I haven’t paid too much attention to the Chip Kelly/Oregon/NCAA story prior to today. I was under the impression that since this wasn’t a major problem and the NCAA didn’t come down hard on Oregon, there just wouldn’t be much to talk about.
There are a slew of college football writers that either want Chip Kelly to be punished by Roger Goodell or at least think it is a possibility. These writers point to former Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor and coach Jim Tressel each getting suspended upon entering the NFL. There is a big difference.
Goodell punished Pryor because he felt that Pryor manipulated the Supplemental Draft to get away from being punished by the NCAA. Goodell wasn’t worried about the NCAA side of things so much as how this affected the NFL. He felt Pryor made the NFL look bad so he suspended him. Tressel was suspended by the Colts, not the NFL. They did this in response to public pressure based on “How can the QB get in trouble but not the coach?”
There is another major factor to keep in mind here…Tressel lied to the NCAA when they started their investigation. As we all know, the cover-up is usually worse than the crime. Tressel lost his job not because of free tattoos, but because of lies.
Chip Kelly left Oregon on pretty good terms. There is no question they wanted him back. I’m pretty sure most Ducks fans would have loved to see him be lifetime coach up there. There was the matter of the pending NCAA ruling, but Oregon cooperated with the investigation and there was no expectation of major sanctions. There were some in the media who wanted major sanctions, but they just didn’t seem likely.
The issue at hand is that Oregon paid $25,000 to a man named Willie Lyles. He is based in Texas and claimed to run a recruiting service. He also happened to be a mentor to a pair of star RBs, Lache Seastrunk (NFL prospect) and LaMichael James (NFL player). James did go to Oregon. Seastrunk committed there, but ended up transferring to Baylor.
The NCAA tried to get copies of the info that Lyles provided to Oregon and apparently the material was almost non-existent. Essentially, they were paying him for his influence. There are a couple of factors that must be brought up. Cal paid $5,000 to Lyles for info. LSU also bought info. Whatever Lyles was doing involved not just Oregon. How much was he really doing for these schools? Was he as much a scam artist as anything else? Oregon did get commitments from the two RBs so that can’t be ignored.
You also have to look at money. $25,000 is a paltry sum in the football world. Albert Means was a stud recruit that Alabama badly wanted. A booster paid his handler $150,000 to get Means to go to Alabama (he ended up playing at Memphis after a huge controversy). Reggie Bush got big bucks from the people who gave him money, although that wasn’t to go to USC. $25,000 for a pair of star RBs? Lyles must really hate high prices. And that makes me think of this hilarious, but NSFW clip from the comedy Used Cars.
It definitely sounds like Kelly was in the wrong by dealing with Lyles. But once the NCAA came calling, Oregon was open and forthcoming with investigators. This is where Kelly is so different than Tressel or from the USC situation. Those schools knew there were going to be issues and did everything they could to cover them up. It almost feels like Kelly somehow thought Oregon was innocent, as crazy as that sounds. Or maybe he was just smart enough to know that lying only makes things worse.
I don’t see any reason for Goodell to punish Kelly. Oregon wasn’t a program out of control. Kelly didn’t cover up when people started looking into the situation. Kelly didn’t flee to the NFL the way Pete Carroll did. Oregon was coming off a great season and had a ton of talent returning. There is every reason to think the Ducks will be title contenders this year. Neither James nor Seastrunk is still at the school.
Do you think any less of Chip Kelly after hearing about the situation? I don’t. Oregon wasn’t a renegade program that broke rules left and right. Kelly didn’t abuse his power or position. What they did was wrong, but trying to put it in context is difficult. The recruiting world is sleazy. Even coaches who don’t break the rules can do things the wrong way. Urban Meyer has made enemies with coaches and even some recruits due to his overly-aggressive tactics. He just won’t take no for an answer. Then there are the negative recruiters who tell lies and half-truths to kids to get them to not go to some schools.
If you get fired up about Kelly and what he did, you’re either an Ivy League fan, a fan of an Oregon rival or a member of the media who wants something to rant about. What Kelly did was dumb. Let’s just not make him out to be Jerry Tarkanian.
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The other element here that some media members are getting caught up with is Kelly’s statement that the looming NCAA sanctions had nothing to do with him leaving Oregon. Do you really expect Kelly to open up and tell the complete truth to the world on this? That’s just silly. If Chip held a PC and broke down his decision point by point, he would be the first coach in history do something like that. You’ll get the truth in a book in 10 or 20 years. Parcells is just now admitting that he regrets leaving the Patriots and that happened in January of 1997.
Dan Graziano is one of the guys on the “Kelly is lying about the sanctions not mattering” bandwagon. He wrote a strange column on Kelly and the NCAA situation. Dan contends that this is a big deal because Kelly has been offically labeled a cheater and that will affect him when he looks for a new job, whether that is in one year, two years or five years down the road.
Silly, just silly.
If Kelly announced tonight that he’s already sick of having to deal with NFL players and the media (mainly Jimmy Bama) and he wants back in the college game, do we think schools would see him as toxic? Say he made the statement that his dream would be to coach Texas. They would fire Mack Brown while Kelly was in the air flying down to Austin for the visit. They’d suffer through his 18 month suspension and do it with a smile on their face. Due to the NCAA ruling they couldn’t officially hire him, but would give him a job with the Longhorn Network or something like that.
Kelly is an offensive guru. He is a proven winner. Schools would kill for him.
Graziano would tell you that he’s a cheater and that matters more. Graziano would also be either naive or stupid if he really thought schools would care that much. College sports is big business. The big schools want results, not style points. Scandals fade. Wins don’t.
Think about some coaching legends. How many people know about the used car guy who paid players during John Wooden’s time at UCLA? Nobody. People would rather talk about the Wizard of Westwood than a hidden scandal. Heck, Jerry Tarkanian is somewhat of a sympathetic figure in the sports world despite the fact he ran corrupt programs. He once had players at Fresno State that used a samurai sword as a weapon. Barry Switzer once had a player fire an Uzi into the air to scare some teammates.
Do we focus on this stuff or the titles they won and success they had?
As long as Goodell doesn’t go off the charts and come up with some crazy punishment, I don’t see the NCAA ruling affecting Kelly beyond some annoying questions from the media. If and when he decides to go back to college football, he’ll have his pick of jobs.
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Former Eagles scout John Middlekauf recently joined Twitter. He’s trying to get into the media side of things. Follow him here. He is still new to the Twitter game, but seems like he’s gonna be pretty active. Just as important, he’s approachable. Don’t expect him to spill the beans on inside stuff, but he’ll share his opinion with you.
And make sure you follow me on Twitter. I’m more fun than a box of scorpions at a keg party.