An Open Letter To Chip Kelly

BCS Trophy

Dear Coach Kelly,

By now most Duck fans seem resigned to the notion of the Fiesta Bowl being your last game as Oregon’s coach. In the media and at the proverbial water cooler, your visor has long been packed for the National Football League. And that’s a compliment to all that you’ve accomplished here: taking our Ducks to four straight BCS bowl games, coming within a hair’s breadth of the national championship, and winning a Rose Bowl. Assuming the pending NCAA penalties aren’t catastrophic (no forfeited titles or wins, no bowl ban), there’s no other time in the history of Oregon football that really even comes close.

Make no mistake: you’ve more than earned your right to try coaching on the biggest playing field. It doesn’t take a smitten Duck fan to acknowledge your esteem throughout the football world as one of the great minds the game has ever produced. As Sports Illustrated once wrote, what Bill Walsh was to the west coast offense, you arguably are to the spread. There’s no such thing as talk about Oregon football these days without speculation about your NFL future—not whether you’ll go, but which team you’ll go to. Your imprint can

already be seen across the league, from the Patriots going up-tempo after a Belichick-Kelly mind meld to the 49ers, Seahawks and others making ample use of the zone-read option. Those last two teams are coached by old adversaries of yours, Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll, who used to insist on pro-set offenses even in college. But even they see the handwriting on the wall, and if they can prosper in the NFL, we know you can too.

But while coaching in the pros is inevitably a challenge you will seek, I’d like to argue that it’s not the ultimate dragon for you to slay.

Part of what makes you extra special as a coach is your fearlessness, your willingness — even outright desire — to embrace the toughest challenge, no matter what people think. The other team stops our inside zone-read on first down? Run the same play three more times. A fan harangues you, asking for his money back after a tough loss? Fine: you write him a check and call the bluff. Fourth down in our own territory? Go for it. You don’t have the nickname “Big Balls Chip” for nothing.

For that reason, I’d like to issue you a challenge that’s bigger than anything you could ever accomplish in the National Football League. The thing is, with the inherent parity that exists in the pros today, even winning a Super Bowl with the lowliest and most long-suffering of championship-starved franchises — be it the Cleveland Browns, the Detroit Lions or the New York Jets — would be less of an accomplishment than winning a college football national championship with the University of Oregon.

Today we Duck fans have a high opinion of ourselves. We bask joyfully in the respect that the program enjoys thanks to the success you helped bring, building on the foundation laid by coaches Mike Bellotti and Rich Brooks. Fans around the country see no greater offense in all of college football, and they marvel at the speed and innovation that Chip Kelly’s Ducks in particular have become known for.

Yet let’s not forget that Oregon was, is and will always be an underdog, a middle-weight fighter swinging in the heavyweight rounds.

Yes, we may benefit from the hundreds of millions that Phil Knight has generously bestowed upon the program. We may enjoy one of the best and most raucous stadium environments in the country. But Oregon, unlike all the other teams competing at the highest echelons of BCS-level college football — Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, Florida, LSU, Texas, Oklahoma USC — lacks a hotbed of recruits in its back yard. With apologies to greats like Joey Harrington, Mel Renfro, Troy Polamalu or Ndamukong Suh, the state of Oregon produces vastly fewer top-caliber players than Florida, California, Texas, Pennsylvania or Alabama. We also lack that kind of winning tradition. Though the Ducks have much to be proud of, especially over the last twenty-five years or so, we still have only two BCS bowl wins in the last 95 years and no national championships. Though our recent past has been golden, most of our history is one big struggle to get to .500 football.

But with a national championship, our very DNA as Ducks would be changed forever, and it would be a transformation overshadowing even the most celebrated feats in Canton, Ohio, at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

At first I wasn’t going to write any of this, because I didn’t want to simply say, “Don’t go because WE want a national championship.” But then I remembered that the Ducks still have one thing to offer you that the Philadelphia Eagles and all the other teams that will come calling can’t: the ultimate challenge.

