Ever since the fiasco that was Oregon’s Sept. 3, 2009, visit to Boise State University, Duck fans have been hard-pressed to say much negative about Chip Kelly. Taking a team to a BCS bowl game in each of your first four years as head coach goes a long way toward building such goodwill.
But let’s be honest: As much as Oregon fans have come to respect and appreciate Kelly, Eugene, Oregon, is not the right fit for his fast-talking, no-nonsense personality.
Some cities make perfect matches for the athletes or coaches that define their sports teams. Take Bill Walton in Portland in the 1970s for example. Even in small-town Corvallis, a place where football recruits are made to feel part of the family, there’s a friendly fatherly figure leading the Beavers in Mike Riley. On a larger scale, you have the larger-than-life, outspoken, brash Rex Ryan coaching in the Big Apple. These are but a few examples of coaches and athletes who fit the city in which they work and play.
Eugene just doesn’t suit Kelly. Its residents are so far removed from Chip Kelly and the University of Oregon’s style. Cars stop to let slow-walking dreadlocked Caucasians cross the street nowhere near a crosswalk. The most celebrated colors in Eugene – other than green and yellow – are light soil and autumn leaves. People wearing earth tones clash with the lightning-winged jerseys walking around campus.
Chip Kelly has nothing in common with Eugene. Pacific Northwest folks don’t talk fast. They don’t mock others the way Kelly does most reporters. They’re friendly and open. Kelly is focused, fierce and competitive. Santa-booing Philadelphia seems much more in line with his personality than granola-crunching Eugene.
Whereas Eugenians tend to have a myriad of interests – organic gardening, strumming the guitar, brewing beer – Kelly cares about football and only football.
Speculation has been building for about the last calendar year that Kelly’s days in an Oregon visor are numbered. With several NFL teams likely pursuing new head coaches this offseason – a group of teams rumored to be including the Eagles – it’s not hard to see him leaving the Ducks in the dust.
It could be argued that no member of Oregon’s built-for-speed football team would fit into Eugene’s hippy culture, but that’s not the case. While he was known for doing everything – playing, driving, anointing himself the best in the country – at top speed, Cliff Harris is a perfect example of a Duck player fitting in in Eugene. In interviews, Harris spoke slowly and in his own style. He invented his own slang, phrases like “The Natty,” and he had a general disdain for authority. Who can forget the immortal words “We smoked it all.”?
You’d find that same sentiment over in the Whitaker District of Eugene from folks creating their own compost.
Eugene is far more Ken Kesey than Chip Kelly. The same can’t be said about Pittsburg and Mike Tomlin or Los Angeles and Lane Kiffin. Those personas just make sense for their locations. So if and when Kelly leaves Eugene, can he really be blamed for it?
Kyle Boggs is on Twitter. Follow him at @KyleKBoggs