Lies, Damned Lies and the Chip Kelly Offense Narratives

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Editorials

A subject of great debate with Oregon fans, Bruin boosters and even the sports media has been whether the Chip Kelly offense that he began in Eugene will work at UCLA. I can give reasons in both directions, and I will do so here while providing an ultimate conclusion, a prediction on the level of success Chip Kelly will have in Westwood.

Regardless of the results, it will be immensely interesting for writers and analysts from this site to follow, considering we were the center for coaches across the world studying what Chip did from our videos and analysis articles.

The Case for Chip Kelly’s Offense Leading the Nation at UCLA

The most fundamental reason Chip Kelly will succeed is simply because good coaches are good coaches, and succeed where ever they go.  Success in the NFL is not a coaching indicator, otherwise Nick Saban would have been a flop at Alabama. You will see in the basic tenets of Chip’s blocking on offense that it is grounded in common sense and will work where applied.

I know this from the hundreds of emails I’ve received from coaches who have put his concepts in place at their school after watching my 50 videos that have been viewed 1.9 million times, or learned from our vast Oregon Analysis Library on this site.

If you Google the words Inside Zone Read (one of the most basic plays among all offenses these days) you will note over 11 million listings, and will find this one to be the No. 1 listing at the top of the first page. Below is one panel from it that explains the rudimentary reason why this play works anywhere, for any team at any location. It is the reason why Oregon went from not leading the conference in rushing for over 30 years to becoming the league rushing champions ten years straight. And any team can do what you see below.

This is what turned Oregon into a running team…

Read the paragraph below the screenshot (above) carefully as this is the reason for superb running success. With the caliber of athletes that UCLA can recruit, it bodes well for the Bruin Blue.

A second primary reason for offensive success at UCLA is simply Chip being Chip. He exudes a confidence, a presence that few people have. His players may not know what he is explaining, or even understand much of what he is telling them, but they will do what he requires, because they will believe in him like few men can command.

There are other components to his offense that point to near automatic success between what is taught the offensive linemen, the blocking by the wide receivers, and the Zone Reading by the quarterback. However the two most important reasons for Chip Kelly’s success will invariably be tied to those listed above. It is a very strong case, as we in Eugene have seen Chip up close and respect him highly.

Why Chip Kelly’s Offense may Sputter this Second time in the College Game…

The first reason is that Chip Kelly is stubborn to a fault, and in my view his odds of succeeding are lower than before. He felt that you do not do a different play, a change-up or a trick play at a key situation as he instead wants the offense to run a play they have practiced a hundred times.

It could get stuffed as it did in 2007 on 4th and one when Chip ran yet another Inside Zone Read against Oregon State and the game was lost as a result. It is the argument of throwing your opponent off, versus simply executing better than the defense, and you can make convincing points both ways.

When the game came down to the final play in 1988, Coach Bellotti (above) went with the throwing your opponent off strategy, and the feeling in Autzen was simply unbelievable at the time. (I also couldn’t hear for a week!)

Chip being stubborn to a fault shows up in other areas I would not have expected, in an almost macho reaction to conventional wisdom. To run the Zone Read requires a mobile quarterback; Marcus Mariota or Robert Griffin III would be nice, but not necessary. A QB with adequate speed is all that is needed to keep the defense honest on the backside of the play.

When Coach Kelly selected Matt Barkley in the draft, my first reaction (beyond WTH) was an assumption that Chip would showcase Matt and then trade him. No, he intended to keep and use him? Then he traded for Sam Bradford and then drafted Nick Foles? It seemed that he was purposely tripling down and acquiring QB statues to show the football world that he can win without a mobile quarterback. It made no sense, and handicapped his offense. Will he do that with the Bruins?

A second area refers to Game Plans of Coach Kelly while at Oregon, and after he left for the NFL. I noted that the Oregon offense continued to flourish and innovate under Mark Helfrich, while Chip’s offense in the NFL began to stagnate. It was then that I realized that the game plans and innovation came from his brilliant offensive coordinator (Helfrich), as we did not see the same elements at the next level with Chip. Now Mark had deficiencies that emerged later, but game planning the offense was not one of them.

