Stunned. That's the only word I can use to describe how I feel.
Rumblings came out of Eugene late last night: Chip Kelly was having regrets about leaving the college ranks, and Oregon AD Rob Mullens was interested in bringing him back at all costs. UO athletic administration worked tirelessly on Sunday night to see if this was even feasible. After calls to high-influence donors, including Nike's Phil Knight, the money to buyout Chip's contract with the Eagles, as well as Mark Helfrich's contract as Oregon's head coach, and the numbers were there. And Mullens made possibly the most controversial decision in football history. A press conference has been scheduled for 10 AM tomorrow, but make no mistake.
Chip Kelly is back.
Here's what we do know:
Late last week, David Dunn, Kelly's agent, contacted Oregon AD Mullens, informing him that Kelly was having deep regrets about leaving Eugene, and inquired if there was any possible way Kelly could come back next season. Mullens initially dismissed the thought, but after meeting with high-ranking athletics administration and donors, decided to move forward with further exploration. Kelly's contract with the Eagles calls for a $12 million buyout if he were to take another job, and Oregon would also be on the hook for the $9 million it pledged to pay Mark Helfrich as Kelly's replacement. If the $21 million wasn't there, the thought of Kelly returning was moot.
But then Phil Knight stepped in.
The Nike founder, whose potential contributions to Kelly's pay raise almost kept Chip at Oregon in the first place, pledged the remaining funds, estimated to be between 13 and 14 million dollars. The math added up; the ball was in Mullens's court. And he chose to bring back the most successful coach in Oregon history.
But was this even the right decision at all?
Mark Helfrich had established stability with the program, brought in a tremendous recruiting class for a guy who has never been a college head coach, and was preparing to open spring practice with a group that should contend for a national title, with or without Chip Kelly. Helfrich had the trust of the players, the coaching staff, and had the media on his side. And now, through no fault of his own, he's out of a job; initial reports state that Scott Frost will remain Oregon's offensive coordinator. With this move, Oregon burns an innumerable amount of bridges, not the least of which is the trusted and successful coach they put out on the street by rehiring Chip. And what if Chip decides to leave again down the road? Why should any coach with any integrity trust an athletic department that is more than happy to go back on its word in favor of the known? Chip Kelly better coach at Oregon for the rest of his life, because the Ducks aren't hiring anybody else worth anything while Kelly and Mullens have careers. This is such a high-risk decision, and if anything goes wrong, you better believe it'll cost Mullens his job.
I love Chip Kelly, and what he's done with the Oregon football program is tremendous, and won't ever be forgotten. But I wish he was still in Philadelphia, and I wish Mark Helfrich was still the Oregon football coach. Maybe it'll work out; if Oregon hoists a national championship trophy next January, it'll be hailed as one of the most shrewd moves in sports history. But if the Ducks go 8-4, or fail to win the Pac-12 next year, I think Oregon will be looking for a new athletic director, and the slim chance Chip Kelly has at ever getting back to the NFL will be gone.
I don't even know what to think at this point. The Visor will be back on the Oregon sidelines in 2013. I should be happier about this.
But I'm not. Didn't think I'd be saying that, especially on April Fool's Day.