We've all heard the rumors, perhaps a few of us have even come to terms with the possibility existing that Oregon Ducks head coach Chip Kelly may not be on the sidelines for the 2012-13 season.
If that is in fact the case, it would be a sad reality for the #5 ranked Ducks, (11-1, 8-1 Pac12) who came within a missed field goal of a second consecutive berth in the PAC-12 championship game, and with a win in that contest, an all but guaranteed spot in the BCS National Championship Game, their would-be second such trip in the last three years.
In four years at the helm of Oregon's high octane football program, Kelly has led the Ducks to four straight BCS bowls, including this year's berth in the Fiesta Bowl against #6 Kansas State. Four BCS berths in four years, an unprecedented run, given that the team had only been to one (2002 Fiesta) since the BCS came along in 1998. While Kelly's BCS record is not great (1-2), his regular season record (45-7, 33-3 Pac-12) is outstanding, and portrays his ability to improvise and adapt to the opponent no matter which players he has at his disposal, always giving the best in the nation a shot, if not an outright defeat.
Based on his merits, Kelly has more than earned the title of college football's hottest commodity, with NFL teams salivating at the chance to sign him in the offseason. Kelly very nearly signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year, citing “unfinished business” as his reason to stay. Even with his biggest goal and the likely source of his “unfinished business” (a national title) still left undone, and out of reach this season, the rumor mill churns on, placing Kelly in a few different spots, and all of them are likely to appeal in their own ways.
In the spirit of a BCS playoff system (which we needed this year and for the last many, many years) let's take a look at the four most likely teams to pursue Kelly in the offseason, and which one would be the best fit.
#4 Cleveland Browns -
New ownership, a horrid stretch over the last two seasons (and far, far beyond), and no real signs that this team is gelling, all spell doom for Pat Shurmur. This team lacks almost everything Kelly would need to survive in the NFL, as they have a one-man running game (Trent Richardson), a 29 year old error-prone rookie QB (Brandon Weedon), and no big time playmakers on the outside. The defense needs lots of work, despite having a fair amount of young talent, and the team plays in some of the worst weather. Kelly is unlikely to choose this destination even if offered the keys to the kingdom, including a say or more than that in player/personnel decisions.
Coaching Vacancy: A+
Fits Kelly's style: D
#3 San Diego Chargers –
Head coach Norv Turner is one of the best offensive minds, but has never had the right amount of success as a head coach in the big leagues, and is likely on his way out the door in sunny San Diego. A warm weather climate and an offense built for speed would be close to ideal for Chip, as he could turn the Chargers back to the days of Sid Gillman, and away from the disappointments of Turner and Marty Schottenheimer. He would have to revise his game plan to work with a pocket passer in Philip Rivers as well as find a way to get Rivers to calm down and protect the ball. That may be a trying experience in and of itself, not to mention while trying to manage an injury prone running game led by Ryan Matthews, but it could work. A defense built to apply pressure and stop the run would work for a team led by Kelly, but at the NFL level his offense may take time to develop and this defense is not made to lead the way. Control freak and GM AJ Smith may get in the way of Kelly evaluating and dealing for players he feels best fit his system, and that could nix any deal being completed on its own.
Coaching Vacancy: A
Fits Kelly's style: C+
#2 New Orleans Saints -
There is a high liklihood that Sean Payton returns to coach the Saints in the 2013 season and beyond, but that matter has yet to be closed, and until it is, this is a team that may just be tailored to fit Kelly's coaching style. Drew Brees is as good as anyone in the league at making quick reads and delivering the ball with accuracy to any point on the football field, which fits Kelly's expectations perfectly. He also runs a fast-paced, high octane offense built on speed on the outside, and hard running between the tackles, utilizing a defense that is often asked to protect a lead, not create one. Sound familiar? Darren Sproles does as good of a D'Anthony Thomas impression as anyone can in the NFL, and Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram give the offense the inside running game an all-around scheme needs to survive, which is exactly the kind of offense Kelly runs at Oregon. Micky Loomis has done a fantastic job of working with Payton and Brees to create a team built to succeed on all three levels (offense, defense, special teams), and to do so over the course of several years. Aside from Brees, many of the players on this team are still on the right side of thirty, especially at the skill positions, and most are still in their primes. As good as Ed Dickson and David Paulson were for Oregon, TE Jimmy Graham is far, far better, and brings a combination of size and athleticism to the gameplan that they simply could not. The fact that the Saints even play nine of their 16 regular season games indoors (8 home, one at Atlanta), gives an offense built for speed yet another added advantage. The only thing keeping Chip Kelly from the Saints? Sean Payton, who is likely to re-sign his contract and return to the team after a one-year suspension/hiatus.
