Flash in the Pan: Oregon or Chip Kelly?

Mike Merrell Editorials

It was only a year ago that Oregon fans might have just have had confidence in Rob Mullens‘ and Phil Knight‘s ability to deal with the challenges that were on the plate with the football program.

After all, Mullens is one of the top athletic directors in the country. And Phil Knight is the most successful athletics-related businessman in the history of the world, as well as the biggest sports program donor in the world.

But it would have been too simple to trust those men who are smarter than we are and had better knowledge of the situation than any of us on the outside looking in.

Phil knows what he’s doing.

Never mind that they managed to work it out. Now it’s time to freak out again. Because UCLA hired Chip Kelly, and Florida State might be interested in Willie Taggart. Oh, my. What are we to do?

The common thread here is an insecurity about the might of the Oregon program. This insecurity is based in fear, not in rational thinking. And not in the reality of what has happened over the past twenty years or so, or what is happening now.

Oregon has a great athletics program by any rational measurement beyond the number of programs fielded, which is, admittedly, a little lacking. And did I mention that Rob Mullens is one of the sharpest A.D.’s out there, and Phil Knight is the largest athletic benefactor in the world?

Let’s start by getting over this misguided notion that Oregon’s football success was just because of Chip Kelly – that he casts a giant shadow that no mortal coach can overcome. Mike Bellotti and Joey Harrington put Oregon on the map long before Chip Kelly was ever thought of in these parts. And just one year after a 4-8 season, the Ducks are already positioned to challenge again – without Chip Kelly.

Kelly is a good coach, and will no doubt have some success in Westwood. But — the world has caught up to him. Unless he can come up with another new invention, he’s just another good coach in a good conference. Good coaches come and go. But Westwood has challenges of its own. And Kelly’s not that into recruiting.

The idea that Oregon’s success is going to move to UCLA because that’s where Chip Kelly went is total nonsense. Certainly Kelly cast a shadow over Mark Helfrich. But over Taggart? No way. And over the entire Oregon program? No way.

Oregon legend Joey Harrington brought Oregon to No. 2 in the nation under Mike Bellotti.

How can it be said that Taggart – and Oregon — can’t establish success on their own terms when a first-year head coach in the program: (1) goes out and hires the best staff of assistants in the conference, and (2) hauls in the best recruiting class in Oregon history in his first full year on the job? What does “Kelly’s shadow” have to do with that? Kelly never put together a recruiting class that could hold a candle to what’s set up to come Oregon’s way – just one year after a dismal season.

Then there’s the gossip that Florida State – the mighty Seminoles that Oregon demolished in the Rose Bowl – might come after Taggart. Well, they might. And it would be a setback.

Setbacks are always a possibility in life. That’s one of the hazards on Planet Earth. They even have a scientific name for it. It’s called “Sh*t happens.”

But I have complete confidence in Knight and Mullens to land on their feet, no matter what happens. If they’re dealt lemons, they’ll make lemonade, bottle it, put a swoosh on it and run Gatorade out of business.

There is a possibility that Taggart might bolt, but I really doubt that it will come to that. He has to feel pretty good about the groundwork he’s laid at Oregon.

There are those who worry that Taggart has yet to agree to the 4-year extension that Oregon has offered, and see this as a sign that he’s packing his bags. But why would he be in a hurry to sign? For crying out loud, he’s got a chance to get a bidding war going with Phil Knight’s checkbook on one side of the table!

But if Taggart does leave, Mullens certainly has his options. Likely, he will consider doing everything he can to maintain the current momentum rather than go outside and start all over.

Mario Cristobal and Royce Freeman.

Jim Leavitt and Mario Cristobal are already in the fold. They both have head coaching experience, and retaining them — along with the rest of the assistants — would be a smart move to keep the team culture and recruiting class intact IF Taggart did bolt. Rob Mullens and Phil Knight are smart enough to think of this.

For those worrying about this “limbo” having a negative impact on recruiting, remember that nobody signs until December 20, and the Ducks have the big recruiting fest planned for December 15.

Unless something beyond gossip and conjecture happens in the meantime, anyone who truly has his heart set on getting his knickers in a knot should at least wait until the fifteenth, maybe even the twentieth, to do it.

As for me, I’m going to enjoy the bowl season, bask in the glory of the biggest weasel-stomp in history and have confidence in the future and those who are charged to mold it for Oregon athletics. I invite you to do the same.

But if you want to get all dramatic about something you have no control over, be my guest.

Mike Merrell
Sandpoint, Idaho

Top Photo: Kevin Cline

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