Over the next few days I’ll be writing about coaching candidates. Since Chip is the most interesting, he is up first and gets far and away the longest piece. Rather than saying For/Against, I’m presenting the information for you to digest. I’ll let you know my preference in a couple of days.
* * * * *
Chip Kelly is one of the hottest names in the coaching world. His innovative offense and aggressive style of coaching have changed the game of football from high school through the NFL. When Jon Gruden was fired, Kelly is one of the first people he sought out. Gruden wanted to learn Oregon’s offense. Think about that for a second. Gruden, arguably the most knowledgeable West Coast Offense guru on the planet Earth, chose Kelly above all the other brilliant coaches out there. That was the one guy he wanted to learn from. That speaks volumes.
What was Kelly’s response? Sure, I’ll teach you. Kelly went one beyond that and offered to hire Gruden as his offensive coordinator. Kelly thought they could spend a year together and learn from each other. Gruden thought about the offer, as crazy as that sounds, but his wife made it clear that wasn’t going to happen.
Bill Belichick brought Kelly in to Foxboro so the Patriots staff could pick his brain. Pete Carroll met with him so he could learn about the Oregon offense. Coaches with national titles and Super Bowls are seeking out Kelly to see just what he does and how it works. They want to learn from him.
This is payback, in a way. Kelly spent his younger years meeting with coaches to pick their brains. He visited colleges and NFL teams. He regularly talked to coaches. He went to clinics. Kelly wanted to soak up as much information as possible. Andy Reid played and coached at BYU. That was the first offense that really influenced him. He later learned the WCO from Mike Holmgren. Those two sources are the foundation of his playbook. Kelly built his playbook from the ground up. He took the principles of his high school and college coaches (run the ball) and added bits and pieces from all over to help him create an offense that could be fundamentally sound, simple, and explosive.
Ask Reid about football and he’ll tell you it is all about matchups. Kelly will largely agree. The difference is that Reid focused on his beloved passing game. Kelly sought out ways to create favorable running situations. Kelly loved the passing game earlier in his career, but the coaches around him preached the running game and that has been Kelly’s focus in the last decade.
Kelly played DB at New Hampshire. He wasn’t a star, but the coaches loved his effort and intensity. Upon graduation, Kelly went back to his high school and became the offensive coordinator. He had been a QB in high school so going back to that side of the ball was a natural fit. Kelly held this job for a few years.
While in high school, Kelly had befriended a rival coach named Sean McDonnell. When Kelly got into HS coaching, McDonnell had moved on to Boston University. Kelly would go visit him to learn the game and see football at the next level. McDonnell moved on to Columbia and in 1990 hired Kelly to come there and coach DBs and STs and work with the Freshman team. Kelly was the defensive coordinator at Johns Hopkins in 1993. In 1994 McDonnell got the job as offensive coordinator at UNH and hired Kelly to be the RBs coach. He did that for the next 3 years.
At that point there was an opening on the staff for the position of offensive line coach. Head coach Bill Bowes brought in some candidates to interview. Kelly let it be known that he wanted the job. He didn’t have OL coaching experience, but did a good enough sales job that he got the position. This was a key moment. Kelly took a big risk by going for that job. It was outside his comfort zone. Failing there would have affected his coaching future in a big way. Kelly felt he knew football well enough and could learn what he needed about coaching OL.
Kelly is a very driven person. He likes challenges. He is extremely smart and hard-working. If a challenge can be overcome with brains and effort, he’ll get the job done. And that’s exactly what happened. Kelly installed a zone blocking scheme and the run game thrived. RB Jerry Azumah set the I-AA record for career rushing yards (6,193) and ran for 2,195 yards as a Senior in 1998.
McDonnell became the head coach in 1999 and chose Kelly to be the OC. That was the good news. The bad news, Azumah was gone and the offense didn’t have a stud RB to be the foundation of the attack. Kelly went to several schools and looked at some other offenses. He then came back to UNH and installed the spread option. UNH scored more points and won more games in 1999 than the year before with Azumah.
