Chip Kelly

Chip Kelly would not return to Oregon as a failure

Chip Kelly would not return to Oregon as a failure

Does anyone who is still pining over Chip Kelly have any pride?

He left you for a hotter, sexier option that offered more money and a chance at the true big time. 

He ditched you for the glamor of the NFL and hasn't come close to returning to the state. If he has, he sure kept a low profile.  

We've seen Marcus Mariota and Hroniss Grasu around Eugene. LaMichael James lives in the Portland area. So does Dennis Dixon. Kenjon Barner has attended UO practices. Jake Fisher. Tyler Johnstone. They've been spotted.

Kelly sightings? Nope. 

Yet still some fans harbor fantasies that the San Francisco 49ers coach would consider returning to the state to coach the Ducks? The idea has even been floated here and there within the media. 


Who comes up with this nonsense? 

A reporter asked Kelly on Monday if he would consider returning to Oregon. 

Kelly replied: "No. I'm the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. So, I'm not looking at anything else."

Another reporter asked Kelly if he had heard from any colleges about job offers.

"Nope," Kelly said, shaking his head. 

Of course, what's he supposed to say? During preparation for his final game at Oregon, the 2013 Fiesta Bowl, he insisted he hadn't had any contact with NFL teams. Two weeks later, he was headed to Philadelphia. 

San Francisco is 1-6 and there are already rumors that Kelly could get fired after one season. After all, the 49ers clearly have winning talent (sarcasm). 

Maybe he does get blown out after one season. But just because he once coached at Oregon and Ducks coach Mark Helfrich is on the hot seat with a 2-5 record this season, doesn't mean Kelly would return to Eugene, or that UO would even welcome him back.

Yep. Let that possibility sink in for a moment. Why do people even assume that Oregon would welcome back Kelly? 

Paul Finebaum, an SEC guru, appeared on television recently and offered up a veiled idea that Kelly could possibly return to Oregon. He clearly has never met Kelly. 

I realize fans of Oregon and those associated with the program believe the Ducks hung the moon and that anyone in their right mind would want to coach UO to glory. But let's review the scorecard that would be filled out if Kelly were to return to Oregon. It's not pretty:

  1. He left Oregon for the NFL after only four years as head coach and having been hailed as an offensive genius, only to have that idea destroyed at the next level.  
  2. He failed with the Eagles and got fired after making questionable trades and alienating players and front office personnel. 
  3. He would have failed in San Francisco by making the already horrid 49ers even worse while once again demonstrating that his no-huddle offense is no friend to a bad defense in a league where teams have close to equal talent. 
  4. He would return to Oregon a failure having to admit to the world that he couldn't hack it at the next level. 
  5. He would be doing so knowing that the Pac-12 is far better now than it was when he left it with most teams now running spread, no-huddle attacks and racking up huge points like his teams did from 2009 through 2012. 
  6. He would look north to Seattle to find a No. 4-ranked Washington team in full swing and led by a coaching equal, Chris Petersen. 
  7. He would be reminded that he can't survive off recruiting in the state of Oregon and still must recruit nationally as the coach whose star is on the decline, not on the rise. 
  8. Speaking of recruiting, sources say he hated it.
  9. He also hated sucking up to boosters. He hated alumni events. Heck, he would Skype in for his weekly address to the Portland booster club because he didn't want to make the weekly drive from Eugene as Mike Bellotti had done for decades. 
  10. He would know that if he failed at Oregon during his second tenure he would cement the idea that his prior success was based on a gimmick that flamed out in the NFL and, although potent, has been copied by many, thus rendering his version no longer unique.

Sources at Oregon laugh at the mere speculation that Kelly would ever return to the Ducks. Any fan's fascination and love for him far outweighs his affinity for Eugene. Oregon was a job to him. It might have been a special one given that it's where he got his big break after being at New Hampshire, but it was still just a job. A stepping stone. People don't climb back down unless they have to. Kelly wouldn't have to, even if he were fired by San Francisco. 

No, Kelly will hold on in the NFL as long as he can. If he is fired in San Francisco he would be done as a head coach in the NFL unless he returns to college and duplicates his success at Oregon.

