Alternate Dimension: What if Chip Kelly STAYED at Oregon?

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Editorials 34 Comments

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Oh come on … the title is not so far-fetched! Haven’t all of us fans of Our Beloved Ducks thought about this at one time or another? There are so many positive and negative facets to consider, and I am interested in your thoughts. Where would Oregon Football be if Chip Kelly had decided to pass on the NFL? If he realized, on this other timeline, that what he had in Eugene was special and that he would never duplicate it again in his career?

Or is that one giant wishful leap too far?

Let’s contemplate some of the aspects that would be different if Coach Kelly decided to stay at Oregon, starting with recruiting … I do not see that improving unless some new assistant coach hires (to replace those retiring such as Steve Greatwood and Gary Campbell) injected a new dose of expertise and energy into the effort. Like it or not, CK fans, Willie Taggart and Mario Cristobal shattered the glass ceiling of recruiting at Oregon in a way none could have anticipated. It is hard to imagine Coach Kelly and his older staff having the same intensity and drive that the Cristobal staff possesses.

Kevin Cline

Willie Taggart and his staff changed EVERYTHING about recruiting at University of Oregon.

Chip had Oregon routinely ranked in the top ten and top five due to the innovation of his offense and tempo at that time. The Ducks were not residing in that lofty zone because of a talent-rich roster. Would that advantage have continued? Would Chip and Mark Helfrich have continued to innovate on what they created, occasionally throwing in a new wrinkle or two? Would that have brought enough talent to Eugene to win the Big One?

It was apparent in the National Championship Game at the end of the 2014 season that Oregon was a few players short in depth, particularly on defense. I get almost misty-eyed thinking of what that offense, coupled with the current defense, would have done … Would Chip have been able to get Oregon over the recruiting hump just enough to achieve Oregon’s first Natty? So many defensive recruits at that time wasted their careers at Washington or Cal and would have been wearing “the” ring had they chosen to play for the Ducks.

Recruiting is about more than just the players, as Coach Mario Cristobal has shown. Recruiting coaches can make-or-break you, and certainly Helfrich can attest to that (Brady Hoke). Could Kelly have moved beyond his own hubris to create more space in the room for other confident egos? As pointed out recently in the comments, the coaching tree of Chip Kelly is sparse, and that coaching weakness is how great programs decline — sometimes quickly (2016) — in modern college football.

Amazing Moments Photography

Chip Kelly had that presence, that swagger that few coaches had. Does he still have it?

With nearly all the college teams duplicating Oregon’s uniforms and Spread Offense with No-Huddle … would the Oregon Brand have become muddled? How would that have changed? Would it have become a “dated” trend in football?

Or would Chip Kelly have noticed the decline and, through his travels to so many other teams and coaching staffs, righted the ship and kept Oregon among the elite? Or would “sticking to what he knows” have brought about the gradual decline of Oregon Football? If Chip Kelly had stayed, “would he still be here by his own choice?”


I’m going to need more than one Bend, Oregon IPA Craft Beer to gain some whimsical wisdom looking back, or I’ll simply release the banal blustering of my best guess about where Oregon Football would be at the moment. Where do you think the Ducks would be if Chip Kelly had stayed at Oregon?

“Oh how we love to ponder about Our Beloved Ducks!”

Charles Fischer  (Mr. FishDuck)
Eugene, Oregon
Top Photo by Kaly Harward

Andrew Mueller, the Volunteer Editor for this article, works in higher education in Chicago, Illinois.

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Hey I love what Chip did for Oregon but he is not doing anything remotely close to what he did here for what 6 seasons and first as the right spread offense OC. Crowton was a joke and Mike Belotti recognized he was limited in what he could do for Oregon at the time and he hired a bright mind in Chip. I just think Chips where he’s at because he can’t get his EGO out of the way and it’s costing him from when he left for the NFL all the way up to now. I new his offense wouldn’t work in the NFL at all. It worked a little but not like the West Coast offense that the Genious Bill Walsh created and is still run at every level. So no I think Chip would have already been let go. Thanks for those years Chip and I’ll always believe you cost us that Natty.


Ah, the mind whirls at the possibilities. If Chip hadn’t left us his budding romance with Erin Andrews would have blossomed. I would have married them at the 50 yard line at Autzen because the parking lot has completely disappeared. Their nuptials would have been consummated before the second half of the opener against Directional Tech. The cheers would have rung against the Cascades and echoed back. Oh, you wanted to know about the football aspect. Forgive me.