Beyond money or fame, Coach Kelly, I believe you need the biggest undertaking your big football brain and ego can find. In the long run, that will mean leaving Eugene for a bigger city, and leading mature men instead of 19-year-olds. Even so, don’t forget the power of the counter-intuitive move. Everybody has you with more than one foot out the door, but you know and I know that there is unfinished business at Oregon.

You come from New England, where seafaring tales like Moby Dick once provided America’s first great national mythology. So let’s put it this way: are you captain enough to slay Oregon’s white whale, or will you — like ordinary coaches — simply go to look for a bigger ship? If you truly are the legend you’ve so far shown yourself to be, winning the Ducks a national championship is worth sticking around for, and it’s just the kind of counter-intuitive move you’ve already made an inherent part of your character. After all, you can’t win tomorrow unless you win the day today.

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Brian Libby

Brian Libby

Brian Libby is a writer and photographer living in Portland. A life-long Ducks football fanatic who first visited Autzen Stadium at age eight, he is the author of two histories of UO football, "Tales From the Oregon Ducks Sideline" and "The University of Oregon Football Vault." When not delving into all things Ducks, Brian works as a freelance journalist covering design, film and visual art for publications like The New York Times, Architect, and Dwell, among others.

  • raisin212k

    Spot on, Mr. Libby. Couldn’t have voiced my exact thoughts any better than this. Mr. Kelly is the greatest, but in the eyes of most Ducks fans, he would be leaving the job unfinished!

  • Maren

    Great, wonderfully written

  • Big D

    Nice writing Brian! I totally agree! The reality is that IF Chip leaves, he is not near as smart as he appears. Currently he is one of the highest paid college coaches as a program that does not have the tradition or resources of an Alabama or LSU. He all but walks on water in Eugene and and the UO, he would be able to make a ton of money, have top shelf quality of life, be involved with the game he loves and bask in the glory that he would have to REALLY screw up to lose his job for what? To coach in the NFL and in 3 years be yesterday’s old laundry? Take a look at the quality coaches who were fired today and while your add it, name one college coach that has gone on to be successful in the NFL. Saban’s ego drove him to do it and he quickly learned that life in the pros stinks and did an about face quickly. Dennis Erickson allowed his ego to take him away from OSU for a couple year stint with the niners and he has said it was his biggest mistake. Spurrier couldn’t do it and he played in the pros neither could Kiffin ora handful of others for that matter. Sure Pete Carroll is doing it but his background is in the pros. The point is that if Chip is stupid enough to think he will be the guy to change the “college coaches going pro and then getting fired trend”, than he isnt real smart to begin with..

  • Fly High

    Excellent letter, and I would like to add something.


    A number of coaches have left excellent situations in the college ranks for the pros and regretted that decision later. The regret was not just about success or failure, but about people. I think you have an exceptional situation, surrounded by coaches who are professionals. have pretty small egos for someone working in their position, and have bought into your philosophy and work well as a team. This is not a small thing, it will not be easy to duplicate. You may never find this again. So think twice about leaving Oregon. If you do decide to go, I would suggest waiting for an NFL organization that would have a good chance of giving you this type of atmosphere. By my count, there are only two, New England and Green Bay. Continue to succeed on the college level, you are young for a coach, and wait for an organization that is worthy of you.

  • Manchester Central Stinks

    Chip! Stay a Duck! The only job you really should ever consider is turning UNH into the East Coast version of Boise St. Other than that, there’s a group of yellow and green folks that love and need you!

  • Jakob Thomas

    Dear Chip, I have been a die hard Philadelphia Eagles fan since I was very little. When you came in and took us to the playoffs in your first year, I really liked you. Then you started trading and cutting good players this past off season. Why did you trade Foles!Why did your trade McCoy?You’re the dumbest fucking coach I’ve ever seen. You traded away a playoff team for a fucking college team. I hope you get fired. Quit trying to act like Bill Bellocheck because you’re not. I hope you know that your are hated and that you pretty much ruined our season this year. Thanks a lot Chip. You are so fucking stupid.