For as long as Chip Kelly stays at Oregon, we’re destined to hear the chatter about him leaving for the NFL. For the most part it’s a lot of talk, completely based on specualtion; however, after having flirted with a coaching position with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kelly has let the cat out of the bag and the subject will dog him no matter how long he chooses to stay at Oregon.
It’s an interesting development in the history of Oregon football coaching. For years, Duck fans waited in earnest while Mike Bellotti would be courted by major football programs. Would he go? Would he stay? Oregon football is not wringing its hands over whether Chip Kelly will bolt for USC or an SEC school. That’s partly a testament to the rise of the Oregon program, and partly a testament to Kelly himself – both have made Oregon a destination, not a stepping stone. The perception is that the only upwards movement is to the pros. My, my, look how far the Ducks have come!
Is a Chip Kelly move inevitable? Is it a foregone conclusion? Is it possible that we really don’t know what his motivations are? I see strong pros and cons to Kelly going to the NFL, and when all is said and done I’m not sure what I would do in the same position. Is it possible that Chip vacillates in his thinking as well?
Because we can’t know Chip well enough to be certain how he would choose, I think that declaring he will do one or the other is pointless. We can, however, look at the benefits and drawbacks of jumping to the NFL, and perhaps understand why he would choose to go to the NFL, or stay at Oregon.
Why Chip Kelly Bolts For The NFL
The Iron Is Hot
Chip has never been a hotter commodity than he is now. Football is about winning, and Kelly brings an impressive win streak to the negotiation table. He also brings entertainment value – how often are you watching pro football and thinking “Well, this is sure slow compared to my Ducks…”? He’s the coach on every GM and owner’s tongue who is looking for a replacement. Ironically, turning down the Tampa Bay job did not dial down his stock. NFL interest in Kelly is not likely to be higher than it is right now.
Chip Has Done All He Can Do In College Football
While this mindset is not completely accurate, it is true in that the way Chip Kelly runs the Ducks program has forced all of college football to take notice. There are other innovative coaches and other great minds in college football, but Chip has put together the Ducks football program in a unique way that carries the stamp of his influence like no one else. The rest of the PAC-12 has had to specifically address the problem of playing against Oregon, and most have not measured up. Nick Saban frets publicly about playing against the spread option. Kelly is innovative and aggressive, and has given college football the greatest kick in the pants it has had in quite some time. One can quibble about not winning the National Championship, but what Chip Kelly has done to exert his will goes far beyond one game, and the repercussions of what he has accomplished at Oregon will be felt for many years to come.
His Ambition Has Its Sights On The Pros
After conquering the world of college football coach, what is left? The NFL. If Chip Kelly is as ambitious as he is reputed to be, then the mountainous challenge of bringing his stamp to the NFL has to be appealing. Some offenses, such as the New England Patriots, are already incorporating elements of his system. If it works for them, how would it not work for the Master himself? Does ambition say “I’ll pass. I don’t think it can work at the pro level…”?
He’ll Have Better Athletes
How often have we heard about Oregon’s lines not being up to snuff? Did you sigh ever so faintly when you saw the size of Ohio State players at the Rose bowl? Did Steve Spurrier not declare (to paraphrase) that Alabama’s defense was NFL quality? Do you think Chip is a bit intrigued by what he could do with a whole team of NFL caliber athletes? He could get that – in the NFL. Imagine having big, fast, and professional at your disposal. That has to be a tantalizing prospect for him.
The Pro Game Is Different
We know that Chip Kelly is competitive. CK talks a great game about every week being the Super Bowl for the Ducks, but in reality there has been a lot of blowouts and Kelly has an outstanding win/loss record. It brings up a philosophical point: Do football games feel less competitive when one is winning almost all the time?
There’s more parity in the NFL. There, you will find greater competition than on the college level. If a coach is ambitious and competitive, then there’s no bigger stage to match wits and strategy than in the NFL. Success there is success unmatched anywhere else. The game of football in the pros is emulated by many and duplicated by none. Surely, Chip Kelly has his sights on that particular brass ring!
