Heading into the 2012 college football season, the sentiment regarding the Oregon Ducks' Chip Kelly and the NFL wasn’t a matter of if, but when. Now, it would seem it's morphing from when to where.
After flirting with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last January, the buzz began to build surrounding Kelly's departure. The interest between the two at the time was more than just your casual phone calls.
Despite reports of this being a “done deal” (obviously it wasn't—the Internet strikes again), Kelly decided not to take the offer. Rutgers coach Greg Schiano was named the head coach shortly after these rumors were nixed, and Kelly had this to say on his decision to stay in Eugene:
I am flattered by the interest of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ organization...I enjoyed meeting with the Glazer family and general manager Mark Dominik but after numerous discussions, I concluded that I have some unfinished business to complete at the University of Oregon.
Nearly 11 months later, and the “unfinished business” remains. This involves much more than winning crystal footballs, however, and unfinished business could actually be what sends him to the NFL.
The latest and perhaps most intriguing bit of news that could sway Kelly to finally depart involves the NCAA. Although it’s been relatively quiet since the news of Oregon’s $25,000 payment to a Will Lyles “scouting service” surfaced, the latest report from Yahoo! Sports suggests that things aren’t going in the Ducks’ favor at the moment:
The University of Oregon's attempt to resolve an NCAA investigation through summary disposition has failed, two sources with knowledge of the Ducks' discussions told Yahoo! Sports.
The sources said Oregon is now anticipating an appearance before the NCAA's committee on infractions (COI) this spring – something the school was hoping to avoid following an investigation into the football program's financial relationship with prep adviser Will Lyles.
Translation: Despite the already drawn-out wait for a ruling, this isn’t over. And while we’re unsure of what punishments may be handed down, they are coming. This, of course, means that Chip Kelly may choose to get out before they do. Or, perhaps not, depending on the severity or what he perceives the potential short- and long-term ramifications will be.
Although the latest NCAA development adds fuel to an already burning fire, other recent items of note could also influence a sudden change of address.
According to John Locanthi in the Willamette Week, some "anonymous" Oregon boosters have had enough of Kelly’s act. This seems incredibly odd given the state of the program and the success he’s brought them in the past few years alone, but apparently there is this sentiment out there:
A number of substantial Oregon football boosters, many of whom requested anonymity, expressed a widespread annoyance with Kelly. The coach with the highest winning percentage (45-7, 86.5 percent) among BCS conference coaches is at odds with many of those closest to the Oregon program. Although most would agree Kelly is an extraordinary coach, he doesn’t care much for the many other obligations that come with his job.
"Some of the college boosters have gone as far as to say, ‘I hope he does leave so we can get somebody who appreciates the fans,’" says Jack Roberts, a former Oregon labor commissioner and Oregon alumnus.
Well, OK then. They may get their wish, as odd and bizarre as that seems.
It’s difficult to assess exactly what influence this has (if any), and why Oregon fans and boosters would stress anything more than winning at the rate Kelly has. With that being said, this latest tidbit highlights some of the oddities in the game we obsess over.
I couldn’t imagine being a head coach in this position. Keeping the NCAA off your back and appealing to those who wear your merchandise and sign away massive checks is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to being the top dog at a big-time program. Oh, and you have to win, of course, and succeed in a system with absolutely zero room for error.
Take this season for example. One overtime loss to a hot Stanford team—one of the best teams in the country—and that’s it. Poof. Championship gone.
This is nothing new in the world of college football, although the new four-team playoff system coming in 2014 should help soften the situation slightly. Still, this is not a job or task I envy. One slightly disappointing season and ears will perk up. Another and you’ll be on notice. One more—if you in fact get that extra try—and you’ll be out of a job.
This is not news for Chip Kelly either. He’s very aware of all of this and understands that a jump to the NFL would come with a higher salary, the same intense expectations (perhaps even more insane depending on the landing spot) and extreme skepticism regarding the transition of his offense to the NFL.
But if’s he itching to go—and assuming someone is willing to pay him what he wants—now might be the time. He’s already made it abundantly clear that he’s willing to listen, and the circumstances surrounding the program could be the tipping point.
Another factor perhaps weighing into this decision is that Oregon currently has the 46th-ranked recruiting class in the country, according to Rivals.com. More telling, the Ducks are listed at No. 8 in the surging Pac-12.
Granted, there’s plenty of time before national signing day, and this status reflects the size of Oregon’s current class versus the quality of commits it currently has. And yes, one site's recruiting rankings in December are what they are.
All that taken into consideration, could looming sanctions impact this further? Absolutely.
Oregon has done an exceptional job closing out the recruiting season in past years, but the possibility of NCAA involvement could hamper its success in 2013 and beyond. I doubt that a small blip on the always-strange recruiting radar would factor huge into Kelly's decision-making process, but add it to the growing list.
There’s another side to this potential move to the NFL, of course. An integral part of this possible move will depend on which NFL teams have vacancies. More importantly, will the teams with vacancies that interest Kelly have mutual interest in him and his unique offense?
There’s much to discuss in a move like this: the quarterback, the modifications of his spread offense, how it will adapt to the NFL and more. But the openings will be there, and he should be considered a fascinating option.
San Diego and Philadelphia are two spots that seem to be gaining steam on the Kelly front, and these certainly would be intriguing destinations. These won’t be the only teams with openings—assuming Andy Reid is indeed out, which isn’t exactly a bold assumption at this point—but it’s a place to start. Kelly may actually have some choices in his destination, which could add to the possibility of him leaving.
It’s all speculation at this point, but it’s not hard to connect the dots.
For now, however, Kelly will coach the Oregon Ducks in the Fiesta Bowl against Kansas State. This much we know. Well, at least we assume he will still be representing his team at this point.
His departure for the NFL is far from the “done deal” that it was perceived to be less than a year ago, although it certainly looks and feels like he may decide to take his unfinished business elsewhere soon enough.