For a few years after the Willie Lyles thing (we called him “Will” if you had forgotten.) we would have outschemed our opponents. Would the rule changes meant to slow us down have worked? Yes, to a point, but Chip’s innovative mind (Erin Kelly as defensive back coach? Who could have imagined?) would have Won the Day for a while. Eventually, Chip’s lack of recruiting prowess (though it is exaggerated as to be crippling by his detractors, and it wasn’t quite so dire) would have held us back, and he would have been gone by now, anyway. His was a flame that burned white hot, but was doomed to die by its own heat and light.

Now, to compare him to MC is fun to do, but premature to be known. We think we are very good, but we are breaking in a new quarterback, and would have had to do so against the Big…Ten?…Twelve? I always forget. Anyway, that league’s Death Star. Predicting a for sure win over them is foolish, my friends. My hope would have been that we played them well and finished healthy. I’m pretty sure we would have been a 12-point underdog, because of the new quarterback aspect, and because preseason dithering cost us Penei Sewell.

So MC would have started this season 0-1 and with a hill to climb to get us where Chipper already took us.

I love Mario Cristobal, and believe him to be an exemplary man and coach. I hope upon hope that he will take us to a National Championship Game and over the hump to a win. If he can do it with an untried quarterback so much the better, because it will be soon, and I could go at any time. (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape reference.).

But, until that happens I will die on the hill of Chip Kelly as the finest coach in the history of Oregon football. And, no one will be less surprised that this is where I have arrived than our own Fish.


My guess is the defense doesn’t fall off a cliff if CK sticks around and we win a NC. Allioti likely coaches longer. The program would have continued to be strong and wouldn’t have taken a swan dive. At the very least I wouldn’t have the Alamo Bowl loss permanently seared into my memory.


“Would Chip have been able to get Oregon over the recruiting hump”
Kelly had a 29th ranked class in 2009 and overall improved each year after, with 2012 being a slight exception. Clearly, yes.

The gold standard for comparison is Clemson, and they looked a lot like Oregon if you compare their recruiting class and final rankings. First, Dabo Sweeny and Chip Kelly both became head coaches in 2009. During Chips head coaching years at Oregon they finished far ahead of Clemson in the polls each year, but trend is similar with each generally improving year over year. Clemson slightly edged Oregon on recruiting class ranking during that time, but the graphs of their recruiting follow the same curve, with both improving recruiting rankings until 2011 and having a slightly worse year in 2012.

What’s happened since then? Clemson has surpassed Oregon on paper, won multiple national titles and has the 5th ranked recruiting class. Without the sanctions, I definitely think Oregon has a shot at displacing them.

Pulling this all together: I think Kelly would have been affected by the sanctions from 2013-2015 and the recruiting class would have suffered. This would have stalled their momentum, coaches would have left. But around 2018 they would have had two full recruiting classes and would have rebounded at a time when the offense was no longer new or innovative. Overall I see us as a top 5 team by this stage with Chip and contending for the championship.

One final note: I think that a top 10 defense would have done more for our team than a higher ranked recruiting class during the CK years.

David Marsh

I think it would have been about the same… Possibly worse…

Kelly’s failings are in his hiring of other coaches… That is where he has fallen flat in his career outside of Oregon. If he could recognize that and bring in a defensive innovator (Allioti was good but ad we saw he retired after 2013) though I think we would have seen a promotion from within and Pellum or Neal would have been the DC as those two were the leading internal candidates for the dc position. However, Azz could very well have been promoted to that position as well as he is now Kelly’s DC at UCLA.

I doubt kelly would have hired outside of the program as that would have been outside the comfort zone.

Helfrich would have remained qb coach and I do firmly believe that helfrich giving up coaching qbs was one of the biggest problems for the decline at that position as Frost failed to coach up a suitable backup.

The recruiting would have been roughly the same if not slightly better as kelly really did have a draw for his scheme… I don’t think Helfrich would have landed DAT as head coach as there wasn’t the same hype around helfrich as there was kelly.

Though in the end I think Oregon would have been set back more… If kelly stayed at Oregon we would have definitely had to face greater sanctions for the Willy Lyles problem… Probably loss of a bowl game.

