Friday, September 25, 2009
Pac-10 Q&A: Oregon coach Chip Kelly
By ESPN.com staff ESPN.com
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Some Cassandras were ready to throw Oregon and new coach Chip Kelly onto the trash heap after a terrible performance -- during and after the game -- in the opener at Boise State.
For nearly a week, that anemic effort and, most particularly, LeGarrette Blount's punching a player who was taunting him, earned the program some unfavorable national coverage.
But Kelly and the Ducks gutted out a win over Purdue in Week 2. And then they ended No. 18 Utah's 16-game winning streak last weekend.
Steve Dykes/Getty Images
Chip Kelly’s team has bounced back after a rough start to the season.
With No. 6 California coming to town on Saturday, Oregon could re-establish itself as a Pac-10 contender and regain a national presence with a victory.
His first few weeks as a head coach have been eventful. So it seemed like a good time to check in with Kelly.
After the Boise State game and everything that happened, can you give us an idea what you told your guys when you gathered the following Friday?
Chip Kelly: I told them we needed to continue to get better and that we played a good football team. Every week is a season and the season coming up was Purdue and our focus needed to be entirely on Purdue. I told them there were a lot of good football players sitting in this room and we have to go out and show everybody that we are good football players.
What's the biggest difference in your team today vs. the one that lost at Boise State?
CK: We've got three games' experience.
So the transition has been mostly about youth getting more mature?
CK: We've got two freshman running backs. We've got one receiver who played last year. The other six kids have never played. We have a brand new offensive line. The only guys who really played football for us were three players: [receiver] Jeff Maehl, [tight end] Ed Dickson and [quarterback] Jeremiah Masoli. The rest of them were really new players for us. It's just a matter of you can't do anything to manufacture experience. You can create environments in practice and all those other things, but that's not what it's like when there are 60,000 screaming fans. That's just part of the deal. The only way you get experience is by playing and that's what they are doing now. They played a hard-fought game that literally came down to the last play of the game against Purdue, then beat a team last week that led the nation with a 16-game winning streak in a great football game here. Those are experiences we'll be able to draw upon as we start Pac-10 play. It's a matter of getting those guys up to speed and letting them play. They're going to make mistakes. That's understandable. But that's not a big deal for us. I want our players to play from a desire to excel not a fear of failure.
Seemed like the running game started to spark vs. Utah. What needs to happen to get the passing game on track?
CK: We'll continue to work on it as we do in practice. If it were one thing, it would be an easy fix. But it's not. At times, it's the quarterback not making the right decision of where the ball is supposed to be. At other times, the quarterback throws a great ball, but it's dropped. And other times, the receivers and quarterback are on the right page but we have a protection problem. It's that experience factor. It's not an excuse. That's the reality of it. We just need to fight through those situations. Fortunately for us, regardless of what happened in the last two games, we threw the ball well enough to win the game. This thing isn't a beauty contest. I told some people the other day that if it was a beauty contest, I certainly wouldn't be in it. It's got nothing to do with that. At the end of the day, Jeremiah Masoli played well enough to knock off a nationally ranked team that had a 16-game winning streak in our stadium. I'll take that. A year ago, I heard the same thing after our UCLA game, where he ran for 170 [yards] but I think he was [5 of 19 passing]. Everybody said, 'You can't win a Pac-10 game throwing like that.' And I was like, 'We just did.' We don't care -- our players don't care, our coaches don't care -- how we get it done. The only thing is at the end of the day do we get to sing the fight song in the locker room. We've done that the last two weekends in a row. And we'll learn and grow from those experiences.
Are you confident Jeremiah Masoli can again be the quarterback he was at the end of the 2008 season?
How's your defense been playing so far?
CK: Our defense has been outstanding. I said it after spring ball -- and I think some people may have discounted it -- that I thought the defense was going to be the strength of this football team. But I also said after preseason practices that I thought the defense was going to be the strength of our football team. And lo and behold they have been. That may be surprising to some people but it's not surprising to our staff and it's not surprising to our players. I think our defense has been outstanding.
I knew what I was going to get on that because you did that in the press conference Monday.
CK: But no one lets me finish. They all start laughing. We need to tackle him when he gets off the bus and when he walks into the stadium. We need to get as many guys to the football as possible and we need to tackle him on every play. He is a great back. I think he's the best running back in the country. He's a talented, talented football player. We need to make sure we hit him. Wrap him up. Get more than one guy to the ball on every play. Really gang tackle him. Keep him in front of us and try and negate his big plays. For a guy his size, he's got great vision and got game-breaking speed. If he can get a seam or break a tackle, it could be a long day for you.
Seems like some in the national media have written off the Ducks: Are you guys enjoying being thrust into the underdog role -- the us against the world mentality?
CK: No, we don't even talk about that. We don't talk about preseason rankings or where other people thought we were. I love our players' focus right now. It's entirely on one game. We don't talk about the national race. People talk about the Pac-10. Someone asked me this week -- and I didn't mean it the way I said it -- 'What did you think about the USC-Washington game?' And I said, 'I don't care about USC and I don't care about Washington. Because we're not playing them.' We don't talk about the Pac-10 race. We don't talk about anything. The motto for this football program is 'Win the day.' We just got off the practice field and we had a great practice [Thursday]. The next step is we've got to win Friday. And then we'll go play the game. And then we regroup and do it again. We're so young that we can't look down the road and start talking about conference races and record in the league. It's about playing well today.
Do I need to give you a refund for this interview?
CK: That thing has been way blown out of proportion. ... There are no more refunds in Eugene.