Kelly's marching orders? 'How do we go from nine to one'

March, 26, 2009
3/26/09
12:35
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

EUGENE, Ore. -- Chip Kelly has been Oregon's head coach for two weeks, but he wants to indulge in one more moment as the Ducks' offensive coordinator.

He has been prodded about vacancies and questions on the offensive line, and at first it seems curious that he is now grinning.

"You said in the preseason last year that we would never match 462 yards of offense [from 2007]," he said.

Did I say that?

"Yes, you did. I had that on my board for a long time," he said. "And you were right because we had 484 yards of offense."

 
  Geoff Thurner/Oregon Media Services
  Chip Kelly is doing things his way as Oregon's new head coach.

It actually was 485, if you round up that final 0.8, but who's counting?

Kelly is, that's who.

Details and precision matter. You don't build an unstoppable offense two consecutive years with significantly different personnel if you don't understand all the cogs within the machine.

Kelly is a football junkie who's favorite thing to do when his team isn't practicing is to watch another team practice.

He's sponged techniques and drills and schemes and theories and principles from coaches across the country, starting with his days at New Hampshire, when his FCS presence offered no reason not to be open and sharing.

"I've been everywhere," he said. "We had it down to a science. If you went to the Carolinas, you could watch N.C. State, Wake Forest, North Carolina and Duke practice in a four-day span and pick up one or two things from each school."

Of course, doing is different than watching. The only way to know what it is to be a head coach at a BCS power is to be one, and Kelly is sticking his toe into the water with a Ducks squad that could challenge for the top spot in the Pac-10 next fall.

Just this week he went through his "indoctrination to the administrative part" of the job while trying to hire an assistant coach.

It's also clear change is on his mind. What does he want to change? And just how much change will a successful system stomach in the short term?

"There are a lot of things already in place here and things have been done at a high level for some time," he said. "It's more me asking, 'Why are we doing this?' Not because something's wrong but because I want to know the reason and process behind something.

"It's a little bit of a delicate situation. I think sometimes it might be easier to go into a program that hasn't been successful and make wholesale changes. These jobs don't come open very often."

Kelly and former coach Mike Bellotti, who will ascend to athletic director this summer, got along famously, but they are very different personalities. Bellotti is pure West Coast; Kelly makes fun of his fast-talking East Coast ways and has been known to joke about how slow people drive in Oregon.

"I can't be Mike," Kelly said. "But he's said to me on many occasions, 'I won't get my nose out of joint if you want to change everything.'"

That's not going to happen, but Kelly already has identified an area where he will struggle to be more like Mike.
 
"He's really good at letting his coaches coach," Kelly said. "That may be an Achilles heel for me. If I see something that I want fixed ... I'll have to catch myself. Sometimes I think I want to do too much. Mike was great at that. He didn't micromanage. I don't know if that just comes from experience and a comfort level."

It's hard to believe that Kelly is even considering these issues. Just over two years ago, he was finishing his 14th season at New Hampshire. Insiders knew he'd built an FCS offensive juggernaut, but he wasn't even on the radar for a big-time head coaching job.

Kelly's coaching ascent is hardly conventional. He certainly wasn't gifted his perch in the big time. After being a "ham and egg" player at New Hampshire, he saw his future as a high school coach and teacher.

But after watching New Hampshire go through spring practice from the sideline, he thought he might want to give it the old college try.

He then broke into the coaching ranks with a little off-Broadway production in 1990 -- at Columbia University, which was two-years removed from a 44-game losing streak.

After a year at New Hampshire, he became a coordinator at Johns Hopkins, a Division III school. Of the defense.

He returned to his alma mater and coached running backs, offensive line and quarterbacks before becoming the coordinator.

That fancy-pants spread-option for which he's known? If the Wildcats hadn't developed a void at fullback in 1999, it might never have happened.

He has said many times that he was perfectly content to coach out the string in Durham, N.H.

"There was a coach at New Hampshire who always said, 'The big-time is where you're at.' I never got caught up that you have to be inside 60,000-seat stadiums to validate why you're doing this," Kelly said.

But Bellotti needed someone to replace Gary Crowton, who bolted for LSU, and Bellotti always has had an eye for offensive talent.

And now Kelly's the top Duck.

How does he see his new job description?

"How do we go from nine to one," he said.

"Nine" is where the Ducks finished last year in the final coaches poll -- 10th in the AP.

And "one?"

Well, one is where Florida ended up and where Kelly wants to be.

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