Why Chip Stays At Oregon
The College Game Gives Greater Control
Some people are control freaks. Others do a better job of delegating and guiding others. Chip Kelly is a fascinating study in dichotomies. On the one hand, a key to his success has been in letting his excellent staff of assistants do their thing. Meetings are quick – “We good? We’re good.” I often visualize that as being the entirety of a meeting! On the other hand, he calls all his offensive plays and has complete control over guiding the offense. Is Chip Kelly a control freak or a delegator? I leave the question for you to answer.
If Chip goes to the NFL, there will be constraints upon him that he does not find in college ball. Even in an instance of “complete control” it’s not going to be the total control that is the case in college. A college head coach has ultimate control in the selection and use of his players. In the NFL, you have a front office to contend with. You have contract restrictions. It’s not the same. Very few coaches are successful in conditions where they have complete control, such as being a GM and a coach at the same time. Most have their hands full and then some just coaching in the NFL. A coach who is a control freak can have their little OCD tendencies sated in college ball and still be quite successful. That’s a more difficult proposition in the NFL.
The Pro Game Is Different
The NFL can be restrictive, in terms of player personnel, in a way that doesn’t exist in the college game. The pros have to deal with drafts, free agency, contracts, salary caps – all sorts of constraints that don’t exist in the college game. In college football everyone costs the same: a scholarship. If you can recruit talent, you more or less offer a scholarship, the same as every other school. To be sure, college coaches hustle their tails off to land these recruits, but they don’t have to worry about the money constraints and contract conditions that can exist with any professional player. They don’t have to worry about whether the owner or GM is going to add or cut someone just because of the money involved.
There is another way the pro game is different. When I grew up watching football in the 60’s and 70’s (and this was more or less true up to the early 90’s), you had a favorite team and those were your guys. They were likely to be more or less the same unit over a span of some years. Free agency brought about a different feel to the game. Players are hired mercenaries now, juggling offers from the highest bidder. These days it’s easier to have a player affiliation as opposed to your team. How many people care that Payton Manning is now a Bronco? Only the folks in Denver and Indy, perhaps, but if you’re like me you root for or against players, and not so much teams. I have a hard time following the personnel changes on the NFL teams I used to root for, so I don’t even try any longer.
In the college game, you have your guys. There’s cohesion from year to year. There’s consistency. A college coach knows that he has a player that was brought in by scholarship (so for the purposes of this discussion it can be said that the “contract” is on a level playing field with other colleges), and barring injury that player can be counted on for the next 3-4 years. I realize this is an oversimplification, but there’s a consistency that exists in acquiring and keeping players that doesn’t necessarily exist in the NFL. It’s different. I’m not Chip Kelly, but if I were a college coach I would see that as a plus for being a college coach.
Nick Saban. Bobby Petrino. Dennis Erickson. Pete Carroll. Mike Riley. The list goes on and on; the list of college coaches who were successful in college, made the jump to the NFL, and it simply did not work out. For them, and for many others, it did not work out in spectacular fashion. The NFL is rough on coaches, even the successful ones. There are far too many unsuccessful coaches for every Jim Harbaugh for this to even be a point of contention. Also, the jury is still out on Pete Carroll’s second go-round.
Chip Kelly is smart. He has to understand the value of job stability. That exists here, in Eugene, with the Ducks. It exists with the assistants – the grass is not always greener on the other side, and the continuity in coaching at Oregon is unparalleled. Mike Riley understands the concept of the grass not always being greener. He’s earned some cushion at OSU. For all the talk of his seat being warm, he could have endured another sub-.500 season if the Beavers were at least showing improvement. Anyone else? Gone. They would already have been replaced in this day and age where there is no patience for lack of coaching success on the college and professional level.
