The end of the football season brings about so many things. There will be player changes with new recruits signing in the next couple of weeks, and you'll have guys leaving early to go to the NFL. We'll get to see and talk about spring practice, off season issues, NFL combines and NFL drafts. One thing that is inevitable is the changes regarding coaches. The Pac 12 has already experienced this with new head men at a quarter of its institutions.
These changes will happen in the NFL as well. Every year you see 6 to 8 and sometimes more head coaching changes in the NFL. There will always be demand for fresh new minds to populate one of the most exclusive careers in all of sports.
Conventional wisdom has recently been that college coaches just don't translate well to the pro game. The styles are different (ALL HAIL THE PRO SYSTEM OFFENSE) the personnel issues are different, the media are different, and college coaching is about recruiting. Whereas, pro coaching is more about X's and O's.
The proliferation of the spread offense in college football has had a two fold effect on the NFL. First, there are more athletes coming out of college with typical spread offense techniques and skill sets. Coaches that run a more traditional one-back or I-formation offense in the NFL are having to do more "coaching" regarding their system. A guy like Percy Harvin that played in a spread offense needs to learn all over again his route running, blocking schemes and playbook in Minnesota's one-back.
Second, the number of coaches that have traditional offensive experience are becoming fewer and further between. This means more regurgitation of the same coaches from one team to the other (I'm being serious when I tell you Mike Tice and Dirk Koetter are offensive coordinators in the NFL still).
These times are a changing.
The first point has led some teams to start to adapt their styles. A few years ago it was revolutionary and "out-of-the-box" how Miami was successful running the Wildcat. Tony Sparano realized he had 2 great athletes in Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown and that he could be successful if he put both in the backfield and disguised who was carrying the ball off the snap. This took one of the worst rushing offenses in 2007 (#23 out of 32) to one of the top in the league (#11). Before 2010, a quarterback like Cam Newton that had never taken a snap from under center, and only played one year, would have been considered a risky high draft pick. So Carolina realizing they didn't have the coach that would fit a pick like him, fired John Fox and hired a fresh faced offensive coordinator in Rob Chudzinski to run the offense. Chudzinski took one of the slowest and worst offenses in the league to a top 10 offense in 2011 with Newton.
The second point has led some owners to start to venture into the college coaching ranks to find competent coaches to run their pro style system. Pete Carroll made a splash jumping from a comfortable and well regarded position at USC to be the head coach for the Seattle Seahawks in 2010. In his first year he led them to a first place finish in the NFC West and a first round playoff win. Jim Harbaugh was hired away from Stanford to install his Power I offense for the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners ended up second overall in the NFC, have a first round bye in the playoffs, and are one of the favorites to make it to a Super Bowl.
NFL Owners are not dumb. These individuals did not become billionaires by ignoring what was going on around them. When you look at how the offenses are adapting to get more production, how the pool of coaches that run the "traditional" sets are aging and dwindling, and the experience and skill sets of the athletes coming into the workforce, it is easy to see that someday, somehow, one owner is going to look for the guy that can put all of this together to run his team.
That's why Chip Kelly will make the ideal candidate.
First of all, Chip Kelly is well regarded in the NFL ranks. Before Kelly came to Oregon he was offered a position by current NY Giants coach Tom Coughlin. It's no secret how Jon Gruden (a favorite and top of the list for almost any owner looking for a new coach) feels about Chip Kelly. He's been seen at multiple Oregon practices and was even quoted saying he'd hire Chip for his offensive coordinator if he ever went back into coaching. Do I need to mention Tony Dungy? If you're an NFL owner and want to know about Chip Kelly, would you call Tony Dungy (one of the most respected names among NFL front offices) to find out what he thinks? What do you think the father of one of Kelly's players is going to say?
Second of all, Chip is of the mold of some of the most successful NFL coaches. Let's use some words to describe the Patriots Bill Belichick. Abrasive. Tough. No nonsense. Uncompromising. Player's coach. Winner. What about the Steelers Mike Tomlin? Hard nosed. Stiff-necked. Strict. Hard working. Die-hard. Motivator. Hates losing. Go ahead and stop me when this doesn't sound like Chip Kelly. Anyone else seen the ungodly offensive numbers that Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints are putting up this year? What about Mike Sherman's Green Bay Packers? These are some of the top offensive minds that diligently study the X's and O's of the NFL.
One of the things that has kept Oregon fans secure over the last couple of years regarding Kelly leaving was the thought that there was no way he'd leave Oregon for a rebuilding project. Why would Kelly leave Oregon, when a) there is no major BCS school near where he's from in New Hampshire, and b) he's done most of the heavy lifting already to get Oregon to the place that makes it easier for him to recruit his type of players and run his system. With the NFL he doesn't have either one of those problems. The NFL doesn't have guaranteed contracts. He could change over an entire NFL roster of 53 players with little resistance within 2 to 3 years. Also, there are numerous teams in the Northeast that would make it very easy for Kelly to return home. New England, Philadelphia, New York, New Jersey, Buffalo, Baltimore, or Washington. There are also teams in the destination areas of San Diego, Miami, Tampa Bay, Dallas and the Bay area that anyone would want to move to for an increase in pay of 2-3 million a year.
Going to the NFL means that Kelly would get more time to focus on the X's and O's of the game. It would take him off the road of recruiting and put him in the film room where he's always seemed most comfortable. Coaching in the NFL would let Kelly test himself at the highest level. He'd be able to prove wrong the ultimate doubters about his type of football.
Finally, if Kelly goes to the NFL, he's got nothing to lose. Bobby Petrino flirted with the NFL and now he has a lifetime contract (well, not really) with the Arkansas Razorbacks. Nick Saban coached in the NFL before he realized that the big older guys weren't going to listen to the little angry elf. Hell, Mike Riley, Lane Kiffin, and Dennis Erickson were fired from the NFL and it didn't hurt any of them. Each one had a head coaching job in a BCS conference waiting for them when it ended.
I'm happy about what Kelly has done to put Oregon where it is today. When a coach revolutionizes the game and makes your program successful it is inevitable that people are going to look to hire him away. The thing that makes me secure that Kelly will stay at Oregon (at least for a while) is what type of person he is. He turned down TomCoughlin and the NY Giants. An offensive coordinator at New Hampshire turned down a coaching job for an NFL franchise, near his home town. Kelly is about more than just the next best thing. He's not in it for the bigger better deal. His last contract negotiation went on without anyone knowing. Everyone knew he was up for a new contract, but no one knew that he was actually negotiating it. Why? Because that's not what Kelly is about. He's about the guys in his locker room, the product on the field and the boys he's helping grow into men.
These are all great traits.
They are also very desirable traits. So don't be surprised to learn that others are courting or wishing for those same traits for their school or organization. Kelly hasn't been the guy to leave his job for a whim or paycheck, and he won't start now. If Kelly leaves, it will be because he knows he's moving into the position where he can do the most good, like he did at Oregon. That's something to be proud of that only reflects positive on Oregon and its program. Kelly won't leave Oregon until it is the best thing for him and the best thing for where he is going. If you truly appreciate Kelly, that is something you should want as well.