But if he is faced with that quandary, he would not choose Oregon as his launching pad. He would choose a much more appetizing option with a larger stadium and far deeper recruiting base. He would choose a better job. 

Places such as USC, Texas or LSU could be coach hunting this offseason.  These programs have far more juice than Oregon. They are places where he could potentially build another winner then entice an NFL team to give him a third shot. 

There could come a day when Kelly has no choice but to take a look at Oregon. Maybe he will continue to struggle to find success no matter where he lands. By then, maybe the local fascination with Kelly will have worn off. 

But as long as he has any juice at all, he isn't going to return to Oregon unless its a last resort. And if that ends up being the case, would the program even want him back? 

So is it time for the Ducks to officially start playing for next season?

So is it time for the Ducks to officially start playing for next season?

The Ducks and Bears turned a football game into a marathon Friday night, a seemingly endless mix of thrilling plays, touchdowns and bewildering penalties that was befitting two of the Pac-12's lesser teams. This one wasn't pretty, especially from the Ducks' side of the field, at least until a late comeback gave them new life and some degree of hope for the remainder of what appears to be a very disappointing season. Some thoughts about this game:

  • California opened the game with little regard for Oregon's weak defense, twice going for it in their own territory on fourth down and picking up first downs. But maybe the Ducks were unwittingly setting a Bear trap. In the second half California failed on a fourth-down conversion and also made an ill-advised pooch punt that went just 10 yards while trying to make the Ducks think they were again going to go for it on fourth down. It's interesting when you allow teams to think they can gain yards against you anytime and in any field position -- it tends to make them careless and arrogant. And it allowed the Ducks a chance to make a comeback -- which they jumped on.
  • Justin Herbert is showing all the signs of eventually becoming a big-time quarterback and it's going to be interesting to see how the coaches develop him. It appeared that they were being very careful with him against Washington and in the first half of this one, not asking too much. But behind by three touchdowns in the second half he was almost in full gunslinger mode and I liked that a lot. If you're just going to mail this season in and build for the future, you might as well take the wraps off him and let him fire away.
  • That begs the question -- is it time to to commit fully to next season? A bowl game at this point seems impossible, so why not? Well, part of that "why not" is a fan base that expects -- and is paying for -- something better. This is a question that faces pro teams and college teams in every sport -- when do you resign yourself to a lost season and use the remaining games to build for the following season? When do you surrender a battle to win a war?
  • I've been saying all season that defense wasn't this team's only problem and I think it showed in this game. Oregon's offense sputtered in the first half and it cost the Ducks the game. Yes, the defense is monumentally bad ... but if the offense can at least keep things from getting out of hand, the Duck defense is usually going to get a few second-half stops, perhaps just because the opponent's offense is exhausted from all the running. It's not the way you want to win games, but it's the only way to win right now. And there is still enough offensive talent at receiver and running back to rack up some high scores.
  • And speaking of the defense, if you're going to commit to a 4-3 alignment, that's fine. Obviously, the Ducks don't have the kind of talent necessary to make it effective. So why not commit to more pressure on quarterbacks? Why not a few more line stunts? Why not bring the house once in a while? You're giving up points at an alarming rate anyway, why not roll the dice once in a while just to give the other team something to think about?
  • Yes, the offensive line is young. Yes, the quarterback is a freshman. But really, a young team should be improving as the season goes along and we're not really seeing much of that so far -- particularly on the defensive side.
  • Let me say this one more time because I keep seeing my critical remarks about the Ducks being misinterpreted: I am not campaigning for Mark Helfrich to be fired. I don't believe that is going to happen nor do I think it should happen. What I'm doing is pointing out things I see that need to be corrected. I'm second-guessing, quite frankly. That's often considered unfair but really -- it's what we do. I mean, until they give me the chance to first-guess, I'm stuck with it. And, of course, there's a lot to second-guess.
  • Let me tell you what seems to come through whenever I speak with former Duck players who are disappointed in what they're seeing on the field this season. They talk about the culture of Duck football and how it's changed. About how, under Chip Kelly, it was a VERY disciplined program -- and that meant every player from top to bottom was held accountable. What I hear from multiple players is how feared Kelly was by the players. They knew he insisted on certain things and if you didn't do them, you'd sit -- no matter who you were. And from that came a toughness and discipline that they aren't seeing in the program now.
  • A team's culture is a fragile thing that can take a wrong turn at any moment. And it's changeable -- for better or worse. My hope would be that if there's something amiss in Oregon's culture right now, it can be corrected. And forget about all the stuff you see on the field from the Ducks, it's the issue of the team's culture that eventually could lead to a coaching change. If the culture goes south, you've got a serious problem no matter how talented or well-coached you are.
  • I don't doubt for a moment Oregon could be tougher. More disciplined. Those traits must be rediscovered.

