Kelly is more than a mad scientist

March, 13, 2009
3/13/09
7:34
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

A month ago, Eugene Register-Guard columnist George Schroeder did a wide-ranging Q&A with Oregon athletic director Pat Kilkenny.

This is what Kilkenny said of the plan, announced in December, for offensive coordinator Chip Kelly to take over for head coach Mike Bellotti when Bellotti decided to step down.

That's my proudest accomplishment, the succession plan. That was really my proudest accomplishment.

I just think the guy (Kelly) is a moon shot. And it's not because he's just a brilliant offensive guy. He's this leading-edge thinker who has this football toughness. And it doesn't come in the same package very often. Most of those mad scientists aren't tough.

Chip's no-nonsense, and he sees a different game than almost anybody sees. You watch how that Oklahoma State game worked? They had 12 plays scripted and they went really fast, but then they went really slow. We went really fast the whole game. It's hard to do that on your feet.

"A moon shot."

"A leading-edge thinker."

"Football toughness."

"No-nonsense."

I am no pom-pom waver for Kilkenny, who unnecessarily killed the Oregon wrestling program, but it's not up for debate whether he's a sharp guy. He is.

And how he chose to describe Kelly here should indicate that he's seeing critical head coaching qualities in Kelly. Or believes he sees them.

Kelly, 45, without question, is one of the sharpest offensive minds in the country. His spread-option at Oregon has been a thing of beauty.

That offense has established 24 school records, including scoring, rushing yards and total offense, over the two seasons since Kelly bolted New Hampshire for Eugene. The Ducks have scored 50 or more points in 10 games since he arrived.  

Kelly knows his Xs and Os. That made him a hot head coaching candidate that Kilkenny and company didn't want to lose.

But being a great head coach isn't about Xs and Os.

It's about managing a program. It's about leading and motivating -- not to mention choosing -- staff and players.

It's about commanding a locker room. It's about connecting with young men. And scaring the hell out of them with one cross glance.

It's about authority. It's about making decisions. It's about building unbreakable loyalty and trust within a program.

Kilkenny was telling Oregon fans that Kelly isn't just a big-brained football nerd -- a "mad scientist" or a "leading-edge thinker."

He's telling them that the locker room will hush when Kelly walks in. He's telling them that players will think twice about cutting class or hitting the town because they'll be convinced that the moment they do, Kelly will know and then, well, things will get real uncomfortable.

It's fair to wonder, however, if Kelly is ready. He's only been a BCS conference coach two seasons.

Even if he is "a moon shot," it's inevitable that lack of experience will lead to mistakes.

You've got to learn by doing, and we all know we learn the most from mistakes, so Duck fans need to be prepared for fits and starts and a moment or two when it's impossible not to slap your forehead.

Still, some of the best coaching hires of the past 10 years were guys with no head coaching experience: Bob Stoops, Jeff Tedford, Chris Petersen and Kyle Whittingham come immediately to mind. 

Of course, there also have been plenty of coordinators who failed after getting promoted.

It's impossible to tell for sure if Kelly is the next Stoops or if he's closer to Tom Holmoe or Mike DuBose.

But it's clear he's got the mind for the job.

And Kilkenny believes he's got the leadership skills for it.

Oh, and it's worthwhile noting that Kilkenny figures to be risk-averse. Know how he made his millions?

Insurance.

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