This feels like the end of a short, exhilarating road down college football excellence with Chip Kelly. Oregon's fourth year coach is the most highly coveted prize on the NFL coaching carousel and when the NFL wants a coach, that coach usually wants the NFL right back. It's been an unthinkably fantastic four years – three Pac-10/12 titles, two trips to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl, including one victory, a BCS National Championship game appearance and an undefeated season, and this year's Fiesta Bowl, Oregon's fourth straight BCS bowl game. Chip Kelly has turned the team wearing superhero costumes into a football superpower. Oregon needs Kelly. But as much as Oregon needs Kelly, Kelly needs Oregon.
The NFL excites Chip Kelly. It always has. The NFL is comprised of the best football players and competition in the sport, and it provides Kelly the last, most difficult challenge he has to face in football. The NFL is the big leagues, and Kelly wants to test his revolutionary offense and system against the big dogs. I can't blame him. But I'd tell him to be careful.
Chip Kelly is a college coach. His system, the blur offense, is perfectly suited to college, where most athletes aren't good enough to shut down the angles and vertical seems the spread creates and negate the effectiveness of the read option with bigger, faster defensive linemen, like they have at the next level. There is no running spread being employed full-time in the NFL, because nobody has found a way to make it work. It's also physically harder to run the spread at the next level; the hashes are closer together and Kelly's offense is far too punishing on the quarterback, who has the ball in his hands so often.
Kelly can adapt his offense. How effectively, we'll probably get to see. But he'll have to adapt his coaching style too. Kelly very much coaches a team, not players. His next man up mantra and Win The Day slogan will have to be shelved at the next level, where professionals won't buy into the clichés and slogans Kelly likes to spew. That stuff works in college, on kids, not jaded, handsomely paid professionals who have egos the size of Autzen Stadium. Kelly doesn't like ego; his Ducks teams haven't had ego – a large part of the reason they've been successful – but Chip will have plenty of ego to deal with in the NFL.
Chip Kelly loves risk. We see that on every game day at Oregon with his addiction to going for it on fourth down, his gusty calls in big games – fake punt against Auburn, onside kick against Stanford – Kelly has a gamblers’ streak in him, and so it's very conceivable that Kelly is getting bored with playing three competitive games a year at Oregon, instead of the 16 he'd play in the NFL. I think Kelly likes the risk of losing, just like he likes going for it on fourth.
What the NFL offers Kelly is a bunch of question marks. Want to coach the Dallas Cowboys? America's Team? Then get used to being overridden by Jerry Jones. Want to go to Cleveland? Get ready to try and turn around a franchise riddled with losing since its inception in '97. Want to take on the Eagles? Try to turn around a broken team and locker room quickly before the famous Philly fans defenestrate you out of Independence Hall. Kansas City? Carolina? San Diego? Whatever franchise Kelly ends up at, he'll have his shot and a truckload of money, but also the harsh reality that he'd have to reinvent himself as a coach to have widespread success.
What does Oregon offer Kelly? Carte blanch, and the chance to become a legend. I don't have great insight into Kelly as a person, but I know that he's from New Hampshire, he's 49, and has nothing tying him to Eugene. At the height of his professional life, it seems like the best time to move to the NFL. Or the best time to settle down and become Oregon royalty.
I don't know how much Chip thinks about this, but he has Oregon on pace to become the most dominant, dynastic college football program ever. Ever. So far, Chip is 45-7, 4 for 4 on BCS bowls, with a resume and an offense and a brand that is unmatched around the country. Kelly is in his element. The Ducks are a dream job, with money, recruiting tools, great fans and now, great tradition. I think Oregon will have success – not as much success – but success, in the foreseeable future, whoever the coach is. It's a premier job in the country. Kelly has it, and has a chance to become a legend with it.
Oregon, of course, still hasn't won a national championship, and conference losses to USC and Stanford the last two years must stick in Kelly's craw. The challenge is beating them, taking that final step to the crystal football. Kelly will have all the money he needs to stay, and a chance to settle in and make Eugene home. Besides all of that, college football is just more fun than the NFL. College football is not a jaded business, believe it or not. Kelly still gets to coach kids. College has the pageantry, intensity, stakes, and innocence that the NFL doesn't provide. You get to be the big man on campus at a college instead of the face of a corporation in the NFL. I don't know if Kelly will kick himself if he never takes a shot at the NFL, but I know he'll kick himself if he doesn't recognize how good he has it at Oregon.
Chip Kelly is a blisteringly brilliant football coach. Every NFL team who has him at the top of their holiday wish list is making the right choice. Despite all the negatives, Kelly has a great shot at innovating and adapting into NFL success. When Kelly Chip-flopped last year and backed out of the Tampa Bay job, he wasn't sure if Mark Helfrich would get the top job with the Ducks, a promotion that is now all but assured should Kelly leave. Chip also knew that better job offers would come his way if he waited. Sure enough, better job offers will come this winter. One on hand, it's clear that it's time to leave. Kelly's stock will never be higher.
But should Kelly not succeed in the NFL, and come back to college, would you have any doubt that he'd have success? None. He'll be successful wherever he goes in college, much like Steve Spurrier, because he's a college coach. This is Chip Kelly's realm. The grass isn't greener in the NFL. In fact, I'll bet the grass is much darker on the other side of the hill Chip Kelly's standing at the top of. Chip's a smart guy. I hope he figures that out. Not as much for Oregon's sake, but his own.