“The media in this state HATES Chip Kelly.”
I could not believe my ears as I was talking to a former television anchor sportscaster in Oregon. He was in my office in the fall of 2011, and what he told me was depressing and astounding. Remember — at that time I was just beginning to produce what now has become over fifty instructional football videos and a similar number of text analysis of Chip Kelly’s Oregon offense. I more than admired coach Kelly – as many of you know – and he is revered by most Oregon fans, although not with the respect that many of us have that study his version of the Spread Offense. “C’mon,” I told the former anchor, “everybody knows that Chip disdains the press, and most fans enjoy how he does NOT kowtow to them. But HATES? The ‘H’ word, really?”
This former sportscaster (a familiar face if you saw him) did not hold back; the bitterness strained in his face as well as his words. “I have interviewed hundreds of high school and college coaches of all sports, Charles. I have never made a coach mad by asking a routine question and then getting ridiculed by this coach in front of others. Never, until Chip Kelly.”
He continued: “He [Chip] does not suffer fools, and guess what category we sportscasters are in with coach Kelly? It is beyond impatience or a lack of tolerance with the press–he has alienated and angered the press in Oregon.” He went on to say that it went beyond our borders…that a certain major sports network cannot STAND to work with him, although everything looked great on camera.”
“OK…” I said, “So he ticked off some sportswriters–so what?” He leaned forward and told me that I don’t understand how it is hurting Oregon in the public eye. “Isn’t it interesting that in EVERY Oregon football game telecast there is a run-down of our alleged recruiting violations? The major outcry and evisceration of Oregon by the Portland press when the Willie Lyles stuff hit?” He leaned forward, looked me in the eyes and said, “It was payback, Charles.” “These guys who control the sports press could now exact their revenge on the man who treated them so poorly.” I protested as some of the things I heard them say as I drove to appointments in Portland were an absolute terrible smearing of Chip and the program. He smiled as he told me that, “…it doesn’t matter Charles. They are always going to get the last word, even if it is bad. The coach loses this every time, and if you deny sportswriters access? They will dream things up to write about, so Chip’s actions were hurting the university and the team.”
He admitted that, “…we were spoiled by Mike Bellotti. He was the perfect gentleman, and knew what we needed. He would stand in front of a camera and give us a perfect sound bite over and over. He would hear the same stupid question for the fourteenth time and then he would take a breath, smile, and politely answer it. He would stay late and answer our questions, and that was part of the problem with the fallout concerning coach Kelly. It was such a dramatic difference that once the damage was done…the fracture with the media was irreparable.”
It seemed to me that at the end of Chip’s time at Oregon, that his relationship was improving with the media; although you could still sense some hostility below the surface. Even knowing all this did not diminish my admiration for what he put on the football field, as we are all flawed in some ways, and this was Chip’s Achilles heel. He was for Oregon, and still is, a very special football coach, but not a good example of how to deal with the press. Nobody is perfect.
Coach Mark Helfrich has already shown with his recent hiring of the new assistant coaches and his rapid recruiting campaign at the end of January, that he is doing things differently, and in brilliant fashion. Coach Helfrich is operating a step ahead of what we as fans would expect, such as now being proactive with the Oregon media. We were invited to a “meet & greet” with Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich yesterday for the expressed purpose of simply getting acquainted with him, we were told. No photographers, no interviews or notes allowed….just a sincere interest by Helfrich in getting to know the members of the press; of which FishDuck.com is now a part of. When I learned of this upcoming meeting, I was moved at what an amazing gesture by coach Helfrich and how this will go a long way in rebuilding some bridges which will help the team, the university, and the fans.
That was…until the meeting. Coach Helfrich spent about ten minutes explaining that there would NOT be any open practices, not even part of one or two sessions, and of course, no injury reports from practice or games. For those of us trying to cover Oregon practices for the spring and fall, it’s the same-old, same-old. The one difference is that although Chip disdained the press and locked us out, Helfrich is sympathetic and understanding of our position…and locking us out. There was greater respect given to the media, as he listened for an hour to the complaints and compromises offered by the press to no avail. It did not matter what the Pac-12 team forty miles to the north did with their open practices. They are not Oregon.
It’s too bad; spring is when football gossip is at its best. Who is trying a new position? A redshirt freshman picked up twenty pounds of muscular weight! Somebody showed up gassed and out of shape, and so on. Spring practices is when the “Fish Reports” originated, as I enjoyed detailing my observations of players, and the readers gobbled it up. Those fun days are over now, even with a new coach at the helm, but the football analysis and stories at FishDuck.com will continue as we will relish learning more about our beloved Ducks from so many of our nearly forty writers.
Regardless of the coach….some things will remain a secret at Oregon.