Tampa flip? Kelly's rise good for Oregon

January, 27, 2012
1/27/12
10:52
AM ET
Oregon coach Chip Kelly told Eugene sports radio talk show host Steve Tannen Thursday that he never flip-flopped from the Ducks to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and back again last weekend, as reported in both Tampa and Oregon.

"The only decision I ever made was to not accept the job," Kelly said. "I never changed my mind. I never committed to the job and then flip-flopped."

You can listen to the full interview here.

First, response: Interesting, but it doesn't matter. He's still the Ducks' coach. End of story.

But as far as reading the entrails on this, there are four options you can choose from: 1) Kelly is telling the truth; 2) Kelly is lying; 3) Kelly is splitting hairs; 4) Kelly is shortly going to improve to 35-6 at Oregon and not 1-0 at Tampa Bay -- again, end of story.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
AP Photo/Tony AvelarChip Kelly flirtation with the NFL was a win-win for Kelly and the Ducks.
Whatever Kelly said on the radio, lots of people believed Sunday night that he was headed to Tampa. It's possible -- and perhaps likely in some way -- that Kelly gave a strong indication to principals on both ends that he was leaning toward Tampa and away from Eugene, but when it came time to put pen to paper he got cold feet, likely considering the spiraling void of darkness that would ensue without regular chats with the Pac-12 blog. "Eeek," he said. "Can't do it."

Yes, no one can prove that Kelly didn't return to Oregon because the Pac-12 blog has very little interaction with the coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Just as no one can prove that Kelly said "yes" to Tampa before he said "no."

Why is it important whether Kelly flip-flopped or not? In either scenario, he turned down a hefty raise to remain at Oregon. So this flirtation wasn't about contract leverage, and it's reasonable to conclude that money isn't solely driving him. An interesting tidbit from the Eugene Register-Guard:
Kelly pointed out that his decision "obviously wasn't financial, because I turned it down and it was more than I got paid." The Register-Guard has reported that Kelly received a contract extension but that his deal with the Ducks wasn't otherwise dramatically overhauled.

Further, Kelly got to cite a heart-warming reason for returning: "... the relationships I have with the current coaches on our staff and the players was the underlying reason why I came back."

Oregon fans can look at this any way they like, but I'd rate it a win-win for Kelly and Oregon.

The football nation -- NFL and college -- got to see how highly Kelly is held in esteem. Multiple NFL pundits, including former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, have said of late that Kelly would be a good NFL coach. Kelly's star, which is already high, just climbed a bit higher. That's good for him, of course, but it's also good for Oregon as long as Kelly is in Eugene.

Some have said Kelly's flirtation would hurt recruiting. They are not only wrong; the opposite is true.

Players respect superstar coaches. Recall that, in his heyday, Florida State's Bobby Bowden used to crush it the final week of recruiting with that last in-home visit. So did Pete Carroll. So does Nick Saban, etc. Oregon fans, not satisfied with winning three consecutive conference titles, want to move up the recruiting rankings. Lots of five-star guys -- in 2012-13 and beyond -- just learned a little bit more about Kelly.

The NFL banging on Kelly's door makes him more of a star, and that will play well in living rooms, much more so than the idea that Kelly might leave for an NFL job at some point.

Further, some have tried to diminish Kelly as a "system" coach. In recruiting, some coaches say that Oregon is a great program but it's not an NFL feeder with pro-style schemes. Well, now there's clear evidence the NFL thinks highly of Kelly and his systems.

The key thing on the Oregon end of things: It will be a huge mistake if the Ducks' top boosters -- Phil Knight, et al. -- want to get grumpy over this. Creating friction to make a point about loyalty or acting wounded will only hasten Kelly's exit. And hurt the program.

The most interesting aspect coming out of this was detailed in this column from George Schroeder: Oregon's potential succession plan would have made offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich the head coach.

Helfrich is highly respected, but I'd always thought he'd have to leave for another job -- and call his own plays -- to escape Kelly's considerable shadow and land a head-coaching gig. Schroeder's column shows that the same folks who quickly and accurately identified Kelly's rising star believe Helfrich is made of the same coaching stuff.

So just as Kelly's star rose this week, and Oregon fans got a huge relief after it stayed in the Eugene sky, so did Helfrich's. Know that more than a few ADs at some AQ schools added his name to their list of coaches to watch.

Ted Miller | email

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