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Multiple sides to the mercurial Chip Kelly
Players buy into what Oregon coach says about football and life
After an Oregon practice during Rose Bowl preparations, Ducks coach Chip Kelly was asked about his Christmas wish list. “I was going to say ‘end this conversation,’ ” Kelly said, after a pause. “But that’s not a Christmas wish list, that’s just today. “Just, peace and happiness throughout the world.” Kelly’s answer showed his mercurial personality. He can be an impatient wisecracker one moment and a man hell-bent on perfection the next. The 48-year-old New Hampshire native is a football junkie, spending hours upon end scheming to make the Ducks the best team possible. He also is the type of man who will take an afternoon to go to the funeral of a fallen soldier. “There’s a lot of sides to him,” offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich says. “He cares immensely about our players, he cares immensely about our coaches, about our coaches’ families, about our athletic department, the university. He wants to do the ultimate job that he can about the things that matter the most, and for him that’s his players and those guys around him. “We’ve had a lot of success, so it’s easy to say that’s the best way. But, you have to do what is your personality. “He does an awesome job of when it’s business time it’s business and when it’s not business time, we have a great time. It’s a lot of fun to be around here —and a lot of fun to be around our players. That’s something people don’t see enough of.” Kelly will use humor with certain players, when the appropriate opportunity arises. Offensive lineman Mark Asper says one running joke at practice involves how Kelly has slept the night before. “Coach Kelly says, ‘Well, I made a few mistakes, but I’m going to study hard —and tomorrow night I’m going to give it my best effort and see if I can get my best sleep, see if I can have an error-free sleep.’ ” “It’s corny stuff,” Asper says. Kelly’s first three seasons as a head football coach have been the stuff of college football coaching legends. His innovative spread offense has produced a 33-6 record and three conference championships. Under Kelly, the Ducks have gone to the national championship game and two Rose Bowls. A bowl win has eluded him, but as Oregon looks to rectify that against Wisconsin in the Jan. 2 Rose Bowl, Kelly’s players trust him enough to follow his lead. “He hasn’t told us wrong yet,” receiver Lavasier Tuinei says. “You have to listen to the guy. He knows what he’s talking about.” Kelly always takes care to relate to players in the way that will get them to perform their best. “Just like in any successful coaching relationship, there’s a certain amount of respect and authority that’s required of the guy,” offensive tackle Darrion Weems says. “But, of all the coaches that I’ve ever been around, he’s more of a love-you-up kind of guy. He’ll tell you what you need to do, and he’ll help you get it right, and he’ll carry your game to the next level.” Kelly’s communication style has not changed since he was a position coach at Columbia University and Johns Hopkins in the early 1990s. Even if the young men will go on to be Fortune 500 members or doctors, when they step onto the field, all are football players to Kelly. “They’re all the same,” he says. “I’m teaching football players. I’m not teaching doctors. You don’t want me to teach doctors, I can tell you that. If you do, then don’t go to that doctor.” Kelly keeps a death-grip on the things he can control, and doesn’t seem to worry about the other stuff. “If you’re spending your energy and time on things you can’t control, then you’re wasting your time,” Kelly says. “We get a certain amount of time that we can have our players, and we’re going to concentrate and talk about what’s important.” Defensive end Terrell Turner says what sets Kelly apart from other coaches is how he cares about the kind of men his players become off the field. “Coach Kelly teaches us about life and also football,” Turner says. “That’s the thing that I most respect.” Those life lessons are taught as much by actions as they are by platitudes. In October 2010, Kelly attended the Eugene funeral of Marine Lance Cpl. Joe Rodewald, who died fighting in southern Afghanistan. “I just thought the least I could do is take an hour out of the day when I had a day off to go there and pay my respects,” Kelly says, “and make sure that his family knew that people really cared about the sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice, that Joe and his family made for his country.” You can look at Kelly’s coaching record and his stellar offense, but selfless acts like that create more questions than answers. What events molded Kelly into a man dedicated to both his job and the community? Why is Kelly so intensely private when much of what is known about his personal life is so positive? And, above all, who is Chip Kelly? For now, those questions remain unanswered. Perhaps even Kelly doesn’t know the answers. “Those times where you contemplate where you’ve come from or where you’ve been … (if) you’re sitting on a track doing that, you’re going to get run over by a train,” he says. “So get your feet moving and get something done during the day.”