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Oregon Ducks Head Coach Chip Kelly: A Great Coach, But Nothing More

Simply put, in plain English, what the hell happened? What happened? I guess I figure Chip Kelly has ditched the University of Oregon for a slimy, cowardly, back-alley entrance into the National Football League with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Did Kelly actually announce, after being slobbered over by the Cleveland Browns and those same Eagles nine days ago, that he was staying at Oregon? Did that really happen? Did I just imagine him at the Oregon – Arizona basketball game four days after that announcement, cheering on his school? Did someone play a nasty joke? I don't think so. I think yesterday we saw Kelly flash his true colors. It was Chip at his worst: An arrogant lack of loyalty and honesty confirming everyone's worst thoughts about the now former coach of the Oregon Ducks. 

If Chip Kelly had left for the Philadelphia Eagles on that Sunday, January 6th, I wouldn't have been mad. I would have wished Chip luck as he whisked his way out of Eugene and into greener pastures. College football was too easy for Kelly. Chip is ambitious. Football is his life. Kelly didn't put down any roots in Eugene or even any roots west of the Mississippi River.

The NFL was the logical next step for one of the greatest offensive minds in coaching. But Kelly put down major roots when he decided to stay at Oregon. He made a commitment and he didn't honor it. Instead, at the 11.5th hour, Chip slipped out through the back-door. What about all the recruits he crisscrossed and crossed-over? What about all his staff that was in and out of limbo for the last month? Whatever, they're all in the rearview mirror now. It is telling yesterday that likely none of Kelly's Oregon staff will go with him to the NFL. 

College football is all about loyalty and commitment. Kelly never had any. Oregon was a stepping-stone job for him. When Chip openly flirted with the NFL this year and last, he came back to the Ducks, but never said he didn’t leave because he loved his job, his team, or the university.

I'm ready to be done with Kelly. I'm ready for a Ducks coach like Mark Helfrich, the next man up in Eugene, an all-out nice guy who will always represent Oregon positively. Helfrich loves the Ducks. He grew up rooting for Oregon at Autzen Stadium. He has two kids, and lives in Eugene. In fact, he is, in many ways, the anti-Kelly. I understand this is business and Chip laid down his ultimatum; the Eagles didn't meet it nine days ago, they did yesterday, so Kelly left. But does Kelly understand that as a head coach of a major college football program, it's not all about him? Chip rarely seemed genuine, and he never was particularly nice. I'm ready to wash my hands of Kelly. If Helfrich succeeds, he’ll be more beloved by Ducks fans than Kelly ever was.

I've heard countless times over the last few months that going to the NFL will allow Kelly to just coach football, and not deal with the shenanigans of being a college coach. Chip had the best facilities and the best brand at Oregon. He was surrounded with his people. At Oregon, what Chip wanted, Chip got. It's not going to be easier in Philadelphia. Chip's every move will be under the microscope of a ultra-demanding city and fan-base. He blew off media at Oregon that, for the most part, was unusually soft for a major college football program. Can you imagine if Kelly pulls the shenanigans we've grown accustomed to at Oregon in Philly and doesn't win right away? He'll be defenestrated out of Liberty Hall.

The last few weeks have clearly showed how important Oregon is to Chip Kelly. I don’t know if Kelly will succeed with the Eagles – although this thing may just work now that Monte Kiffin ended up defensive coordinator in Dallas. I do know that Kelly will have to change his offense, his coaching style, and his attitude … and do it quick. The famous Philly fans won’t have a lot of patience for a guy who has not one morsel of NFL experience at any level.

Kelly's dealings with Willy Lyles were blatant, arrogant cheating that made me want to take a cold shower each time more details came out. As an Oregon fan, I didn't want my football program being run by the guy that ran this recruiting fraud. And for all his success, part of Kelly's Ducks legacy is being the first and only coach in school history to incur NCAA sanctions that are coming soon. Chip's not running from those sanctions yesterday. He's doing business. He said Philadelphia, you give x, x, and x, and I'll be your coach. Will Lyles, you give me Seastrunk, I'll give you $25,000.

It certainly was telling that after the news that Kelly was staying in Eugene broke just days ago, neither the coach nor the school issued an official statement on the matter of Kelly's return. Chip was never fully committed to the Ducks from the moment the first NFL phoned his agent over two years ago. He was waiting for the right moment to leap. Fine. But Chip should have told it like it was. Just because Kelly likes ambiguous, murky situations where he's pulling all the strings, doesn't mean the people his job status directly affect do. Kelly was selfish in this game of will-he or won't-he. He took everyone – recruits, current players, coaching staff, the Eagles – for a ride, then hopped off the train just as he steered it into the side of a mountain. 

I would have appreciated a little humility from Kelly throughout this process. It feels to me like he has been coddled the minute he stepped off the plane in Eugene way back in 2007. I don’t think he feels he owes Oregon anything – even though the Ducks gave him one of the biggest breaks from anonymity in coaching history – and I don’t think he felt he owed the NFL teams anything. He blew off the Cleveland Browns, who were left steaming at Kelly, and backed out of the deal with the Eagles the first time around. 

Everything has been handed to Kelly since he was hired by Mike Bellotti – the head-coaching job, a contract extension with pay that made him the highest compensated public employee in Oregon – and his ego shows it. Where’s the modesty of a small town, east coast boy who was a coaching nobody six years ago, a D-2 offensive coordinator? Probably blowing in the wind back in New Hampshire.

I loved Chip Kelly as a football coach. He was awesome, awe-inspiring, and he took Oregon beyond any imaginable place in the upper-echelon of college football previously imaginable. The next head coach, Helfrich, should be able to pick up right where Kelly left off. But to be a coaching legend, you need to be just as great off the field as on it. I never liked Chip off the field. He had a great sense of humor, but too often used it to zap amiable people than give those amiable people a laugh. Kelly was making $3.5 million dollars a year, and he couldn't be bothered to be friendly. Great coaches, especially in college, do better than that.

A lot of Ducks fans are frustrated, confused, angered by Kelly's leap, but what'd they expect? This day was coming. Kelly was always going to leave, and leave on his own terms, when it was least expected. That's just the way Kelly operates. Chip’s behavior and shtick were tolerated at Oregon because of overwhelming success. But had Kelly not won right away, and carried out his antics, he would have been a good bet to be the first Oregon football head coach fired since Don Read in 1976. In fact, this departure was a total Kelly move: Unpredictable, irresponsible, and shrouded in secrecy.

Oregon football can move on. Having the transition from Kelly to Helfrich now isn’t such a bad thing. Helfrich will break into his new gig with Marcus Mariota, De’Anthony Thomas, and most likely the entirety, or at very least, the core of one of the best group of assistant coaches in college football. More than a few boosters will be thankful Kelly jumped to the NFL. Their last message to the outgoing coach will read something like: Thanks for the wins, good-bye, and good riddance. Chip Kelly was a great, great football coach for the University of Oregon. Nothing more. 

Abe Asher is on Twitter. Follow him at @AbesWorldSports

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