As kelly left Oregon was just slapped on the wrist but that slap was arguably a major part of Helfrich’s recruitment struggles as a reduction in scholarships and official visits made it difficult to take a chance on big name recruits who may not take an Oregon offer entirely seriously…. This by the way is one of Cristobal’s greatest achievements … Recruiting to Oregon while not being able to bring recruits to Oregon.

I think in the end it would have been a gut wrenching decision for the AD as Oregon would have declined as everyone caught up to kelly’s innovations… To fire kelly or to keep him when Oregon slid into mediocrity.

Jon Sousa

When Chip left I wanted him to be successful in the NFL – primarily because I knew he wouldn´t come back to the Ducks and I didn´t want the Ducks to have to play against him.

My worst fears came true when he came back to UCLA – the PAC 12! UCLA where it would be a lot easier to recruit blue-chips to his team.

Hmmmmmm. Why am I not so worried anymore?????

David Marsh

I feel the same way … Though I am rather sad for Kelly as an Oregon fan we will have a very different view if Kelly’s legacy than most.


Fellow Ducks, Nebraska just took the opening kickoff and ran it down the field, 75 yards in 5 plays, including one, 40 yards straight up the gut, for a 7-0 lead.

The *uckeyes have now tied the score, 7-7. Now it’s 14-7, *uckeyes, and hopefully time will run out on editing this before they score again. Wow, it’s 14-14.

Jon Joseph

COME ON MAN! I’m taping the game so I don’t have to watch the Doc Pepper ads!

I was kidding. As Mike West noted above, what could have been?


One can always say SPOILER ALERT before post scores. :)

Mike West

Looking at just the first half alone, it is clear the Ducks would have had more than a chance to defeat the Ohio State University.

We got robbed. Plain and simple.

With the returning Defense in place, an NFL bound left tackle, and just a solid OL, we would have dropped at least 30, and our Defense can handle their OL. I’m miffed.

Once again, my instincts were telling me OSU had as much development to go through as we did, but our experience on Defense AND the clear weakness in the Buckeye interior of their front seven gave us a serious chance to not only win, but if Moorehead’s offense is really aggressive, run away with a two score victory.

Nebraska doesn’t have the horses we have. Oregon has a good shot at making the playoffs if this team dominates like it should.

Jon Joseph

No doubt. The tOSU DL is not the same as last season’s team. And the ‘all world’ O line so far?

Love watching the youngest McCaffery. A family of Wheels.


Mike, I think the same thing. Ohio State is absolutely not regretting not having to play Oregon. What we saw them to do Nebraska came from them simply having SUPERiority over Nebraska. I couldn’t see a Cornhusker cracking the 2 deep anywhere on Ohio State.

Ohio State is one of the machines in college football now, Nebraska is Johnny Rodgers, and I suppose the Nebraska team that “played” Miami for the championship. It is interesting how Oklahoma has done so much better than has Nebraska since the 70’s.

Jon Joseph

It’s not how you start …

Fields is the real deal as are he tOSU receivers, But is the run game good enough to secure a title?

I think the NEB D took tackling lessons from headhunters in Borneo?


. Nebraska just wasn’t up to it, so it’s hard to say, but based off of this game, Alabama is a step above Ohio State. Speaking of it not being how you start: Penn State has been in a battle with Indiana, trailing for most of the game. The PSU QB has put on a show, including a really nice 30 or so yard touchdown run. Indiana starts a drive with under 2 minutes after PSU took a 28-20 lead. A review goes with the call on the field, taking a TD away from Indiana, but they score on the next play, and goes for 2. Score!
28-28, 22 seconds left, and Mark Helfrich is the analyst.

Penn State, 57 yard FG as the clock runs down. It’s no good, went 56 yards.

Penn State gets a TD on its turn in OT, then Indiana scores a TD on its try, then goes for 2, and gets it. 36-35 Indiana over #6 Penn State.


Chip did some awesome things in his stint with the Ducks, and will always have my appreciation for what he did, but I think he bailed at the right time. Remember, he left just as the NCAA sanctions caught up with him.

Had Chip stayed, we can say with some certainty that the Ducks would have been relegated to recruiting 3 stars with one or two four stars each year. The Cali-flock would never have materialized, and the team would have continued in the finesse mode, with small but quick athletes who would do ok in the PAC-12, but would get manhandled by the big boys.

