The Tragic Tales of Chip Kelly and Julius Caesar

David Marsh Editorials

If Chip Kelly were the Julius Caesar of football, or more importantly of Oregon football, then that would make Mario Cristobal Caesar Augustus. If you are not already aware of the magnificent FishDuck Repository, you should take a look at it. It has some great articles concerning the Men of Oregon, and today we are going to look at one that is near and dear to all of us for what he did for the Oregon football program: Chip Kelly.

Kelly, the brilliant general who outwitted most of his opponents. Kelly, the Julius Caesar of the Oregon Football Program. Are Chip Kelly and Julius Caesar more similar than both of them being fantastic commanders in their respective fields?

For those who haven’t had any Roman history lately, Julius Caesar was a Roman general who famously crossed the Tiber river and started a Civil War within the Roman Republic. Caesar won the war and was named dictator for life, not emperor. Caesar would later be assassinated on the floor of the senate by many senators who opposed him, bringing the life of an incredible military leader to a tragic end.

A 19th Century painting by Vincenzo Camucccini depicting the death of Julius Caesar

Chip Kelly was absolutely brilliant at Oregon. Like Rome in the time of Caesar, the program was already on an upward trajectory when he took charge, after the Rich Brooks and Mike Bellotti eras rebuilt the team and began to build a national brand for Oregon with the help of Phil Knight and Nike. However, Kelly’s strength was in play-calling and making an offense that always seemed to find a way to win. Kelly’s ascent to the football coaching elite was expedited by a 46-7 record at Oregon.

However, Kelly’s story after Oregon hasn’t been so pretty. He started his four-year NFL coaching career with two winning seasons, then followed those with two losing seasons. His final season was with the San Francisco 49ers where he went 2-14, and he then returned to college football at UCLA, where his struggles continue.

What made these two individuals successful was their support staffs that allowed them to do what they were good at. In both of their cases, what they were good at was on-field strategy, whether on the football field or the battlefield.

Scott Frost and Nick Aliotti were key members of Kelly’s support staff at Oregon.

At Oregon, Kelly had a long-established coaching staff around him, with a defensive coordinator in Nick Aliotti that built a defense to complement the blur offense. Caesar had his closest commanders around him on his campaigns, who knew him and how he operated. In both cases the support staffs knew what their leaders wanted from them, and were able to execute their respective plans to near perfection.

We will never know what Julius Caesar was like as a ruler of Rome, as he was assassinated on the senate floor. However, we are confronted with an equally tragic story of Chip Kelly and his fall. Everything worked for Kelly at Oregon. It was a mixture of the perfect timing for a revolutionary new offense and having a supporting staff who are Oregon legends themselves.

So far, Chip Kelly has not shown that he can recreate what he did at Oregon. College football head coaches today are more emperors than field commanders. They are required to recruit both assistant coaches and players. Football is a people business, and Kelly has shown time and time again that he is far more comfortable with X’s and O’s than people.

Chip Kelly preparing before a game against Oregon.

Kelly required buy-in from his players. When you are winning it is easy to get that buy-in; when you are losing it is much more difficult. Kelly also has a track record of not getting along and not connecting with his players, especially at the NFL level. More recently, that distrust has continued at UCLA. It’s easy to wonder how much Kelly’s interpersonal relationships were held together by the Oregon coaching staff.

Julius Caesar arguably did worse outside the comfort of his legion, since he died! Famously Brutus, who was concerned about Caesar’s power grab, plotted with other concerned senators — successfully — to assassinate Caesar. Caesar wasn’t able to build the relationships he needed in order to succeed. Kelly hasn’t shown he can do any better.

As Oregon fans we will forever be grateful for what Chip Kelly has done for Oregon Football. Is Chip Kelly doomed to the fate of a has-been football coach, or can he turn away from the Caesar tragedy and make himself anew?

David Marsh
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo by: Kaly Harward

Bob Rodes, the Volunteer editor for this article, is an IT analyst, software developer and amateur classical pianist in Manchester, Tennessee.

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