Oregon Football: Power Ranking Chip Kelly's Most Important Assistants

Kay Jennings@KayJenningsPDXContributor IIIDecember 28, 2012

Oregon Football: Power Ranking Chip Kelly's Most Important Assistants

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    Chances are that you've heard the NFL might be after Chip Kelly as soon as the Fiesta Bowl wraps up Oregon's season. If not, you need to engage more in the world around you.

    Many Duck fans have moved on emotionally to 2013, trying hard to imagine "The World Without Chip." If Kelly bolts, who will be his replacement? Will it be next-guy-up, Mark Helfrich? Will athletic director Rob Mullens (Phil Knight) pull a shocker? Jon Gruden? Kevin Sumlin? Lane Kiffin? (That was a joke.)

    As crucial as who the next Oregon head coach might be, what happens to the Ducks' excellent cadre of assistant coaches is equally important. Will Kelly lure any with him? Will any decide it's time to look at other opportunities while they're hot?

    I've decided to approach this piece utilizing the "Oh, no" methodology. In case you don't know what I'm talking about, that's when you log on to your favorite Ducks website, or open your favorite morning newspaper, read a Ducks headline and go: "Oh, no!"

    Like the day you heard about Kelly's flirtation with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, or the morning after Cliff Harris was stopped going 118 mph on I-5.

    Here is the "Oh, no" approach applied to power ranking Oregon's assistant coaches.

No. 6: Tom Osborne—Tight Ends & Special Teams

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    With 11 years of experience at Oregon, "Coach Oz" is highly regarded for both his special teams coaching and tight end mentoring.

    Before Osborne arrived at Oregon, the Ducks were perennially rated at or near the bottom of the Pac-10 in special teams play. Almost overnight, Osborne improved the Ducks' productivity and statistics on special teams.

    And, in 2008, CBSSports.com named Osborne one of the top five tight end coaches in the nation. In his 17-year coaching career, Osborne has helped nine tight ends find their way into the NFL.

    The only reason Coach Oz is not higher on this list is that most Duck fans are not enamored with the 2012 special teams' effort.

    But any coach who can keep Colt Lyerla in line and making progress every week is important to the Ducks.

No. 5: Scott Frost—Wide Receivers

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    Wide receivers coach Scott Frost is sort of the darling of the assistant coaches this year. It started when he went running with the bulls in Pamplona with head coach Chip Kelly last summer.

    Frost is also the newbie of Oregon's assistants. Prior to joining the staff, Frost was a star quarterback at Nebraska, leading the Huskers to the national championship in 1997. Following his college years, Frost had a six-year NFL career.

    Since his arrival on the scene, Frost has brought toughness to the Oregon wide-receiving corps. Ducks fans love his "no block, no rock" approach. And, Frost developed the raw material that was Jeff Maehl into one of the all-time great Oregon receivers.

    But there is the nagging feeling that Frost should be doing more with the talent on the Ducks' roster at receiver. He was, however, reportedly a finalist for the head coaching position last month at Louisiana Tech, so he must be perceived well in the coaching community.

    And I do not for a minute believe the rumor that Kelly outran Frost at Pamplona; I think that rumor was probably started by Chip himself.

No. 4: Jerry Azzinaro—Defensive Line

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    Defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro is one of the "Vowel Mafia" members of the Oregon coaching staff. You know: Bellotti, Aliotti, Azzinaro.

    When I think back to what Oregon's defensive line used to look like before the arrival of "Coach Az", I lock myself in the closet until that horrible feeling passes.

    When Azzinaro arrived in 2009, he took a motley crew of D-line defenders, imparted his New York energy to them, and began producing the defensive pace you see today. The D-Line grew from slugs to sleek in the trenches.

    Players like Dion Jordan, Taylor Hart, Terrell Turner, Kenny Rowe and Brandon Bair all have Azzinaro to thank for helping them reach their full potential.

    If the former New England Golden Gloves heavyweight novice champion ever moves on, it will be a real "Oh, no" moment for Duck fans.

