Monday night, the Philadelphia Eagles faced off against the Washington Redskins in the highly anticipated debut of Chip Kelly as a head coach in the National Football League. Kelly and the Eagles put on a show for the first half of that game and seemingly coasted to the win against the Redskins.
A couple days before that game, the Oregon Ducks went to Virginia and demolished the Cavaliers in their second game of the year, 59-10. The Ducks are still covered with the fingerprints of the former head coach, Kelly. With new head man Mark Helfrich, there have been very few apparent changes made in the program.
It has been widely publicized that Helfrich is an Oregon native and a lot of people around the organization hope that Helfrich is here for the long haul. My question is this: Is Coach Helfrich innovative enough to keep up with the demand of being a major college football head coach?
Kelly, like Helfrich, came into Oregon relatively unknown. He came to be offensive coordinator to then Head Coach Mike Bellotti. The changes in the offense were obvious when Kelly was offensive coordinator but became game changing a couple years later when he took over as the head coach.
The speed, tempo and simplicity of his offense were incredibly unique when he came to Eugene. The national branding of an organization was in full force and the “University of Nike” was seen in a different light than ever before. However, football is a copycat sport and other teams are slowly but surely recreating what Oregon has developed.
When the 2013 college football season opened up, one of the most highly anticipated week 1 matchups was Boise State at Washington. In the end, Boise State was completely overmatched and the game was seemingly a dud, but the most eye opening part of the game was how it was played. There was not one offensive huddle from either team, the entire game. The plays were relayed to the quarterback from the sideline and echoed to the team.
Washington has shown signs of an up-tempo offense in the past but for Boise State, this was a complete rebrand. This is, in no way, a solitary occurrence. All across the college football landscape, teams are getting faster, running more plays per game and huddling far less. Not only has the spread offense overtaken much of college football, it is now infiltrating the professional ranks.
The Ducks are currently ranked #2 in the Associated Press poll and are a huge favorite against SEC opponent Tennessee this weekend. On the surface, Helfrich has done all that he can possibly do to keep the status quo. The Ducks are fast, winning games by a lot of points and are at the top of the polls like they were with Kelly.
For me, the bigger concern is where will Helfrich have this team in two years? Five years? How will he replace a lot of the Kelly recruiting classes? Will he bring the same level of innovation to Oregon to keep winning games and keep the fans happy?
Winning games right now is exactly what Helfrich has been asked to do, but the gap is closing quickly around college football. When I say gap, I mean the speed and tempo that this game is played at. Oregon was once the highest tempo team in the country; now teams across the country are heavily stressing tempo and trying to run just as many plays as Oregon.
What is the next wave of football offenses? What is the next trend? If Coach Helfrich can keep up and even show a little bit of the innovativeness of Kelly, I would tend to agree with a lot of people in Eugene that he could be the coach of this team for 10, 15, even 20 years. But it’s much easier said than done. I am excited to see what Helfrich can bring to the table and what this team looks like moving forward from the Chip Kelly era.
As for Kelly, he is an offensive genius and I fully expect him to be successful in the NFL. However, I do not expect it to be as easy as it was Monday night. I think once defensive coordinators around the league get their hands on the game film, they will dissect it until they figure out how to slow that offense down. I believe that Kelly and the Eagles are a quarterback and a couple years away from being serious contenders.