In 2004 QB Ricky Santos hit the field for Kelly. They were together for 3 seasons. Santos was somewhat of an afterthought when he was recruited, but he became a huge I-AA star. He rushed for 1,403 yards and 30 TDs. He threw for 13,212 yards and 123 TDs. UNH didn’t win a title, but made the playoffs all 4 years and had some postseason success. WR David Ball also put up huge numbers. He broke Jerry Rice’s record for career TDs.
Kelly started to develop some buzz in the coaching world. He had a QB, RB, and WR all set major records under him. The offense was good for 400 yards and 30 points virtually every week. And this was at New Hampshire, not exactly a football power. Kelly talked to some bigger schools. Nothing worked out. Tom Coughlin offered him a job with the Giants. Kelly was interested, but it was only Quality Control – Offense. Kelly would be assisting other coaches and more of an information guy. He turned down the offer because he wanted to coach. Kelly wanted to remain a coordinator.
Some say Kelly is arrogant. He’s picky about jobs. He’s picky about how things are done. He’s very demanding. Those around him think Kelly is more confident than arrogant. He’s always seeking out other coaches for ideas on how to improve his team. Kelly isn’t married to a specific offense or scheme. He does what works. Kelly certainly believes in himself and his ideas, but not blindly. If it isn’t working, he will make changes. He does have a lot of self confidence. Think about saying no to Tom Coughlin to keep your job as the OC at New Hampshire. You have to really believe in yourself to pass that opportunity up.
Kelly’s patience paid off when Oregon coach Mike Belotti offered him the OC job for the Ducks. Gary Crowton was the OC for Belotti, but moved to LSU to run their offense. Here is Nike owner and Oregon alum Phil Knight’s explanation of how Kelly got the job.
“Mike Bellotti figured that out. And it’s a little bit of a long story. But Bellotti lost to Utah (in 2005). (Then-Utah head coach) Urban Meyer was running the spread (offense) — one of the early adopters of the spread. In fact, some people credit him with being the inventor. Bellotti, when he saw that system, said, “We could use some of that. Literally, maybe within a year or two later, he decided to put in a spread. … He sent (offensive coordinator Gary Crowton) down to work with Urban Meyer. So he went down there and the offensive coordinator for Florida was Dan Mullen, who’s now the head coach of Mississippi State — I told you this was a long story. Anyway, (Mullen’s) from New Hampshire. And he says, ‘The guy who really knows this stuff is Chip Kelly up at the University of New Hampshire.’ So Crowton, when he came back he had some rough edges to the spread and he started calling Chip Kelly on Sundays saying, “This came up and I didn’t quite know what to do with it.” And Chip always had an answer. So, when LSU came and picked up Crowton, Bellotti knew he’d been talking to Chip Kelly, so he went to get Chip Kelly.”
Interestingly, Crowton also was the OC at New Hampshire early on his career. One small state, 3 offensive gurus (Crowton, Mullen, Kelly).
I think you know that Kelly delivered huge results at Oregon. Here are the numbers from his 2 years as the offensive coordinator.
2007 – 9-4 … Rushing 6th , Passing 64th, Overall 10th, Scoring 12th
RB Jonathan Stewart was #7 in the nation. QB Dennis Dixon was 2nd on team in rushing
2008 – 10-3 … Rushing 2nd, Passing 67th, Overall 7th, Scoring 7th
Jeremiah Johnson and LaGarrette Blount were the top rushers. QB J Masoli was 3rd.
QB Dennis Dixon is the key guy to talk about here. In his first 3 years, he threw for 18 TDs and ran for 3. Kelly took over as the OC in his Senior year. They didn’t have a full offseason together because Dixon was playing minor league baseball. Belotti was really upset, but Kelly traveled to watch Dixon play and said nothing but good things. That got their relationship off to a strong start. Dixon was great at QB that year. He got the Ducks off to an 8-1 start. He was Heisman material, having thrown for 20 TDs and run for 9 more. Unfortunately he tore up his knee. He tried to play through it against Arizona, but got hurt even worse and that ended his season and Oregon slumped without him. They did win their bowl game 56-21.