No. 3: Mark Helfrich—Offensive Coordinator

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    I suppose you thought offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich would be No. 1 on this power ranking. He is, after all, Chip Kelly's heir apparent, if the pundits are to be believed.

    Helfrich is certainly one of the top offensive strategic minds in the country. But with Chip Kelly calling the offensive plays, we really don't know how much of a contribution Helfrich makes from his skybox.

    What we do know is what an excellent quarterbacks coach Helfrich is. Since his arrival at Oregon, Helfrich has contributed to the development of Jeremiah Masoli, Darron Thomas, and, of course, Marcus Mariota.

    The real question here is if Kelly leaves and Helfrich doesn't get the job, what will he do?

    Oregon fans should hope he stays on as offensive coordinator.

No. 2: Nick Aliotti—Defensive Coordinator

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    The godfather of the Vowel Mafia, Nick Aliotti has 20 years of experience with the Ducks and is now in his third stint at Oregon.

    There are only two coaches in the modern era who can make a routine press conference great fun—LSU's Les Miles and Nick Aliotti. Aliotti has long been one of the most popular coaches on the Ducks staff.

    The good news is that he knows what he's doing. Aliotti has been an integral part of Oregon's success the past few years. When the Ducks' offense sputtered early in the 2010 campaign, it was Aliotti's defense that kept Oregon alive until the offense caught up and carried the Ducks to the BCS National Championship Game.

    It must be difficult being the wind beneath the wings of the soaring Oregon offense that gets all the attention. But, year after year, Aliotti holds up his end of the bargain and does it with flair and confident dignity.

    If Aliotti leaves Oregon, it will be a major, major "Oh, no".

No. 1: Gary Campbell—Running Backs

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    Quick—name the one position on the Ducks team that has been the most productive year after year. The one position where there never seems to be any drop off in talent.

    Running back, of course.

    I won't bore you with all the names of past great Oregon running backs—you know them. But do you know that one assistant coach is responsible for most of the RBs you can name?

    Gary Campbell has been with Oregon for almost 30 years. He has the longest continuous service at one school of any active BCS coach.

    Tenure and continuity is a good thing for football programs. But Campbell's contribution to the Ducks goes way beyond his years with the school; the man gets results.

    Of Oregon's 14 players with at least one season of over 1,000 yards rushing, Campbell has coached 12 of them. And before you can coach great running backs, you have to find them. Campbell is a superb recruiter year in, year out for the Ducks.

    Campbell prides himself on helping his running backs develop all-around games, which I believe is why so many of his proteges are so successful in the NFL.

    Most importantly, Campbell really appears to care about his RBs as people. His star pupils never seem to forget about him, and there are strong links that go beyond graduation.

    And he's just so darn cool.

Honorable Mention

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    With over 20 years at Oregon, Don Pellum has played an active role, both in coaching the linebackers, as well as serving as recruiting coordinator. Two of his recent pupils are Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger, both now playing in the NFL.

    Before the arrival of secondary coach John Neal about eight years ago, there were many hide-your-eyes moments with Oregon defensive backs. Neal has really raised the bar on what it means to play in the defensive backfield for the Ducks. Neal would be another big fat "Oh, no" reaction if he leaves Oregon.

    Offensive line coach Steve Greatwood is right behind Gary Campbell in terms of longevity with the Oregon program at 27 years. Greatwood has brought stability to the O-line, and was singled out as the nation's top assistant coach following the 2008 campaign.

    Last but not least is strength and conditioning coach Jim Radcliffe. This assistant's role might not mean much on other—slower—teams, but it's a crucial position with the high flyin', fast-paced Ducks. Radcliffe designs year-round conditioning programs for the UO athletes, and his contribution should not be overlooked.

    He's the one on the sidelines with the ridiculously fit, 53-year-old body, often wearing only a t-shirt and shorts, even in the rain. Bring your binocs.

    Kay Jennings is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.