Let me please explain the criticism of Oregon's Mark Helfrich

Let me please explain the criticism of Oregon's Mark Helfrich

The Ducks Saturday were soundly thrashed at Washington State. The Cougars didn't "Coug it," the Ducks "Ducked it."

Oregon's defense couldn't stop a noted passing team from running the football and couldn't score as many points against WSU as Eastern Washington did. It was another unimpressive all-around performance by a team that came into the season as a Top 25 squad.

And of course, as is customary in situations like this, the "Fire the coach" people were out in force. And I'm not quite sure why that mystifies so many people. They're calling Oregon fans spoiled and urge them to be patient, to stay calm and wait for things to turn around. But I think there needs to be an understanding about where these people are coming from.

Oregon fans are still routinely selling out Aurzen Stadium at an average price of about $150 a ticket. Most of them come to games in full gear -- from jerseys to socks to caps and probably underwear. They have put their money where their heart is consistently over the last several seasons. And frankly, they're not getting what they're paying for right now. That's sports, I know. No guarantees.

But I'm not going to be upset by the passion of fans who want so much for their team to succeed that they overreact a bit when things go bad. And how do you expect them to express their discontent? You want them to boo 19-year-old kids?

Oregon has a head football coach, Mark Helfrich, who is making more than three million bucks per season -- and those fans have a hand in paying him that salary. Phil Knight isn't the only one writing checks -- he just writes the biggest ones. And when the Ducks look undisciplined and inept -- as they have at times this season -- the coach is going to be held accountable. It's the way it works from the pros down to high schools.

I've been critical of Helfrich several times this season. But that doesn't mean I want him to be fired. I'd prefer he learns from his mistakes and improves along with his team. Besides, I know how they work at Oregon and traditionally, it's a school that doesn't make quick decisions about coaches. I would be shocked if they dump him after this season, if for no other reason than all the money they'd owe him on his contract.

Helfrich was hired for this job because Oregon seems to be stuck in the mode of moving assistant coaches into the head coaching job. They'll point to Mike Bellotti and Chip Kelly as exhibits of how well this works. But those men weren't moved into programs that were perennial national powerhouses with all the pressure that goes with that, as the Ducks were when Helfrich was hired. This would have been the first time Oregon was in a position to recruit a big-time, proven winner at the highest level.

Oregon could have gone out and interviewed some of the top coaches in the country and if nothing else, hired Helfrich then and validated him by that search. You know, "We looked all over and couldn't find anyone better." I mean, I'd have at least talked to Chris Petersen, who was much more of a proven commodity than Helfrich.

This Duck team may well be much less talented than what Kelly had to work with during his time at Oregon. Whose fault is that? The coaches may not be doing a very good job of developing players they recruit, too. Again, whose fault is that? And lastly, they may not have the kind of control and motivational skills Kelly had with his roster. And that would be the coaches' fault, too.

Look, that staff at Oregon has been together for decades. That's great. But the very best hire that's been made at Oregon in several years was when Bellotti went outside the program, clear across the country, to bring in Kelly.

Don't be afraid of change, folks. And I'd advise the Oregon coaching staff the same thing. Just because Chip did something, that doesn't mean you have to do the same thing. Helfrich needs to find his own style of play instead of chasing Chip's formula.

I hope it all works out for him.