In 2009 Belotti stepped down to become the AD at Oregon. Kelly got his first head coaching job. Here are the numbers.
2009 – 10-3 … Rushing 6th, Passing 98th, Overall 33rd, Scoring 8th
RB LaMichael James 9th in the nation. QB Masoli finished 2nd on the team in rushing.
Losses to Boise St, Stanford, Ohio State. Key wins: Utah, USC.
2010 – 12-1 … Rushing 4th, Passing 39th, Overall 1st, Scoring 1st
RB LaMichael James led the nation. Kenjon Barner 2nd on the team. QB Darron Thomas 3rd (93-486-5).
Lost to Auburn in National Title game. Key wins: Stanford.
2011 – 12-2 … Rushing 5th, Passing 68th, Overall 4th, Scoring 3rd
RBs James, Barner, and Thomas were 1-2-3 in rushing on team. QB only had 56 rushes.
Losses to LSU, USC. Key wins: Stanford, Wisconsin (Rose Bowl).
2012 – 11-1 … Rushing 3, Passing 66th, Overall 4th, Scoring 2nd
Kenjon Barner 5th in the nation in rushing. QB Mariota 2nd on team.
Lost to Stanford. Key wins: Fresno State, Oregon State.
I’ve made mention of where the QB finished in rushing so that you can see this isn’t Cam Newton or Tim Tebow type of football. Those guys carried their offenses on their back. Kelly is a firm believer in feeding the RBs.
Oregon had 4 10-win seasons prior to Kelly taking over. He’s won 10 or more each year. He has the only Rose Bowl in in school history. And he’s done all this without Oregon turning into a recruiting power. Oregon is an A+ program, but it is still in the state of Oregon. Most recruiting powerhouses are in football states (California, Florida, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Georgia). Oregon gets some stars but not nearly the same amount of elite recruits as other schools.
At this point, you should have a pretty good idea of Kelly’s background and track record.
* * * * *
So the discussion now turns to Kelly and the NFL. Can he succeed in pro football? Yes, absolutely yes. That doesn’t mean he will. We see coaches with great NFL backgrounds who fail. Circumstances are a key factor for every coach.
Most people play the “Steve Spurrier card” in regard to Kelly. Joe College will hit the NFL and make a fool of himself. The situations could not be more different. Kelly is a workaholic. He is incredibly driven and has worked his way up from the bottom. Spurrier was a Heisman Trophy winning QB at Florida. He was arrogant. He believed that he truly was smarter than others and could win in the NFL by doing things his way (work smarter, not harder). In college, Spurrier was always the smartest coach on the field. That wasn’t the case in the NFL and his inability to deal with that fact made him a failure.
Kelly is the guy with the chip on his shoulder. He wasn’t a star player. He didn’t start his coaching career in the SEC and ACC like Spurrier did. Spurrier was the OC at Duke by his 3rd year. Kelly was still a high school coach in his 3rd season of coaching. Kelly will not be out-worked. Spurrier is famous for playing golf in the afternoons. One of the criticisms that Oregon boosters have with Kelly is that he won’t attend their offseason golf outings. He sends his assistants. Spurrier plays during the season on a regular basis.
Kelly won’t come to the NFL thinking he knows more than the other coaches. Kelly has met with NFL staffs over the years. Initially it was to learn. Over time he became the lecturer so that they could learn. He still takes away whatever nuggets of wisdom that he can. Kelly loves learning the game of football and still sees himself as a student of the game.
Can Kelly’s offense work in the NFL? Complex question. The first thing I think you have to understand is that Kelly doesn’t see himself as having just one offense. He’s noted for the spread option, but isn’t married to it. If he was made coach of the Patriots, Kelly would run a passing offense that featured Tom Brady. Kelly has had athletic QBs at UNH and Oregon so he’s run the spread option.