Coaching Vacancy: D
Fits Kelly's Style: A+
#1 Philadelphia Eagles -
Although no official announcement has been made, back-to-back massively disappointing seasons have led to the popular belief is that Andy Reid is out of a job following the conclusion of the 2012 season. That leaves a big opening to run one of the most successful franchises since 1995. Innovating an offense previously trained to run with bits of the spread and other “gadget” plays, Chip would have a fairly easy time installing his system here. Rookie Nick Foles has a ways to go in his development and needs to work on his mobility, but he does have a cannon for an arm and is a human skyscraper of a QB standing at 6'6” and 243lbs. A running game led by LeSean McCoy and a passing attack featuring two of the fastest wideouts in the game today (DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin), this offense is essentially waiting for Chip Kelly to sign on the dotted line and install the no-huddle, uber fast-paced Oregon system. If the offense can continuously outscore the opposition, it would take a great deal of pressure off of a seriously maligned defense, featuring some of the NFL's biggest names in CB's Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and DE Trent Cole, which has thus far massively underperformed during one and three quarter seasons of work together. If Kelly can get in to Philly and get to work on the offensive line and re-establishing a running game as well as teaching a young QB to make quick reads in a fast as lightening offense, with a defense built to protect a lead, this team could be extremely scary for the other 31 teams in the league. As scary or even more so than they were supposed to be last year.
Coaching Vacancy: A+
Fits Kelly's Style: A
Considered: Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs, Carolina Panthers.
So what does this all mean? Simple. That there is a chance that you will see Chip Kelly working as the head coach of a team with a bird for a mascot and green as its main color playing football in a traditionally wet climate. He may even have Kenjon Barner playing running back for him.
What you may not see? Chip Kelly coaching the Ducks in 2013, which would be a tremendous disappointment given that offensive stars Marcus Mariota and D'Anthony Thomas will be back in Oregon next year, looking to build on their 12-1 2012 seaoson, capped off by a Fiesta Bowl win over the Kansas State Wildcats (hasn't happened yet but give it until January 4th).
It is my belief that Kelly should return to Oregon next season, finish what he started by bringing the Ducks a championship, and not bring them their third head coach in five years, and fourth since 1977. Chip will be tempted to go “all-in” and cash in on the NFL, but he has unfinished business in Oregon.
Ducks vs Eagles? Is that truly a contest? For Oregon fans I hope not, but temptation is a powerful tool. And the NFL can offer a challenge and pay grade superior to what Chip is getting here, but something will be missing: control.
Currently, Chip has a pretty relaxed life, though you may not realize that if you saw him in action. Chip recruits his own players, runs his own system, and answers to one man: Phil Knight (you thought maybe Rob Mullens? Nah.). Chip can speak to the media, talk to his players, scheme, eat, sleep, and walk how he wants, when he wants, and if he wants. He asks for nothing more than the tools to succeed, and between Knight and U of O, that's exactly what he gets.
Will he get such freedoms to live and act like a king in the NFL? In Cleveland, San Diego, or Philly? Where he will work for or even against a GM and the owner? The odds are against him there, where he has turned the odds in his favor here.
One more year. A nice, “even” five years. Stay home Chip. Bring the Ducks a title.
For this year at least, put a bird on it.
And that bird is a Duck.