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Chip Kelly – From Manchester To Philadelphia

It's special to be able to do what you love every day…. Because of that, it doesn't feel like work. I don't take that for granted.

 

-          Chip Kelly

Once upon a time (2007) in a land (not so very) far, far away (Eugene), a laconic soul from Manchester, NH, was introduced as Oregon’s new offensive coordinator.  Few fans west of the Continental Divide had heard of Kelly, a former defensive back at the University of New Hampshire whose first coaching job paid him the princely sum of $4000. As far as most Ducks fans were concerned, Kelly was a curiosity and little more. They cared about winning- and if Kelly could contribute to that, so much the better.

The community of football coaches was much better acquainted with Kelly. While he was the offensive coordinator at UNH, his spread offense attracted attention for its frenetic pace and basketball-style fast break action.  During his eight seasons at UNH, Kelly’s offense averaged over 400 yards of offense and 30 points per game seven times. Three yards and a cloud of dust it wasn’t. Ducks fans had NO idea of the wild ride Kelly was about to take them on.

Kelly became Oregon’s head coach when Mike Bellotti stepped down in 2009, and his offense continued to terrorize and lay waste to college football. Eugene, which the college football world has historically viewed as being located somewhere on the Kamchatka Peninsula, suddenly became a popular off-season destination for coaches. It must have been quite the shock to discover they didn’t need the English-Russian dictionaries they’d packed for the trip.

In his four years at the helm, Kelly’s Ducks went to four consecutive BCS bowl games. In 2010, they were a blown referee’s call away from possibly winning the BCS championship game. This season, they were a missed field goal in overtime against Stanford away from having another shot at a BCS title.

About the only thing Kelly didn’t achieve during his tenure was a BCS Championship. Most importantly, Oregon football, once the butt of many long-running jokes, is now a top-notch program that can compete with anyone…including SEC teams. It’s no exaggeration to call the Ducks a perennial contender for the BCS Championship.

Not bad for a coach few in the Pacific time zone had heard of prior to 2007….

Success attracts attention and creates opportunities. Chip Kelly understandably- and quickly- became a hot commodity. After what seemed destined to become an annual post-bowl game pas de deux with the NFL, Kelly announced two weeks ago that he would return to Oregon for another season. Ducks fans and the media breathed a sigh of relief, secure in the knowledge that Kelly would be back in Eugene for the 2013.

Yeah, about that….

We hope you enjoy your stay
It's good to have you with us
Even if it's just for the day

We hope you enjoy your stay
Outside the sun is shining
It seems like heaven ain't far away

It's good to have you with us
Even if it's just for the day

-          “Enterlude,” The Killers

My “WTF??” moment came on Wednesday, when my iPhone beeped at me with the notification that Kelly had agreed to become the new head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.”

Wait…WHAT??

Sure enough…Kelly, who earlier in the week was still on the road recruiting for the Ducks, was introduced on Friday morning as the new coach of the Eagles. To say the news came as a surprise would be an understatement. It wasn’t so much that he’d accepted an NFL job; everyone knew that wasn’t a matter of “if,” but “when.” It was that no one in the media saw this coming early enough to provide a warning, which only compounded the shock.

And hadn’t he just announced that he was staying put??

I’ve heard the yammering and whining about Kelly’s “lack of loyalty” or “jumping ship” or “lack of character.” However you choose to describe his leave-taking, it’s hardly a betrayal, nor is it indicative of a lack of character and integrity. The reality is that Kelly took care of his primary responsibility- to himself- in a way that didn’t leave the Ducks’ cupboard bare. Kelly left Oregon’s football program in better shape than it’s ever been. Ducks fans should have been strewing rose petals in Kelly’s path on his way to the Eugene airport.

We all know that “loyalty” is a one-way street for coaches. Fans and the media expect loyalty, but they’d be the first ones looking to burn a coach at the stake if he doesn’t win. If Kelly had just finished his second consecutive losing season, FireChipKelly.com would have been one of the Internet’s hot destinations. (BTW, if you have some money burning a hole in your pocket, the domain’s for sale.) He’d have been as popular as an CD of Chris Brown and Rihanna covering Guns ‘n’ Roses standards. (The Spaghetti Incident? You don’t want to know….)

All Kelly did is what coaches do: accept a challenge. We should be congratulating him for making it to the top of his profession. We all have dreams and aspirations; for a football coach, running an NFL team is the top of the mountain, the ultimate challenge. Who among us wouldn’t do exactly the same thing Kelly did and for exactly the same reasons? I wouldn’t want to live in Philadelphia, but a football coach goes whether the opportunities are.

The truth is that no one’s indispensable. Kelly’s departure doesn’t mean the Ducks will go 0-12 without his visor and laconic smile on the sideline. Whoever Oregon AD Rob Mullen hires (and I’m guessing it’ll be Mark Helfrich) will be leading arguably the strongest program this side of the SEC. It’s no stretch to believe the Ducks could go undefeated and claim the school’s first national championship.

Chip Kelly built that.

Why Kelly would forego a possible national championship for the sad-sack Philadelphia Eagles is a question only he can answer. Eagles fans are among the most obnoxious and truly objectionable troglodytes on the face of the planet. They’re so bad that Lincoln Financial Field has its own jail, which gets a workout on game days.

You think I’m kidding, right? Consider this: Eagles fans are so ill tempered that they’ve booed Santa Claus!! The only lower biped life forms are Raiders fans.

Who knows; perhaps Kelly sees an opportunity to build a winning team and (finally) bring Philly a Super Bowl title that impatient Eagles fans believe is their due. For Kelly’s sake, I wish him success…because he’ll be crucified if he falls short.

I’m not an Eagles fan, but I’ll be rooting for Kelly- unless the Eagles are playing Minnesota or Seattle. Given what he did for Oregon’s football program, Ducks fans should be wishing him Godspeed and good luck. Given the current sorry state of the Eagles franchise, he’s going to need all that and more.

Six years ago, Ducks fans knew nothing about Chip Kelly and cared even less. This past week, he left Eugene, and their disappointment and consternation was loud and long. I find it difficult to begrudge someone accepting an offer to test himself at the highest level afforded by his profession…especially when those opportunities are rarely made available and even then only to only a select few. We should grateful for what his teams accomplished and for convincing the college football world that Eugene is more than a lonely outpost in the Soviet Far East.

We may not understand or appreciate the manner is which Kelly left for the NFL, but we don’t have to. Kelly owes no one, save for his players and assistant coaches, an explanation. I suspect the players, while disappointed, wholeheartedly support their former coach. His assistants understand the peripatetic and unstable existence that is the life of an assistant football coach. None of them would be where they are today without Kelly’s influence.

Before long, Oregon will have a new coach and the show will go on, because a football program is bigger than one person. In the meantime, we can wonder how Kelly’s offense will translate to the NFL. At least the Eagles will finally be fun to watch.

 

About Arran Gimba

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