I’m sure he’d love to have an athletic QB like RG3, Russell Wilson, or Colin Kaepernick to run his full playbook, but the key for Kelly is to have a smart QB who is accurate. Jake Locker is a great athlete, but highly inconsistent passer. Tim Tebow is a big, strong guy, but didn’t always make good reads when running the option. Those guys might drive Kelly a bit nuts.
Kelly is all about numbers. If he can make you worry about his passing game and leave fewer guys in the box, he will run. If you stack the box, he will throw. If you load up the outside, he’ll attack the inside. And so on. This isn’t rocket science. Kelly wants to see where you line up your defenders and then he will attack the weak spots. These basic principles already work in the NFL. Watch Brady and Manning at the LOS, looking over the defense. They want to attack the weak spots in the defense.
Kelly isn’t a “plays” guy. Spurrier was. Reid and Mornhinweg definitely are. Kelly will tell you to focus on players, not plays. Think back to the Skins game. The Eagles threw the ball to TE Evan Moore at one of the most critical moments in the game. The design of the play worked. Moore was open. The pass was accurate. Should have been a TD. The problem is that football isn’t chess. You can’t think of the players as pieces who will do as you wish. You must account for the human element. That generally means focusing on your star players. Get them the ball in crunch time. Don’t focus on surprising the other team. Out-execute them.
If he comes to the NFL, Kelly will adapt to the players he has. Over time he’ll shape the roster to be exactly what he wants, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking what you see at Oregon is exactly what you’d see in the pros. Kelly is smart enough to know that you can use multiple QBs in college, but in the NFL you need one star QB and the team is built around him. That means limiting him as a runner.
One of the recent stats that has helped to show Super Bowl teams is sack differential (sacks for vs sacks against). Kelly hates sacks. His philosophy is to blame them on the QB. Always. Kelly thinks the QB should get rid of the ball. 2nd and 10 is better than 2nd and 17, as he loves to point out. Oregon was in the Top 12 in fewest sacks allowed from 2009-2011. This year they are down at 37th. Having a Freshman QB will do that to you. Oregon has rushed the passer well in his time as HC.
Kelly will bring somewhat of a collegiate atmosphere with him. When asked why his WRs at Oregon are such good blockers he said, “We’re not gonna throw to ya if you’re not going to block on the perimeter.” Are you listening, Jeremy Maclin? Some NFL players will be put off by a coach who gets on their case about things like blocking. You can just hear the thoughts going through the player’s head…”Did you draft me to block or catch TDs?” He won’t say it, but you know he’ll think it. Some coaches are able to motivate the NFL players and they have success (see Jimmy Johnson). Greg Schiano brought some of that to Tampa. Other coaches are seen as college guys intruding on life in the NFL and they fail (Lou Holtz most famously).
Players are held to tough standards. Kelly hates underachievers. From a clinic talk he once gave, “If a player is a 5.0 player (40-yard dash speed) and plays at 5.0, that is what we want. Do not be the 4.6 player who plays at 5.2 in games.” In other words, give me the guy I can trust, the reliable player. I don’t want the guy who has potential, but doesn’t play up to it. Kelly preaches about effort. He likes to say that the team who plays hardest the longest generally wins. This is absolutely true in college and high school. The NFL is about execution more than effort, but that’s still a big part of success. You want teams that go hard in practice and in games. The coach sets the tone for this.
In college, practice time is very limited so Kelly came up with some creative ways to do things. He does little to no teaching on the field. That is practice time. Teaching goes on in the classroom. You then put those concepts into action in practice. You sure can’t argue with the results. The scouts and coaches who have watched his practices at UNH and Oregon say they are amazing. Coaches and players fly around the field. There is constant motion. Everything is mapped out to maximize every possible second. If Kelly thinks one drill needs 3 minutes, that’s how long it is. He doesn’t go with some generic guidelines. He literally times out how long each session should last and plans accordingly.
This would have to change somewhat in the NFL. There is substantially more practice time. You’re also not teaching just basic concepts. Things are more complex in the NFL. You need more time to be thorough.
