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Everyone but Chip Kelly, it seems, is talking NFL


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Oregon Ducks coach Chip Kelly takes questions at a Wednesday press conference in Scottsdale, Ariz.SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — There has been a feeling of finality around the Oregon Ducks and their appearance in the Fiesta Bowl, as if the 5:30 p.m. PT Thursday game will be a finale for Chip Kelly as UO coach.

Speculation continues that Kelly would jump at an opportunity to coach in the NFL, given the right situation, perhaps with Philadelphia or Cleveland.

"I do not know what the future holds," Kelly said on the day before the Ducks (11-1) and Kansas State (11-1) play at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. "I do know we have a football game tomorrow night and I'm going to be there."

Kelly always has been coy and calculating, and even disingenuous, so it should surprise no one that he doesn't want to address his status as one of the NFL's hottest coaching prospects. What he has also done best is put such "outside influences" aside to do what he loves to do — coach football. And Kelly says talk of his possibly leaving for the NFL has not been a distraction for him or his players.

"It's kind of just noise to us," he says. "They've never said a word to me. I've never said a word to them."

But he understands the public interest in him going to the NFL, although he claims that media have been "entertained" by the speculation.

Under Kelly's watch, the Ducks have been under NCAA investigation — and face possible penalties — for the Willie Lyles recruiting scandal.

"You can't be a selective participant and listen to things that are good being said about you and block out bad things being said about you," he says. "Our team is extremely focused. If you get a chance to get inside our team, which is never going to happen, what we talk about, what we focus on really has nothing to do with what's going on outside. That's the great thing about coaching kids of that age. They don't get caught up in it. I don't think our kids read message boards, newspapers. They want to hang out with each other, have a good time ... we're getting ready to go play the Fiesta Bowl. That's what we're excited about."

There also has been a lot of talk about Kelly's system — spread offense, fast pace — and whether it would work in the NFL. Kelly says Washington with Robert Griffin III and Carolina with Cam Newton serve as evidence that mobile quarterback-driven offenses can succeed at the NFL level. Of course, his offense might have a twist or two, and no one should dispute whether Kelly could adapt to any personnel situation on a given NFL team. He's always been a hard-core student of the game; he developed and enhanced the spread offense at Oregon because he had the personnel to do it.

The biggest question would be how Kelly adapts to dealing with paid athletes, some of them highly paid, and the all-business and mercenary culture of the NFL.

"I've never coached in that league," he says. "I visited practices and talked with people about it. The one thing about that, about everything — you have to have good players. Sometimes the coaching aspect is way overrated. We don't play the game.

"I think college football is personnel-driven; so is the NFL. Your job as a coach very simply is to put your players in position to make plays, get out of the way and (let them) go make them."

More than one person who has worked for Kelly has remarked about how well the coach does much with little. One example, he helped quarterback Justin Roper become offensive MVP of the 2007 Sun Bowl, after Roper's competition with Cody Kempt to be the starting quarterback for the game. It was the year Dennis Dixon went down with an injury, and the Ducks lost three consecutive games to end the regular season. Roper later transferred to Montana, and hardly played. Similarly, Kelly turned the LeGarrette Blount/Boise State debacle in 2009 into a positive, molding LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner into star running backs ... and the rest has been history.

So, given a lot, Kelly has done a lot — he has a 45-7 record at Oregon heading into the Fiesta Bowl, with the losses to teams that were a combined 82-12.

One would think, given talent and the right owner-general manager relationship, Kelly would succeed in the NFL — when he makes the jump.