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Odd duck Kelly leaves the Oregon bubble for Philly

Analysis


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - One of Chip Kelly's last public appearances as Oregon Ducks football coach came at the final press conference before the Fiesta Bowl victory over Kansas State.The smartest guy in the room has taken his brain and left the building.

Chip Kelly, gone to the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, won’t soon be forgotten by the Oregon Ducks. Kelly, six years ago an unknown Division I-AA assistant coach, made an unprecedented mark on the football program and its followers with his sparkling 46-7 record and four consecutive BCS appearances as head coach. He and his methods made the Oregon brand nationally relevant, thrilling the hardcore, longtime fans who hardly knew such things, attracting bandwagon fans everywhere and turned the Ducks into household names from here to Manchester, N.H., to Florida to, of course, infamously, Texas.

Let’s spin ahead before we look back: Kelly will do well in the NFL, given Michael Vick or whoever as his quarterback in Philly. He knows football, folks. Lives it, loves it. He’ll spend every waking hour — which means 19 hours in a day, given his admitted practice of hurry-and-sleeping for about five hours — trying to make the

Eagles the best they can be.

Mobile quarterback? Spread option? Zone read runs? Fast pace? Whatever the personnel provides, he’ll work with it. He’ll adjust. The Ducks weren’t riding a one-trick pony; they hopped on board a coaching stallion and galloped to the upper echelon of college football.

Clearly, there needs to be some mind meld with the Eagles’ brass, including owner Jeffrey Lurie. One has to believe Kelly will have a strong say in personnel decisions, while also relying on the expertise of NFL types around him. He’ll have to adjust to working with NFL players, who play because they get paid. He’ll tailor practices to fit the players and demand things while understanding the nature of pro sports. It’s maybe his greatest strength, bonding with players. He’s a football lifer, and he’s aware that players win games, given the right system.

And, he’ll have to be more accountable in the NFL world, which, for example, mandates injury reports. It’ll certainly be interesting to see how Kelly, the Philadelphia media and Eagles fans relate to one another.

Which takes us to Kelly’s time in Eugene. Given the job of coaching the Ducks, he was set up to do well. It’s not all about Kelly and his smarts. He lived in a bubble.

The Ducks had and continue to have tremendous facilities, a huge football budget, an enthusiastic big-bucks donor (Phil Knight), a cozy relationship with Nike, a recent record of success, a veteran staff and a thirst to be something big. It’s not as if he inherited the struggling program at the Sisters of the Poor U. Kelly has many people to thank for setting him up for UO success, including past coaches Rich Brooks and Mike Bellotti.

So, Oregon will be fine without him. Maybe not national championship-caliber, but certainly one of the Pac-12’s better teams.

What the Philly hiring and the end of the Kelly era really brings is the finality to the string of dramatics that surrounded the 49-year-old single guy during his time as UO coach.

He put the hammer down on media coverage, essentially making the UO program the most secretive thing since the Manhattan Project and one of the most arrogant operations in state history.

His players consistently found trouble, namely LeGarrette Blount punching an opposing player, Jeremiah Masoli stealing laptops and being caught with marijuana, LaMichael James being arrested for ex-girlfriend issues, Cliff Harris being clocked driving 118 mph after he and buddies “smoked it all,” Darron Thomas riding shotgun during encounters with authorities and Kiko Alonso suspended twice for alcohol-related transgressions.

Then, as the topper, Kelly and the Ducks found themselves being investigated by the NCAA for alleged recruiting violations involving Texas-based “street agent” Willie Lyles. The NCAA has yet to levy penalties, and Kelly, of course, won’t be around to face the penalties, which wreaks of moral irresponsibility.

But winning cured all under Kelly.

He could yell at fans to shut up, and people laughed it off. He could act like a Napoleon, because Waterloos rarely happened (save for USC 2011 and Stanford 2012). He could blow off boosters, because he didn’t like to schmooze. He could flip-flop more than a goldfish out of water, because it was just Chip being Chip.

Kelly became a character, a Howard Hughes and a Marilyn Monroe in one, part-recluse and part-diva and all foibles, idiosyncrasies and mystery.

So long, Charles.