In this article I explained how Helfrich would practice some plays from the playbook not used in years each week, and would unveil them on key downs. The example of inside the five yard line against the Huskies in 2014 was one of my favorites, because as everyone around me in Autzen was celebrating the touchdown — I stood stunned, knowing that the scoring play had not been used in four years! (From the 2010 season!)

Marcus Mariota flourished under Helfrich game plans.

There are other aspects of lacking innovation by Chip, and the balancing of the offense between the run and pass was an issue of mine that was solved by Helfrich later. But other walls to innovation with Chip Kelly have been chronicled by other writers in the NFL, with the most well known concerning the RPOs or Run-Pass-Option plays. Now I am known for a soft spot with Mark Helfrich, but consider the evidence

Chip introduced the RPOs to the NFL after he utilized them at Oregon, but he refused to change or improve them, so his teams became predictable. Looking at where the running back lined up would often telegraph the plays, which is why Mark Helfrich changed the Inside Zone Read running back path when Chip left the Ducks.

Chip was not innovating beyond his initial revelations, and would not progress in the development of his offense. He regarded not changing as “knowing his offense better” and “executing it better” than other teams.

There is validity to that concept, but it is not what won a Super Bowl for Philadelphia last year. According to Zach Ertz, ”Doug (Pederson, HC of the Philly Eagles) obviously has done a great job, the O-line coach, Coach Stoutland has done a great job of finding out ways to just get those RPOs called and kind of changing them each and every week so they are not able to key on them each and every week and I think now it’s kind of been a staple of our offense”

Chip’s confidence in kicking the conference’s butt again reminds me of when Bill Walsh came to Stanford after winning three Super Bowls with San Francisco. Coach Walsh liked to say that “there aren’t any Phi Beta Kappas in the conference” (as he was), and he expected to roll everyone quickly. Instead he had his head handed to him by league coaches who had caught up with his West Coast Offense, as teams now have adjusted to the Spread Offense in a No-Huddle mode that Chip began.

The most fun was destroying Stanford and Walsh in 1994, when the Cardinal QB, Scott Frost, was not utilized correctly by Coach Walsh. Frost transferred out and went on to win a National Championship, as Nebraska used him in a way that accented his skills. This feels like another “Bill Walsh” returning to the league with high expectations of winning by the fans and the coach himself.

Chip gained quite an advantage with the No-Huddle, but when even Nick Saban is employing it? The surprise factor is gone baby!

Get Over Yourself FishDuck … you would take Chip Kelly back in a Heartbeat…

Not so fast my friend! I thought about this long and hard when Willie Taggart slithered back to Florida, and decided that if I were the Athletic Director I would hire Chip Kelly only under these conditions:

Chip Kelly

  • Mark Helfrich comes with him as Offensive Coordinator again. (This is the deal-breaker by a mile)
  • He hires a superb Defensive Coordinator.
  • He is nice to the media, the alumni, the boosters and former players. He fakes it if necessary.
  • He hires a killer recruiting staff and changes his recruiting policies.

Unless he does the items listed above, he will not have the success he had originally at Oregon again at any location. (His new staff overall at UCLA, by the way, is not impressive…)

Mr. FishDuck Prediction Time….

Do I think the Chip Kelly offense will work for UCLA as it did at Oregon? Yes, in that the principles of having the extra blocker on the playside of a Zone Read play work when implemented anywhere. But the additional elements surrounding game planning, his stubborn nature and lack of innovation beyond the basics of the offense will prevent him from achieving the success that Bruin fans will expect. I see good seasons at Westwood, (8 or 9 wins max, Mora or less) but not contending for National Championships as Chip did at Oregon.

If Chip Kelly and Jerry Azzinaro do succeed with the Bruins and make them Pac-12 Champions for the first time in 20 years, it would only make sense — the last time UCLA won a conference championship in 1998, it was achieved by another set of former Oregon coaches in Bob Toledo and Nick Aliotti. It would take a pair of Ducks to help UCLA fly again…

Charles Fischer   (FishDuck)
Eugene, Oregon                                                                                                     Top Photo from Twitter

 Don’t miss the other article in this series, “Can Chip Kelly Avoid the OREGON MISTAKES at UCLA? “  

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