There is no doubt that the Chip Kelly era at Oregon was a magical time. Kelly’s four-year tenure as Head Coach of the Oregon Ducks was the greatest run in Oregon football history. In those four years, the Ducks went 46-7 and played in three “BCS” bowl games and one national championship game. Oregon was the coolest, flashiest, and most confident brand around. Do not get me wrong; I can understand the impulse to want him back.
But, bringing back Kelly would be a catastrophic mistake.
Almost three years ago, in early 2019 after Kelly’s first season at UCLA, I wrote an article documenting how Kelly would not succeed at UCLA. And what was true three years ago is still true today. In short, Kelly has recruited poorly at UCLA. He brings in mostly 3-star players who he believes fit his scheme and who he can coach up. He believes his offensive acumen can get these non-blue-chip players to compete successfully against actual blue-chip players.
And it does not work. You cannot teach size, speed, and strength. Kelly’s records at UCLA are 3-9, 4-8, 3-4, and 8-4 for a combined measly 18-25. His predecessor Jim Mora, who has never been mistaken as a great head football coach, went 46-30. So, what does this make Chip?
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Recruiting is king. Chip does not like to recruit and it shows. UCLA is located in the fertile recruiting grounds of southern California and should never fall out of the top-20 nationally in the recruiting ranking. In fact, the not-so-great head-coach Jim Mora never had a recruiting class fall outside of the top-20. Now, when looking back to their overall records at UCLA, 18-25 versus 46-30, it seems impossible to ignore the correlation.
I once read an interview with Brian Johnson, the lead singer of the legendary rock group AC/DC. He was talking about his amazing vocal work on the song, “Back in Black.” To paraphrase, he said for whatever reason that day he was able to deliver those vocals in a way he never had before and has never done since. He admits he has never sung that song as well as he did that day in the recording studio. A rock journalist described it as Johnson simply “caught lightning in a bottle.”
And lightning in a bottle was exactly what Kelly caught when he headed the Oregon program from 2009-2012. He stumbled into a gift-wrapped situation with the Ducks where he had a very good roster, outstanding assistant coaches, a free-falling USC, and for a few short years an immense scheme advantage.
Sure, if Kelly were to take over the Ducks today, given the talent left behind by Mario Cristobal he would most likely do quite well for a couple of seasons. But, after three years or so of sub-par recruiting, the Ducks would be stuck with mostly 3-star talent and the new normal in Eugene would be overall records ranging from 4-8 to 9-3. Keep in mind, the hurry-up scheme advantage that Kelly brought to the Ducks 12 years ago came with an expiration date, and that date has long expired.
Don’t Get Me Wrong…
I give Chip his due. He was a mad genius revolutionary who changed the way that the game was played. His offensive scheming has been implemented across the country from the little leagues all the way up to the NFL. He split the atom in football, made monumental contributions, and has secured his place in the football history books. But right now, he is just not a very good head football coach.
The next step in the evolution of Oregon football is to consistently recruit big AND win big. Cristobal dispelled the myth that you cannot recruit constant Top-10 classes and high-profile interior linemen to Eugene. It is now time for a coach who can recruit like Cristobal and coach offense like Kelly — one who can parlay big-time recruiting into big-time winning.
Not one who would take Oregon back to 2009.
Oregon has always been about football future, not football past. It is the future that Oregon must look toward in order to achieve new heights, and as AC/DC once sang, to forever remain “back in black.”
Top photo credit: Kevin Cline
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Darren Perkins is a sales professional and 1997 Oregon graduate. After finishing school, he escaped the rain and moved to sunny Southern California where he studied screenwriting for two years at UCLA. Darren grew up in Eugene and in 1980, at the tender age of five, he attended his first Oregon football game. His lasting memory from that experience was an enthusiastic Don Essig announcing to the crowd: “Reggie Ogburn, completes a pass to… Reggie Ogburn.” Captivated by such a thrilling play, Darren’s been hooked on Oregon football ever since. Currently living in Spokane, Darren enjoys flaunting his yellow and green superiority complex over friends and family in Cougar country.
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