In the six hours or so between when the news first broke and Chip Kelly’s last-minute decision to stay at Oregon, it seemed like Oregon fans went through each of the seven stages of grief.
At first there was utter shock and denial. Kelly was leaving to coach … the Buccaneers? As in, the same Buccaneers that went 4-12 and lost 10 straight games this year? Those Buccaneers?
None of it made sense, and since it was based on just one report from a television news outlet, many (including myself) chose not to believe it just yet. We’d been through this with the Miami Dolphins already and it would take a bit more corroboration for the report to feel real.
That backup arrived swiftly over the next hour, as Twitter sent Kelly’s name soaring up its “Trending Topics” list. The Tampa Bay Times released its own report with more details, and pretty soon the national writers for both professional and college football were chiming in with their own nuggets of information. ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted that a deal could be reached “within next 48 hours.” Ted Miller wrote that “this feel(s) fairly cataclysmic for Ducks fans.”
Suddenly, it all began to feel very real, and the “pain and guilt” stage quickly evolved into a mixture of anger and sadness. Blogger and podcast host Dan Rubenstein, a noted Oregon fan, unleashed a slew of angst-ridden tweets like, “I’ll say it — never trust anyone from New Hampshire. Information for life.” Others wrote things like, “Don’t leave me, Chip” and “RIP Oregon football.” (OK, that last one was me, in a text message.)
From my own perspective, it seemed shortsighted for Kelly to jump at the first NFL offer he got. With such an established program here at Oregon, one that he brought to elite status in just three years, why not wait around a bit and enjoy the college game before a better offer came around? I wasn’t buying the Bucs as a legitimate opportunity.
Maybe it was just taking longer than usual to set in, because when I stopped to think about it, the choice seemed more logical. Though admittedly atrocious in 2011, the Bucs come across as a team with the chance for a quick turnaround. They have a quarterback to build around in Josh Freeman, a running back Kelly knows all too well in LeGarrette Blount, and the fifth overall pick in the NFL Draft. Perhaps this really was an opportunity Kelly couldn’t pass up.
And so, once the news had settled in for everyone, the final stage of acceptance began its work. The well-wishers sent their tweets, posted their Facebook messages — whatever they could to convey what Kelly meant to the program. Then, it was on to the all important question of who would come next: Boise State’s Chris Petersen? TCU’s Gary Patterson? Maybe even Tony Dungy? Already, Kelly was beginning the transition from present to past in the minds of fans. The “grieving process,” if you will, had gone full cycle.
That is, until Kelly roped everyone back in with a last-second change of heart. Now, all of a sudden, he is Oregon’s football coach again. Technically, he never left, but it sure felt like he did. This almost seems the beginning of an entirely new era of Kelly’s career — the post-Tampa period.
And as time moves forward, it would behoove Oregon fans to remain in the “acceptance phase.” Because, as Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel smartly observed Monday, this is the new reality for Oregon. Tampa Bay was not the first NFL team to show interest in Kelly, and it certainly won’t be the last. At some point, Kelly will take the bait and move on to a new opportunity. Maybe next year. Or the year after that. But it will happen, and perhaps it’s best to accept that now.
This process will play out all over again sometime in the near future, no matter how high Oregon climbs.