As other teams adopted the spread and the hurry-up, the Ducks innovative advantage would have disappeared. Combined with Chip’s aversion to recruiting, I think it would have ensured a slide to mediocrity within a few years.

We would never have seen a dominant O-line, and players like Penei and Noah Sewell, Kayvon Thibodeaux and Jordon Scott would have taken their skills elsewhere. I’m afraid the Quackers would be fighting with the bark rats for bowl eligibility.

And that would have me crying into my Black Butte Porter. 😢

Jon Joseph

According to Hugh Everett III’s math, somewhere, Chip Kelly did stay at Oregon. Everett, in 1957, ‘proved up’ the existence of the multi-verse.’ Every probability has to occur ‘somewhere’ and ‘elsewhere.’

I think you nailed it Charles, on the primary issue, recruiting. Inevitably and as we have seen, D coordinators were going to figure out, more or less, the HUNH O. Would Chip’s 2020 Oregon O have enough talent and be able to put up enough points vs today’s Alabama O to get a W? I see Mario’s OL and DL down the road matching up with those of The Tide. But I doubt Chip could recruit the kind of guys Mario is bringing in to Eugene and Dabo is bringing into Clemson while running a variation of ‘Chip’s O?’

I think assistant coaches is another great point that you raised. Chip walked into a perfect assistant coach situation. Including a D coordinator whose D played a necessary bend don’t break style of D. Nick A’s D won the champ game against Auburn. Chip’s play calling IMO cost Oregon a title. Since being briefly successful in Philly, the man has done nothing with the49ers and UCLA. Certainly, it does not appear his guys at UCLA are being coached up. And when you recruit a bunch of 3*, they best be coached up.

It’s Saturday my friend, sit back, watch ball and have a 6 pack. You deserve it after churning out great ponder points over the last few days.

BTW, if there is such a thing as a back door Under cover I got one last night with my Wisconsin/Illinois under 56 bet. However, I expected it to be something like 24 to 10 Wisconsin and not 42 to 7 Wisconsin.

With Coan hurt, the kid who started at QB for Wisconsin, Mertz, put on a show. Mertz was a top 100 recruit and the best QB recruit ever signed by the Badgers. I wondered why ESPN FPI’s formula had Wisconsin at #5? I know it was only the Illini but Wisconsin looked impressive on both sides of the ball. If Bucky has an O to go with the always solid D watch out.

14 days until Puddles takes flight!


Mertz looked very legit last night – view of the field, composure etc. He’s a RS Freshman, with a backstory similar to Shough: #1 overall player in a midsized state (Kansas vs AZ) plus redshirt with minimal playing time, etc. So my big hope is Shough can have the same kind of electric opening game!

Jon Joseph

Love the comparison dc, thanks. If Shough looks as good against Stanford as Mertz looked against the Lovie’s last night, the Ducks is in great shape.


If Chip had stayed, he would have ended up leaving, and maybe too late.

I think when a guy leaves, what is perceived as too early, it is often just in time. CK did leave at a time which leaves many to ponder what if, but it could have been bad just as easily as good, if he had stayed.

CK’s petulance would have gotten worse. One of the great attributes of a strong coach is the knowledge of what you don’t do well, and the ability to delegate, work around that weakness. This is CK’s kryptonite.

If he had stayed he would have taken even more control of the Oregon Football Program, like in Philly, not less. This would have led to the downfall of the program and an ugly departure. Instead of a coach coming in following a legend, it would have been a coach following a dumpster fire. It may have led to the Slick, Cristobal sequence of hires, but it also could have been preceded by an even uglier mess than what Helfrich left us, without the highlights.

I think the problem was we picked the wrong guy to follow CK, Alliotti was the leader we needed.

Sherman Poindexter

Ahhh…. an alternative reality brain teaser. Let me take a crack at it::::

1st, beginning in August of 2013 as Chip decided to forgo offers from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Philadelphia Eagles and instead return to coaching the Ducks…. the constant barrage of questions from local sports writers leaves Chip especially on edge. Never one to coddle or appease the media and famously brusque in his personal relationships, Chip one day explodes over questions about impending NCAA sanctions for Oregon’s football program. He drops F bombs on live TV. Storms out of the interview room. Kicks Ifo Ekpre-Olomu in his ACL.
The media goes crazy, but well heeled boosters and U of O’s pr machine soon smooth things over.