One thing I love about Kelly is that he sees himself as a teacher and understands that the players won’t learn if you don’t explain things the right way. Kelly points out that players today love to know why things are done a certain way. Instead of using the old “because I told you so” line, Kelly teaches his coaches to tell the players why something is done. If you can’t explain why something is done a certain way, maybe it isn’t the right thing to do.
I am not sure how much of Kelly’s style of coaching during games would follow him to the NFL. He loves to go for 2 in college. Oregon starts a lot of games up 8-0. Kelly wants to put the opponent on their heels right away. And he’s not afraid to fail on the attempt because he expects to score plenty of points. Kelly hates to kick FGs. His team has hit 5, 9, 13, and 16 FGs in his time as coach. Remember how bad Penn State’s kicker was early this year and how Bill O’Brien would go for it all the time on 4th down? That PK still hit 14 FGs on the year. That will likely be the lowest total for an O’Brien team and it is close to the most for a Kelly team.
I’m sure Kelly would be more aggressive about going for 2 and going for it on 4th downs than most NFL coaches, but he might dial down what he does at Oregon. Kelly is smart enough to understand there is a big difference in pro and college football. Few college games swing on one play. Generally one team is clearly better than the other. The NFL is a league of parity. Many games have one key moment. There is a fine line between aggressive and reckless.
* * * * *
The case for the Eagles to go after Chip Kelly: Greatness. Chip Kelly isn’t a coach that is available all the time. He is a winner. He is innovative. He’s also smart enough to know that he doesn’t know everything. He’ll mix his ideas with some conventional NFL wisdom. Jimmy Johnson came to the NFL with no pro experience. He was smart enough to ask questions and learn what he needed. He took his college ideas and mixed them with NFL ideas and built a dynasty. Like Johnson, Kelly is tough on his players. Kelly believes in competition. Either you get the job done or I’ll go to the guy behind you. This worked for Johnson. It is working for Pete Carroll in Seattle.
If Kelly does succeed, he could be a great coach. He’s got the potential to be special. Why not take the chance on greatness? There will always be another hot coordinator next year or the year after. Kelly could be one of those rare coaches that will haunt you if you pass on him.
I think Kelly would fit in well with most of the Eagles personnel. He loves RBs. He’d have a great group to work with. Kelly prefers athletic blockers to massive guys. He likes TEs that can catch the ball. He would find a way to use DeSean Jackson, but it seems Kelly prefers bigger WRs. The one obvious hole is at QB. Kelly could find his own guy, as most coaches prefer to do. Foles might be part of the short term plan, but likely would not be the long term guy. He could be your backup and that would be just fine.
One of the big concerns with Kelly is his lack of NFL experience. How would he put together the right staff? Kelly is more connected than people think. Tony Dungy’s son Eric plays at Oregon. I’m sure Kelly would talk to Tony and seek advice on staff ideas. Kelly is friendly with Belichick. Kelly is friends with Bill O’Brien at Penn State. O’Brien has NFL connections. Kelly could talk to Pete Carroll for ideas. Kelly hasn’t coached in the NFL, but he’s not a complete stranger to the league and coaching circles.
Kelly would be a great change from Andy Reid. Eagles players have gotten used to doing things Andy’s way. Kelly would come at them from a whole different perspective. The roster is young enough that most guys would probably be comfortable with the collegiate feel that Kelly would initially bring. Kelly isn’t afraid to be the bad guy. He suspended LeGarrette Blount for most of his Senior season after Blount threw a punch at a Boise State player. Kelly suspended star CB Cliff Harris (Reuben Frank’s favorite all time Eagle…just ask him!!!) after Harris got in trouble in his final season at Oregon. Kelly will bench those players who aren’t getting the job done. He’s not afraid to play Freshmen. He does what he thinks it will take to win. Simple as that.
Seems to me that after a couple of years of disappointing play, the Eagles could use someone like that.
