It wasn’t easy or routine, but at least it’s official (we think): Chip Kelly is leaving Oregon after a four-year stint as head coach to accept the same position with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.
The decision comes on the heels of news breaking just one and a half weeks ago that Kelly would remain at Oregon for a fifth year, despite flirting with the Eagles, Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills.
While many fans will remember The Kelly Era as one full of BCS glory and blow-out conference wins, the road that led the New Hampshire native to the West Coast is one full of twists and turns, luck and Kelly’s own brand of risk.
An auspicious start
It was 2003, and Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti knew he was going to have his hands full with Utah’s Alex Smith.
The future No. 1 NFL draft pick was making just his third career start for head coach Urban Meyer when the Ducks traveled to Salt Lake City for a tilt with No. 25 Utah. Oregon was in the middle of its own roller coaster season, upsetting No. 5 Michigan before turning the ball over nine times in a humiliating 55-16 loss to Washington State.
Meyer opened the playbook for Smith that night at Rice-Eccles Stadium, who responded with 340 yards on 25 completions en route to a 17-13 Utah win.
“I knew their offense would be problematic for us,” Mike Bellotti said after the game.
Utah’s offense that night? A crude version of the spread offense Meyer would later perfect with Tim Tebow in Florida.
Intrigued, Bellotti would later send offensive coordinator Gary Crowton to talk to Meyer’s coaching staff, who pointed him up north.
“‘The guy who really knows this stuff is Chip Kelly up at the University of New Hampshire,’” Oregon booster and Nike co-founder Phil Knight recalls Florida coaches telling Crowton. “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.”
While Bellotti jokes he had to “sell” the Oregon job to lure away Kelly from his alma mater, where the school was annually shattering the offensive records, the Oregon offensive coordinator position was Kelly’s for the taking.
He brought with him his penchant for breaking records. In his first year on the staff, the Ducks led the conference in scoring (38.1 points per game) and total offense (467.5 yards per game — the most in the history of the program).
The importance of continuity
“Make no mistake about it,” Kelly told The Arizona Republic during the Ducks’ run to the title game in 2011. “I didn’t take over a program that was down in the dumps. I mean, it was a pretty good team. And I was fortunate. The cupboards weren’t bare when I became the head coach.”
Yet this history of the conference — and the rest of the nation — hadn’t seen how effective Kelly’s spread offense could be with a few years to work out the kinks. Over the course of the four years Kelly served as head coach, the coaching staff enjoyed a zero turnover rate — completely unheard of in the fast-paced moving and shaking world of college football coaching.
Much of his success had to do with the culture he instilled soon after joining the team in February of 2007 as Oregon’s offensive coordinator. It was then that the ubiquitous “Win The Day” motto originated, gaining traction among players and coaches who gradually bought into the idea.
“To me, it means you take care of what you can control, and what we can control is today,” Kelly said. “I think people too often look way down the road — you know, ‘I want to do this, I want to do that, I want to be conference champion, national champion.’ If you don’t take care of Tuesday, that’s not going to happen.”
The University showed its investment in the idea in 2009 when it hired Oslund Design to create the five-pointed “WTD” crest.
“It’s another example of where people who understand branding have taken that saying and given a bit more depth to what it means, for the team and certainly for the fanbase,” Paul Swangard, managing director of Oregon’s Warsaw Sports Marketing Center, told The Oregonian’s Rachel Bachman in 2010. “It’s an authentic thing, rather than a cutesy marketing slogan for a given year. It’s pretty core to what the team represents.”
Not to mention, “Win The Day” stood in stark contrast to then-Pac-12 darling USC. Trojans’ head coach Pete Carroll’s mentality — and the title of his book on coaching — “Win Forever.”
The immediate initial success of the spread was exactly what Bellotti had hoped for when he hired Kelly. Quarterbacks Dennis Dixon and Jeremiah Masoli flourished in the spread offense and served as prototypes of sorts for uber-athletic signal callers like Marcus Mariota that came to see Oregon as their best shot to play quality college football.
When Bellotti left the sidelines to take over as athletic director, there wasn’t much discussion over who would succeed him. It was Kelly’s job to lose, and as fans know, Kelly rarely loses.
And all along the way, throughout the uphill climb to national contender, Knight and Nike infused the program with money, glitzy jerseys and hype.
All Kelly had to do was deliver.
Into the future
The rest of the story most Duck fans know — the initial hurdle against Boise State followed by a torrent of wins, more than 40 of them in four years, and back-to-back BCS wins for the Ducks.
Now Kelly is gone, leaving behind the greatest four years in program history. Filling his visor won’t be an easy job.
Yet with Oregon’s apparent desire to search in-house for Kelly’s replacement, the culture of the team (and, fans hope, the wins) will remain steady.