But if it doesn't, I wouldn't want to wait until it's too late to capitalize on all the good things that have happened at Oregon in the last decade. Once this thing goes completely off the rails, it's pretty hard to get it going again. Just ask those folks from Seattle heading into Eugene this weekend.


How good can the Ducks' future be as long as they're living in the past?

How good can the Ducks' future be as long as they're living in the past?

When Oregon lost head coach Chip Kelly to the National Football League, it lost a heck of a coach. Everybody knows that.

The Ducks also lost the seminal figure in their surge to becoming both a consistent national power and one of the most fun teams to watch in college football. Kelly was to Oregon what Steve Jobs was to Apple -- a unique innovator who always seemed to be one step ahead of the competition. His teams were prepared, smart and difficult to predict. Just when you thought you had him figured out, he came up with something else.

It was as if he was that late friend of mine, who used to say, “Just when you think you have all the answers, I CHANGE THE QUESTIONS!”

And in his absence, Oregon football has tried its best to maintain Kelly's aura by continuing to stick to his style. But the style without the designer is a cheap imitation. A knockoff. And that's what Duck football has become -- a product that looks on the surface just like the ones Kelly created, but without the substance and innovation that made the whole thing work in the first place. They have nobody now who can CHANGE THE QUESTIONS!

I don't know what to think of Coach Mark Helfrich. He talks a good game. He takes responsibility, as he should, when things don't go well. He obviously knows football way better than you and me, But there's something missing. And in a lot of the ways you measure the impact of coaches, he doesn't measure up very well.

I've always looked at penalties as a measure of the preparation and discipline level of football teams -- a direct result of coaching.  The Ducks are averaging 11 penalties per game, 125th in the country and ahead of only Arkansas State, San Diego State and Marshall. Seriously, that's brutal. Oregon came out Saturday afternoon not ready for Colorado, which was starting a freshman backup at quarterback. The Buffaloes jumped them early and took control of the game. And the Ducks, with the game seemingly in their grasp, couldn't execute late in the game to win it.

Yes, quarterback Dakota Prukop tossed up the football equivalent of an air-balled free throw in the end zone, leaving a fade pass woefully short. But was it the right call? Was Prukop prepared to make such a throw? We'll never know, but I believe it's a reason that going out and grabbing a Big Sky quarterback who was a graduate transfer as a one-season fix is probably not the way a big-time program should go about its business. Prukop is new enough to the program that I'm not certain the coaches could ever have known what he's capable (or not capable) of doing late in a Pac-12 game.

Recruiting is a big part of the coach's job and for me, the mere fact of a program of this nature having to go out two years in a row to the Rent-A-Quarterback store in the Big Sky Conference is a sign things aren't going well in that department.

The defense is as big a problem this season as it was last year -- perhaps even worse, as the Ducks seem stuck in a rather static 4-3 that doesn't get much pressure on the quarterback and seems to grow confused in zone coverage. There are only two ways out of that problem -- recruit better players or talk Nick Aliotti out of retirement. The former is much more likely than the latter, I would assume.

The offense, though, has been this team's identity for years and it's not hitting on all cylinders, either. And with that defense, the offense must get much, much more efficient for Oregon to end up on the winning side of the scoreboard.

And this is where Kelly is missed the most. This coaching staff is still trying to to run Chip's stuff without Chip and I don't think that's going well. The tempo is inconsistent and that doesn't matter, anyway, because everyone has caught up to the whole play-fast deal. The play calling is pedestrian and where Kelly always seemed to be outside the box and difficult to predict, the Ducks now seem at a loss at times about how they want to attack.

For all their playmakers on offense, Oregon ranks tied for 69th in the country in third-down conversion percentage. Part of that, of course, is not getting many yards on first and second down. That's when Oregon seems at its offensive worst, by the way -- first and second down, where the conservative side of the coaching staff seems to have a death grip on the offense.

Chip Kelly built Oregon into a feared national powerhouse and an offensive juggernaut. We won't ever know if he could have kept the Ducks on top -- only a select few programs can maintain that excellence over an extended time.

But I do think we know by now that Helfrich hasn't been able to do it. That's not an indictment, really. Apple still hasn't recovered from losing Steve Jobs, either.