Just 10 days ago, we were surprised in the newsroom when Chip Kelly announced he was staying at Oregon.
We weren’t surprised that he wasn’t going to be the new coach of the Browns or the Bills, places we thought wouldn’t fit his system. But Philadelphia seemed the ideal NFL job for him, with exceptional athletes plentiful.
Speculation on why Kelly stayed with the Ducks was diverse: Unfinished business? (He got Oregon to the championship game a few years back, but never won a national title.) Leverage? (Kelly’s flirtation with the NFL was a good way to get a few more large bills from Phil Knight’s fortune into his wallet.)
Whatever the reason, Duck fans rejoiced. The Visor was staying in Eugene, more Pac-12 titles surely would follow, and Oregon would remain one of the country’s most visible and trendy programs.
Letter writers to one newspaper said they knew Kelly would stay because of his commitment to his players. They criticized the people who assumed he would leave for greener pastures.
I found their belief in his loyalty amusing.
In the newsroom, we weren’t fooled, figuring it was a matter of when and where, not if, Kelly would move on. After all, that’s two straight years he nearly took an NFL job and more jobs probably would come open after the 2013 season.
Still, we were surprised to find Wednesday that “when” became now, and “where” became Philadelphia.
My immediate thoughts were twofold:
First, the Eagles must have thrown a boatload of money and power (at least some control over personnel decisions) at him.
Second, with Kelly off to the NFL, the most high-profile coaching position in the state would be held by a Marshfield graduate.
The Ducks can’t officially promote offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich until they have gone through a formal process, which includes interviewing at least one minority candidate. And Athletic Director Rob Mullens said there were no front-runners for the job.
And as Oregon fan and Marshfield’s co-athletic director, Mike George, said to me Wednesday, Knight will have a lot to say about whom Oregon hires. (George also said Knight and Helfrich get along well.)
Most insiders speculate the job is Helfrich’s.
He would maintain Oregon’s continuity on offense and has a great relationship with quarterback Marcus Mariota. He’s also considered one of the great young minds in college football.
Oregon needs to make a quick hire for recruiting purposes, with national signing day only a couple of weeks away.
The questions about Kelly’s future in recent weeks might already have cost Oregon some of the top players who were considering the Ducks. But if the new coach shares Kelly’s blur offense philosophy, the school likely will be able to draw more sensational athletes like the ones who helped elevate the program to its current level.
Even without Kelly, Oregon could continue to thrive, possibly with a local guy in charge.
Sports Editor John Gunther can be reached by phone at 541-269-1222 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.