The case against Chip Kelly: Being a great college coach and a great pro coach are two very different things. Kelly was able to collect good runners, solid blockers, and athletic QBs and move them around to create favorable matchups and deliver explosive offenses. That helped him to win a lot of games, but when facing teams with NFL talent (Stanford this year, LSU in 2011, Auburn in the 2010 title game), Kelly and Oregon came up short. Oregon wasn’t blown out. They weren’t embarrassed. They did lose. His teams were just 1-2 in bowl games (they improved to 2-2 after beating Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl, which took place after this was written). Scoring 55 on Washington State is nice, but that doesn’t mean you’ll win in the NFL.
The Pac-10 (or 12 if you prefer) has not exactly been a juggernaut since 2009. USC wasn’t at an elite level. The Reggie Bush days were in the past. Cal, Oregon State, and the Arizona schools were up and down. Stanford was the one team that rose up. Kelly and Oregon inflicted losses on these teams to keep them down, but you’d be more comfortable if one other program was really pushing them. Oregon has played some good non-conference games. Kelly isn’t afraid of being challenged. Just happens that the conference has been down in recent years.
Kelly has never faced big time pressure. He’s already the best coach in Oregon history. The media out there gets on him at times, but would be nothing like the scrutiny he would face after a big Eagles loss. At Oregon he basically only answers to one person…Phil Knight. And as long as Kelly wins, Knight will only whisper sweet nothings in his ear. In the NFL Kelly would have to deal with an owner, a GM, and million-dollar players. You can’t just get rid of the NFL guys you don’t like.
QB development is a strange subject. Kelly has gotten great production from Ricky Santos. He turned Dennis Dixon into a Heisman candidate. He got Darron Thomas to play at an even higher level than I had realized. This year Freshman Marcus Mariota is having a great year. The problem is that aside from Santos, these guys are playing for a year or two and then something happens. Jeremiah Masoli was suspended and later kicked off the team. Thomas foolishly went pro (which makes you wonder if there was something else going on). Bryan Bennett was projected to be the starter this year, but lost the job to Mariota. While there has been success, none of this really went according to plan. In the NFL you must find a franchise QB and build around him.
You can spin this that Kelly only had one special talent to work with (Dixon) and that was only for a season or you can point out that other coaches found one guy and got him to play at a high level for 3 or 4 years. In the NFL Kelly would have to find his guy and they’d need to stick together. That’s how you win titles.
Kelly could manufacture yards and points in college due to his ability to call plays and find weak spots in the defense, but that’s not good enough in the NFL. You must have the right QB and he must play at a high level. Kelly is very tough on his QBs. He was hard on Santos back at UNH. Kelly is very demanding and that can rub some people the wrong way. Would his personality work in the NFL? That is a huge question and can’t be brushed aside easily. College coaches are dictators. NFL coaches have a lot of power, but have to answer to more people.
* * * * *
Kelly and Urban Meyer video. Don’t worry, no nudity.
1990 – Columbia (DB/ST)
1991 – Columbia (OLB/SS)
1992 – New Hampshire (RB)
1993 – Johns Hopkins (DC)
1994–1996 – New Hampshire (RB)
1997–1998 – New Hampshire (OL)
1999–2006 – New Hampshire (OC)
2007–2008 – Oregon (OC)
2009–present – Oregon
For fun, I put together the All-Chip Kelly team from his time as HC at Oregon.
QB Marcus Mariota
RB LaMichael James
RB Kenjon Barner
TE Ed Dickson
OL Max Unger
OL Carson York
OL Fenuki Tupou
OL Mark Asper
OL Kyle Long
WR Jeff Maehl
WR Lavasier Tuinei
ATH De’Anthony Thomas (runner/receiver/returner)
DL Dion Jordan
DL Brandon Bair
DL Kenny Rowe
DL Nick Reed
LB Spencer Paysinger
LB Casey Matthews
LB Josh Kaddu
S TJ Ward
S Patrick Chung
CB Walter Thurmond
CB Cliff Harris
Chip is very good with RBs and Safeties. This list isn’t loaded with elite NFL talent the way that Carroll had at USC or Johnson at Miami.