Friday, March 12, 2010
Suspensions cap Kelly's eventful first year
By Ted Miller
It was announced on March 13, 2009, that Chip Kelly would replace Mike Bellotti as Oregon's football coach. So, Saturday morning will be Kelly's one-year anniversary.
Happy anniversary coach.
On the field, Oregon coach Chip Kelly led his team to the Rose Bowl, but a string of off-the-field incidents tainted his first season.
It's certainly been an eventful year. The LeGarrette Blount meltdown after the dismal performance at Boise State. The Pac-10 championship, conference Coach of the Year honors and the Rose Bowl berth.
Then, since late January, Kelly's Ducks decided to dominate the police blotter and become a national sensation as a team supposedly full of out-of-control delinquents.
And, now, on his 364th day as Oregon's coach, Kelly announced that his star quarterback Jeremiah Masoli -- a potential Heisman Trophy candidate -- has been suspended for the entire 2010 season after he pleaded guilty to a second-degree burglary charge stemming from the theft of two laptops and a guitar from a campus fraternity house in late January.
And that his star running back LaMichael James -- the Pac-10 offensive Freshman of the Year -- has been suspended for the 2010 opener vs. New Mexico after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor harassment charge and was sentenced to 24 months on probation and 10 days in jail.
And that his kicker Rob Beard also was suspended for the opener after he pleaded guilty to a harassment charge for his part in a Jan. 24 brawl.
Kelly refused to answer any questions Friday. He spoke only for a few minutes and said, "I want to eliminate any uncertainly that our level of expectations are the same for all our student-athletes regardless of the role they play on this team.”
You can review the entire rap sheet here. In summary, Masoli is the biggest name atop a list of incidents involving nine players, three of whom were kicked off the team and two others were suspended for the 2010 season.
It surely represents one of the most embarrassing periods for the program in decades. Kelly should have talked to reporters. He'll likely get skewered for not doing so. But he probably just wanted to go lie down in a dark room and listen to soft music. Chopin, perhaps.
Is Kelly to blame for the recent run of incidents? No. And Yes.
He's only been the head coach for one year after serving for two as offensive coordinator. He's participated in creating a team culture, but it's also accurate to say that the program doesn't yet entirely belong to him. These will be Chip Kelly's Ducks when the vast majority of players in the locker room were recruited by him as head coach. That's presently not the case.
But, yes, Kelly deserves blame. He's the head coach. He's paid a lot of money to run a successful program, and that includes fielding a team that doesn't embarrass the university off the field. It's the ole "buck stops here" rule.
Has Kelly handled this run of off-field incidents well? Yes. And no.
Kelly took a measured, case-by-case approach. He sent a message to his locker room that he's not going to bow to outside pressure and quickly hand out harsh punishments just to look like he's a disciplinarian. Meanwhile, he did hand out several harsh punishments.
Did he send a mixed message? Some people felt that way. But I was never confused about his message -- felt like I knew where Kelly stood all along.
Kelly believed Masoli and James both had credible positions in regard to their incidents. Turns out James did. And Masoli did not.
What particularly stands out about the Masoli case is that he lied -- to Kelly and to police -- about his initial involvement. Even though charges against Masoli were reduced to a misdemeanor, the lying is likely a big part of why he won't suit up in 2010.
But Kelly also handled this terribly. Why? Because, for one, it happened, one incident after the other (recall where the buck stops). Second, because it was impossible to handle well.
It was embarrassing that the day after he laid down the law in front of reporters with an, "I'm in charge speech," linebacker Kiko Alonso got a DUI. And that receiver Jamere Holland decided to launch a Facebook tirade about his perception of Kelly's reaction shortly thereafter.
And that just a week ago, as things seemed to get quiet for a few days, linebacker Josh Kaddu was busted for minor in possession of alcohol.
Still, it's hard to believe that, short of putting his players on lock-down, Kelly could have prevented them from acting like knuckleheads. They've had 18-to-22 years -- pre-Kelly -- to develop such traits.
Going forward, however, is where things need to be different.
It's one thing for a first-year head coach to suffer through a run like this. It's a far different thing for it to happen in year three or four.
Kelly's a smart, organized guy, though. While his considerable ego likely will prevent him from publicly admitting mistakes -- probably one of the reasons he decided not to take questions Friday -- know that he most certainly is formulating a plan to ensure the program doesn't suffer through another run like this anytime soon.
Will he go Martin Luther and hang "The Ninety-Five Theses" in the Ducks locker room? That wouldn't shock me.
In fact, the guess here is he'll spend most of his coaching anniversary thinking about that very thing.