On a late Sunday afternoon, with Jim Harbaugh fighting to put his San Francisco 49ers into the Super Bowl, an old foe was doing his best to steal away his thunder.
Chip Kelly was ready to join Harbaugh in the pros, and be the third excellent Pac-12 coach to try and give it a go on Sundays. All indications looked right for him to take over in Tampa Bay and try and prove his offense, the way he runs it, could succeed in the pros.
Kelly renewed with Oregon late in the night, leaving nearly an entire day of buzz and panic in Eugene in the dust. For a guy who isn't fond of answering questions, how's that for trolling the media?
There's long been talk of Chip Kelly and the NFL, definitely with his offense the main reason as to why. It's an offensive scheme that hasn't really been tried out in the pros, and definitely not with the best athletes in the world rather than the best athletes Oregon football can produce. Oregon has had elite talent at running back, but is otherwise still very much bound to the system Kelly strapped in place to make the Ducks a competitive and dominant football team.
Kelly is intrigued by the challenge of the pros. Always has been. Jtlight of Addicted to Quack wrote about the possibility.
One of the things that has kept Oregon fans secure over the last couple of years regarding Kelly leaving was the thought that there was no way he'd leave Oregon for a rebuilding project. Why would Kelly leave Oregon, when a) there is no major BCS school near where he's from in New Hampshire, and b) he's done most of the heavy lifting already to get Oregon to the place that makes it easier for him to recruit his type of players and run his system. With the NFL he doesn't have either one of those problems. The NFL doesn't have guaranteed contracts. He could change over an entire NFL roster of 53 players with little resistance within 2 to 3 years. Also, there are numerous teams in the Northeast that would make it very easy for Kelly to return home. New England, Philadelphia, New York, New Jersey, Buffalo, Baltimore, or Washington. There are also teams in the destination areas of San Diego, Miami, Tampa Bay, Dallas and the Bay area that anyone would want to move to for an increase in pay of 2-3 million a year.
Going to the NFL means that Kelly would get more time to focus on the X's and O's of the game. It would take him off the road of recruiting and put him in the film room where he's always seemed most comfortable. Coaching in the NFL would let Kelly test himself at the highest level. He'd be able to prove wrong the ultimate doubters about his type of football.
Finally, if Kelly goes to the NFL, he's got nothing to lose. Bobby Petrino flirted with the NFL and now he has a lifetime contract (well, not really) with the Arkansas Razorbacks. Nick Saban coached in the NFL before he realized that the big older guys weren't going to listen to the little angry elf. Hell, Mike Riley, Lane Kiffin, and Dennis Erickson were fired from the NFL and it didn't hurt any of them. Each one had a head coaching job in a BCS conference waiting for them when it ended.
If Oregon fans see that Kelly has bigger dreams than becoming King of the Ducks, then it's clear that Kelly sees the same things. Football nuts thrive in the pros. Kelly has put the work in to show that he scouts and recognizes talent, but all the other stuff (recruiting, NCAA inspections, media scrutiny) annoys the crap out of him. He'd love to get a chance to show what he did at the pro level and try and make an offense take off under his stewardship.
And there's always a serious chance that his radical way of coaching and scheming football would work out in the pros. Kelly has shown a strong propensity to tailor his offenses to team strengths, and the Ducks have thrived. He would probably do the same things in the league while tailoring to his overall strengths and the personnel on his team. I doubt you'd see Oregon turn into a full-running team like you get in college, but some designed quarterback run plays to keep the defense honest could help a spread team that likes running the football a lot. There are plenty of new concepts that Kelly could incorporate that could make his offense even scarier in the hands of professionals. It might be tough for Oregon fans, but it has the potential to be a delightful experience for all involved.
For whatever reason, the Buccaneers wasn't the organization he wanted to fulfill that vision. Either that, or Phil Knight is outbidding an NFL team, which is probably saying a lot about the institutional dystopian reality which we have to deal with in college football day-by-day.
(There could also be the possibility that Kelly was never seriously interested in the league, and was just luring Oregon and Knight in for emergency talks and a better deal. The man just won the Ducks their first Rose Bowl in over a century. I'd imagine they'd be in a giving mood. I wouldn't put it past Chip the Troll.)
Kelly will now go back to being the head coach of Oregon, for who knows how long. The Ducks were caught off-guard by this first announcement, so they'll need to be prepared for the next one, and have their backup plans ready just in case Chip decides to go. But for now Oregon looks like they can go ahead and get back to planning for their lofty 2012 aspirations without a hitch.
Whatever possibility led to the offensive wizard reconsidering, all it probably means is that Kelly won't be in Oregon forever. Just that'll he be here now.