms’ — the Irish grin, the Win the Day philosophy, the wisecracks, the innovation and determination, the attendance at soldier funerals, the fourth-down plays, and, yes, the habit of winning big and often — have captivated Duck fans like no coach ever has before. The thought of Kelly’s departure brought to the surface emotions rarely felt in Duckland.
The staff isn’t far behind: With Kelly apparently out the door that night, many observers began pondering the fate of all the long-time Oregon assistants — Nick Aliotti, Don Pellum, Gary Campbell, John Neal, Steve Greatwood — knowing that they were likely gone, too. It left many a bit wistful — even those who’ve been critical of Aliotti in the past — and remindful of how much assistants contribute to a program’s success.
The tweet must be filtered: If there was ever a reason to take Twitter Journalism with a jar of salt, the Kelly-not-to-Tampa saga is it. One of the sloppiest offenders was SPORTSbyBROOKS, who first retweeted a story by Football Scoop that Kelly had accepted the Tampa job and then defended the erroneous report by tweeting, “As credible as it gets.” If that wasn’t enough, SPORTSbyBROOKS then tweeted this doozy, “I can confirm Chip Kelly is already assembling a coaching staff for the Bucs — from a source w/ direct knowledge of process.”
Bye-bye gimmick tag: One way opponents and critics have poked the Ducks in the eye is to proclaim Kelly’s system is all about gimmicks and trickery — and is not “real boy football.” Now that the mighty NFL has come calling where does that argument stand? How about 10 yards behind a De’Anthony Thomas kickoff return with an open field in front of him.
A certain species of Duck is nuts: Every fan base has them, but a very small minority of Oregon fans slipped into a serious case of delusional thinking that evening. I won’t repeat what was said and typed, but fair to say the number of conspiracy theories circulating — mostly ones involving one Willie Lyles — underwent a spike.
Don’t forget the past: Let’s be real. Winning three straight Pac-12/10 championships and reaching the BCS National Championship Game has led to a certain smugness and complacency among some who follow the program. The softer demand for Rose Bowl tickets being one example. The decline in decibels in Autzen another. ESPN’s Ted Miller, one of the best journalists in the pool that covers the team regularly, offered this suggestion after it became clear Kelly wasn’t leaving: “The Pac-12 blog’s advice to Oregon fans is to live in and enjoy the present, perhaps with even more appreciation for this golden age of Ducks football.” If I were to translate Miller’s words, it would go something like this: Cheer louder than ever next season, Ducks … and the season after … and after … and after …