Bellotti 'at peace' with decision to step aside at Oregon

March, 14, 2009
3/14/09
5:13
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

 
  Donald Miralle/Getty Images
  After spending time mentoring offensive coordinator Chip Kelly, Oregon's Mike Bellotti is turning over the head coaching duties to Kelly.

Mike Bellotti gathered his Oregon players for a 10 a.m. meeting Friday. He talked to them about their upcoming exams. He talked about their off-season workouts. He talked about spring practice starting on March 30.

Then he said, "Now's the time for me."

And Bellotti, the most successful coach in Oregon history, proceeded to tell them that he would not return for a 15th season and that he was yielding the job to offensive coordinator Chip Kelly.

There was no planned speech. He spoke to his players spontaneously and from the heart.

"I sort of broke down a little bit," he said.

A day after a transition from Bellotti to Kelly that was first described in theory on Dec. 2 was made concrete, Bellotti said he was "at peace and calm in my soul about this decision."

Bellotti said there was no pressure from anywhere for him to step aside, adding that he felt more pressure to stay. He said he had no pressing health issues. He said the timing of the announcement was based on the exigencies of his players upcoming school and football schedules and that Oregon didn't hold a press conference Friday because it was concurrently announcing the hiring of a new university president.

"My timing was really guided by my instincts for football," he said.

He said he first thought about giving up the job after the 2006 season when the Ducks, after a 7-2 start, lost their final four games, including a humiliating 38-8 defeat to BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl.

The word he chose to describe how he felt about his program at that time? "Disgusted."

"I felt like walking away, but walking away was not the answer," he said.

Instead, he hired Kelly to run his offense.

In the 26 games since that decision, the Ducks averaged 40 points per game.

So, in just two years, Bellotti, who will replace Pat Kilkenny as the Ducks athletic director this summer, realized that Kelly was the guy who could make it easy to walk away.

Well, not easy.

"When you've done something for 36 years, it's pretty daunting to think about doing anything else," Bellotti said.

Bellotti, recognizing Kelly's rising coaching stock, started taking an more active role mentoring him for his future as a head coach at midseason, well before a passing of the torch was formalized. He'd point out elements of leadership, things a head coach needs to think about, taking advantage of any teachable moments.

Still, Bellotti will be the first to tell Kelly that it's impossible to understand what it takes to be a BCS conference head coach without actually doing the job. Personal time disappears. The pressure amps up. A crisis can arrive from any angle, at any moment.

"There will be things that take him off guard," Bellotti said.

Up next for Bellotti is the transition from the field to administration. But Bellotti hastened to add that he'll have an open door should Kelly want his input, and he even admitted that he might, at times, volunteer his thoughts without their solicitation.

Not pestering or meddling, of course, but 116 victories over 14 years earn a guy the right to express his opinion on the football team.

And Bellotti also admits that he's not certain that a coaching jones won't again fill his belly.

"That could be -- I don't know if I'll be able to live without football," he said. "I might wake up in two years and want to coach again."

That's not what he's thinking know, though. What he's thinking now is something that hasn't entered his mind in 36 years.

"I don't have a next opponent," he said.

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