Let’s face it – at some point the Ducks are going to take a dip. When they do, and if Kelly is still coaching, I cannot envision a scenario where patience would not be granted to him to turn things around. Having the full support of your organization and management is crucial to success. All involved need to realize that trajectories of success don’t always follow a linear path; there are rises and falls, and the rollercoaster needs to be ridden without rash reaction to both the highs and lows. Chip has that here. He has stability and support. The culture of success that he has nurtured here is not exclusively his. There’s no assurance that success will follow him elsewhere. There is the assurance that in Eugene he need not worry about the carpet being yanked out from under him.
This is your classic Chip-ism. When Chip declined the offer from Tampa Bay, his reason for backing away was “unfinished business”. I’m sure that’s the case; however, in the process of providing a reason, he provides no reason. What exactly is this “unfinished business” that Kelly refers to? It could be anything. It could be something managerial that still needs oversight. It could be that there’s an excellent possibility of getting to the National Championship and winning the game. It could be a lot of things — we don’t know and Chip won’t say, nor is he likely to ever clarify on the matter. It can be assumed that because we don’t know the nature of his “unfinished business” that it has not been fully addressed in Kelly’s mind. If he stays for however many more years, then perhaps this business that has not been finished is still unfinished.
The Time Is Not Right
We can probably speculate, with a fair amount of assurance, that Chip Kelly did not take the Tampa Bay position because something wasn’t quite right. Money? I don’t think money was the factor in him turning it down. I think there was something structural or organizational that caused him to pause; something, or a series of factors, that swayed him to the belief that he was likely to not be successful — or at the very least, was taking an unnecessary risk. Chip has at least been enticed at the idea of coaching at the NFL level. With the solid position he has here in Eugene he can afford to be picky and wait for exactly the circumstance and organizational setup he’s looking for. If it doesn’t happen, he can afford to wait. He passed on the Buccaneers’ job. If he passes on another, does his stock go down? I don’t think so, not as long as Oregon has the long term success that they look to be having. He can wait for the right time. If he stays, he may only be waiting for exactly the right offer to present itself.
You Can Never Go Back Home
What if Coach Kelly goes to the NFL and fails in spectacular fashion? Can you imagine the derision that would ensue about how his “gimmicky” offense was destined to fail in the pros? The “I told you so…” pundits would be falling over themselves in a massive pile, suffocating one another in the mass stampede that would result from their earnest efforts to remind us of their expertise and how smart they are. In that event, Chip could kiss an NFL career goodbye.
What happens then? Well, for starters, you can’t go back to Oregon or New Hampshire. You don’t get to click your ruby red sneakers and go back. Oregon is not the Beavers. Mike Riley was fortunate that he was able to go back to his life work of raising Oregon State from being perennial walking mats. That won’t be the case at Oregon.
What about going somewhere else? I alluded to it a short while ago, and I’ll say it clearly: Oregon’s success is not solely the result of Chip Kelly becoming the coach. Rather, a critical mass evolved when an aggressive, unknown coordinator with a distinctive offensive system came together with a program that embraced the profound change that said coach would bring to their football program. The seeds were already in place at Oregon for success. Those two parts came together and found resounding success. Would Oregon be less successful without Chip Kelly? Would Chip Kelly be less successful without Oregon? A measure of that should be rolling around in Kelly’s mind if he’s as smart as we think he is. The Oregon job has become a destination job. It’s a really good job these days. Is there a coach that doesn’t like winning? If Kelly looks at the big picture and determines that the risks of leaving will outweigh staying, knowing that he can’t really ever go back, then that could be a factor in his decision to stay.
There is no assurance of whether Chip Kelly stays or goes. If he leaves, it may be at the end of this season or it may not; it might be a few years for his predetermined factors to be met. If he goes, we can be thankful that he stayed. If Chip had left almost a year ago, the bomb that would have dropped would have been staggering. There was not a single one of us that did not feel like we had been shot at point blank range earlier this year. It’s different now. It’s different for us, for the players, and for the recruits. We’ve had a chance to wrap our heads around the likelihood that Chip will be leaving. If it happens, when it happens — we’ll be fine. It’s not our ideal scenario, but we’ll be fine and so will Oregon football. We can go forward as fans, knowing that the sky is not falling and that the Oregon football program will continue to be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come.