What a year. What an era. If this is truly Chip Kelly’s final season at the helm of the Ducks, it’s been one hell of a four-year ride – four BCS bowls, three conference titles, two BCS wins and a National Title appearance.
Just a couple of decades ago, making any bowl game was an accomplishment. Now? Ducks were supposedly “disappointed” to be in the freaking Fiesta Bowl! That’s an astonishing turnaround. It started with Mike Bellotti but Kelly took it to an entirely different level.
Everybody knows how he revolutionized offense in college football. But he’s been so much more than that. He’s been a CEO of a now national power. He’s had a countless number of coaches come to watch him practice – including Bill Belichick – because of how he has completely overhauled the process. While he is notoriously a perfectionist, he also allows his coaches to do what they do best. For years, defensive coordinator Nick Allioti’s aggressive defensive tendencies were reined in. Kelly unleashed him and let Allioti create the best defense in Ducks’ history this year. He was allowed to blitz and take chances and move guys around as much as he needed to in order to be able to field a defense that would be on the field for as much as 40 minutes of the game.
That’s ultimately the reason why I believe Kelly will succeed as a NFL coach. He’s not going to take the Oregon offense and put it on the NFL gridiron and think it’s going to work – though the Redskins and Panthers are using many of the same schemes – but he will be able to adapt certain styles and schemes to his personnel and put his staff and players in the best position to succeed.
He’s a perfectionist that sees the strengths of individuals around him and let’s them showcase that strength. Look, if he goes to a team with a bad quarterback, no, he’s not going to turn it around automatically. Not many could. But if he’s given time, I really do think he can turn around even the most desperate situations by establishing a chain of command and allowing others around him to do what they do best.
But what does this all mean to the Ducks? The short answer is I’m not sure. And no one really does. I am sure that the Ducks have made it to the point that they are a destination spot for college recruits and they’ll be able to recruit talent nationally. But can whoever replaces Kelly utilize that talent in the same way? Yet to be seen.
It’s been assumed all year that if Kelly leaves, offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich will be named his successor. Helfrich has reportedly had an expanded role in the offense this season. While he still does not call the plays during the game, Kelly leans on Helfrich, who’s in the skybox, to find areas on the opposing defense they can exploit.
Helfrich’s also been integral in the development of Marcus Mariota this season. Truth is, Helfrich is qualified to be Kelly’s successor, but is he good enough? Who really knows. But he’ll have a returning sophomore that just won the Fiesta Bowl next season in Mariota, several high-upside wide receivers and of course a stable of running backs headed by De’Anthony Thomas.
The offense should be fine. And Allioti isn’t going anywhere.
But that’s all moot at this point. Right now, I’m just going to enjoy these next few weeks after the Ducks’ Fiesta Bowl win and remember these four years fondly. And much of that is thanks to Kelly. So, thanks, coach.