Jim Harbaugh, Chip Kelly will renew rivalry in NFL

Now that Chip Kelly is no longer his problem, Stanford coach David Shaw is more than happy to discuss the former Oregon coach. In fact, he took it a step further.

"Chip Kelly is one of my favorite subjects because he is so much more simplistic than we all think that he is," Shaw said. "I think he’s cagey. I think he’s very wily. He’s very confident in what he believes in, but it’s not willy-nilly. It’s very calculated."

Shaw saw it up close for six seasons. He became the Stanford offensive coordinator on Jim Harbaugh’s first staff in 2007 -- the same year Kelly landed at Oregon in the same capacity -- and matched wits as head coaches in 2011 and 2012. By the time Kelly made the jump to the NFL following the 2012 season, Shaw was a believer -- convinced Kelly’s system would work on Sundays.

"That’s the thing that Chip and I both said before he left," Shaw said. "Their mentality at Oregon -- and now at Philadelphia -- was really not that different than our mentality [at Stanford], which is to run the ball and use whatever people are trying to do to take away the run to add to our passing game."

"It’s going to look very complicated, but it’s really not."

Now in his second year as the coach of the Eagles, Kelly returns to the Bay Area this weekend to renew a coaching matchup with Harbaugh and the 49ers. The last time Kelly and Harbaugh coached against each other, the Ducks came back from down 21-3 to win 52-31 and hand Stanford its only loss of the 2010 season. Coincidentally, LaMichael James, who ran for 257 yards and three touchdowns in that game for Oregon, was released by the 49ers on Sept. 8.

Both Shaw and Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said this week that it's tough for either of them to root for specific teams because of all their former players scattered among NFL rosters, but Helfrich admitted he makes one exception.

"I've said it before, that's how much I like Chip Kelly, I've been a lifelong Cowboys fan and now I'm an Eagles fan," he said. "So, I'll be excited to root for them if we can."

Much like how the 49ers invested a second-round pick in James during Harbaugh’s first draft, the Eagles did the same with former Stanford tight end Zach Ertz in Kelly's first. A Bay Area native, Ertz called Shaw this week to ask if he would be making it to Levi's Stadium for the game -- but because Sunday will also be the first full day for Stanford’s Notre Dame prep, Shaw said best-case scenario is that he would make it out for pregame warm-ups before getting back to the office.

Kelly’s connection with the 49ers' staff is more than just an adversarial one. After leaving Stanford to become the offensive coordinator with the 49ers prior to the 2011 season, Greg Roman traveled to Eugene to spend time with Kelly on the Oregon campus.

"I’d heard so much about that nice facility they had up there and I had lot of respect for Chip and what he had done competing with him for a couple years," Roman said. "Got to get up there to visit with him and meet with him, talk ball. He’s a football guy."

And during Kelly’s final season at Oregon in 2012, he took advantage of an opening in the schedule to make an in-season return visit to the 49ers’ headquarters in Santa Clara to meet with Roman and Harbaugh.

"Two guys I have great, great respect for," Kelly said. "Two really good football coaches."

Between Harbaugh, Kelly and former USC coach Pete Carroll with the Seahawks, the NFC turned into somewhat of a playground for former Pac-10/12 coaches last year. The trio combined to go 35-13 during the regular season, and after the Seahawks' demolition of Denver in the Super Bowl, it was clear San Francisco, was the league's second-best team.

Now the question that's begging to be asked: Who's next?