But this proves to be just the beginning of Chip Kelly’s long slide into madness.
After Mark Helfrich discusses a variety of new spread rpo read concepts in his new and luxurious Hatfield Dowlin office, Chip arbitrarily decides to scrap Oregon’s high powered Blur because it’s “outdated”.
Hearing this news, Marcus Mariota enters the transfer portal and ultimately signs with the University of Hawaii….where improbably, yet surely….brings THAT university its first Heisman champion.

With the football team seemingly in free fall, Chip attempts to assuage fears by touting his other QB recruits…..powerhouses such as Brennan Doty, Jake Rodriguez and Dustin Haines. That vote of confidence does little to bolster a recruiting class that was always shaky. 5 star Thomas Tyner signs with Oregon State right from the get go.
Joe Walker, Johnny Mundt, Devon Allen, Darren Carrington and Terrodney Prevot soon follow suit and decommit….leaving the Ducks’ already anemic recruiting program in shambles.

At this point, Chip decides that the future of Oregon football now rests on the 180lb, sloped shoulders of incoming freshman – Taylor Alie.
However, fall camp soon reveals that a pass beyond 10 yards is a bit outside his oeuvre.

And while Helfrich has a hundred innovative plays just waiting to see the field, Chip’s stubborn recalcitrance on running what he mysteriously calls the “UCLA plod” leaves players, fans and media befuddled.

The 2013 season opens with lopsided losses to every opponent….leading to Chip’s firing.
A few transitional years with Mark Helfrich muddling through.
A single year of a lying coach who shalt not be named.
And the rebirth of the Oregon football program under the confident and culture building leadership of Mario Cristobal.

So, ultimately…. the joys and highs of 2013-2015 would’ve been lost under this scenario.
Yet in this alternate timeline, I still think we arrive on the same doorstep in 2020:::
About to begin a covid19 shortened season with a nationally coveted coach who can lead us back to the playoffs.

Jon Joseph


Spot on regarding the media. Chip abhorred the media before getting his own gig at ESPN. His Coach’s Show while at Oregon was a joke. The man was incredibly rude to both hosts.

At some point, it’s all about me, my way or the highway, will not translate into putting a successful TEAM on the field. Say what you like about NIck Saban but the man hires quality assistant coaches, listens to them and has evolved along with the O evolution of CFB.

He is making far more than Mario at UCLA and doing nothing to earn it. I am very happy to see UCLA and not USC on the Ducks ‘regular season’ 2020 schedule.


Ah, Charles. This is a tricky one. I was never hoping that Chip would leave, but I didn’t think it was the worst thing in the world when he did. I still had an attachment to him and followed the Eagles, and then not so much the 49ers.

Looking back now I think it worked out pretty good. Chip wanted to move on to the NFL. It had been a great run at Oregon. But I think Chip was done, the Blur had turned in to a grind. It seems unlikely to me that Chip would have found new inspiration; transforming the face of college football as we know it once, is enough for any coach.

He didn’t want to recruit, players or coaches. I believe he respected the coaches that were on the staff and what they did. But I didn’t sense an appreciation of it so much and I don’t believe he would have had any desire in finding replacements. In the end I think the Chip Kelly era played out as it should. Oregon has moved on better than has Chip so far, and I hope the best for him, but not at UCLA.

Jon Joseph

Chip had success in Philly before promoting Chip to be the Eagles GM. Then, it all hit the fan it Philly and has contained to hit the fan on the Left Coast, north to south.

Coach Bellotti paved the way for Chip to make multi-millions of $. I have never once heard Chip give any credit whatsoever to Coach B. It’s all about the wonderfulness of The Chipper.

I am still ticked off that Nick A’s outstanding D performance against Cam and Auburn went by the boards because of Chip’s stubborn play calling.

NA was a seriously underrated DC. He got the best out of a whole bunch of guys who never played at the next level.


It seems like we have a consensus, and your next to last paragraph encapsulates it perfectly. A question we can ask is what would have happened had Nick A got the opportunity he deserved and been the head coach at Oregon after Chip?

My answer starts with the premise that Helfrich was down at halftime before he even started. I don’t think he was actually picked to be the new coach, more that he was just left behind,had the OC hat on, so he got the job.

Nick A on the other hand had the energy and people skills that Kelly & Helfrich, in different ways, both sorely lacked, and would have pumped new enthusiasm in to the job instead of just trying to ride the wave that Kelly left.