Facing the prospect of heading into the 2009 college football season with their first new head coach in a decade and a half, many die-hard Oregon Duck fans are likely paying close attention to spring practices with an eye toward spotting the differences from the Mike Bellotti era.
But if the football field is the only place that you're looking, you might miss the most important change.
Don't get me wrong, this isn't even close to a situation where any change is a good change. Bellotti is arguably the greatest football coach in Oregon history, and certainly the most successful. He isn't moving on to the position of athletic director because the program wained or his talents started to fade. The timing was just right.
Chip Kelly, the new man at the helm, is a great fit for the program.
A stern, upbeat leader and the mastermind behind a potent spread offense containing the most innovative rushing attack in the nation. But with Kelly's offense already firmly entrenched at Oregon, and no major changes coming to the defensive scheme this season, the differences fans will see at Autzen Stadium next fall will likely be negligible.
What fans should notice, however, is Kelly's overt confidence and determination to succeed that shines through in his new approach to connecting with potential players and fans. Oregongridirion.com, a website that had died out after an initial foray as an intriguing recruiting tool, is back. And the content is intriguing.
It has all the recruiting aspects that you'd expect. Video to introduce prospects with coaches, the standard recruiting pump-up montage, and sections on life at Oregon, the facilities, and (of course) Nike, all coming soon.
What you might not expect is a blog written by the man himself, Chip Kelly. In three entries, he has outlined his personal coaching philosophy, made some promises about next season, individually praised players, and even challenged units.
Besides being another window into some of the inner-workings of Oregon Football, the redesigned site embodies Kelly's innovative approach to coaching in general. He's not afraid to put himself out there when he thinks a decision is going to help the program. And he does it boldly, but with class, unlike a certain loudmouth first-year coach in the SEC.
For a school like Oregon, known for a little bit of an off-the-wall approach, Kelly seems, so far, to be a perfect leader. And with any luck, this will only further the name-recognition of the diamond pattern and silver wing clad Ducks.
Bellotti showed that edginess and risk-taking can ultimately improve a lesser-known program. So far Kelly has shown that he may be willing to take this philosophy to the next level, take advantage of our ever-modernizing world, and connect with recruits and fans in a way that few others do.
In this off-season of change, Oregon fans can be sure of one thing. Not much may change on the field, but Kelly's inventive personality will shine through in other ways. And in the end, the Oregon football program will win the day.