Who Is the Pac-12's Next Chip Kelly?

Bryan Manning@bdmanning4Featured ColumnistApril 18, 2013

He came, he conquered and he left.

Former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly dominated the Pac-12 the past four seasons. Kelly went 46-7 and won three conference titles terrorizing Pac-12 defenses along the way.

Now, Kelly is in the NFL.

Kelly quickly gained the reputation of offensive “genius” due to his prolific spread offense and the pace in which Oregon played and practiced. The Ducks averaged over 44 points per game in Kelly’s time as head coach.

Before Pac-12 defensive coordinators can rejoice, however, the next Chip Kelly may already reside in the conference.

Arizona head coach, Rich Rodriguez, entering his second season as coach of the Wildcats, runs an offense eerily similar to the one Kelly ran at Oregon.  

Rodriguez, the former head coach at West Virginia and Michigan, enjoyed a successful first season in Tucson. The Wildcats finished last season 8-5 and ranked No. 7 overall in total offense.

There are many compelling reasons why Rodriguez could become the next Kelly and dominate the Pac-12 for years to come.


Kelly-Rodriguez Connection

Kelly received his education on the spread offense and zone-read in 1999 from Rodriguez. Kelly, a first-year offensive coordinator at New Hampshire, traveled to Clemson to meet with Rodriguez, then the offensive coordinator for the Tigers.

Rodriguez developed the zone-read in the early-90s while head coach of tiny Glenville St. (WV). Kelly wanted to find a way to better utilize dual-threat quarterbacks and found the spread-option, zone-read appealing. Rich-Rod was a natural mentor.  

While Rodriguez didn’t create the spread offense, he is widely acknowledged as the coach who integrated the spread, zone-read and no-huddle within one offense.

Watch an Oregon game from the last few seasons and you see definite similarities to Rodriguez’s former West Virginia teams. Kelly took Rodriguez’s offense and added new wrinkles, including playing at a pace never witnessed before. 



Offensive Similarities

Both coaches employ the shotgun, no-huddle on every play. Kelly and Rodriguez base their offense around a fast-paced running game centered on a dual-threat quarterback. And speed.

Do you remember any team, coached by Rodriguez or Kelly, featuring a traditional pocket-passer as quarterback?

Both coaches force the opposition to view the quarterback as a running threat and force them to defend the entire field. Running the zone-read out of shotgun gives the quarterback several options; he can keep and run, pull back and pass or hand off to a speedy tailback.

The quarterback must be fast enough to turn the corner if he keeps the ball.

The Pac-12 has seen this offense for years, but failed to stop it. This bodes well for Rodriguez.


What Rodriguez Learned From Kelly

Sure, Rodriguez taught Kelly the principles of his offense, but that doesn’t mean he can’t learn new concepts from Kelly.

Kelly’s “blur offense” isn’t a set of plays, but a style of play. The goal of the offense is to snap the ball within 15 seconds from completion of the last play.

To play at this pace, you must practice at this pace. At all previous stops, Rodriguez didn’t run these fast-paced practices. In his first year at Arizona, Rodriguez practiced at a much faster pace.

Rodriguez, himself, admitted he’s taken ideas from Kelly as well (h/t Anthony Gimino, TucsonCitizen.com):

We have always kind of kept in touch, I think we traded a lot of ideas. He got our film and we got his film. We do some similar things, and then we do some things differently. Chip obviously has done a great job with it.

Blaring loud music through stadium speakers at practice is something Rodriguez took from Kelly, too. Simulating game conditions at practice is important for an offense so reliant on speed, precision and pace.



Arizona finished No. 7 in total offense, which is impressive, but a deeper look into the statistics reveal an incredible balance. The Wildcats ranked No. 15 overall in rushing yards at 227 per game. Arizona also ranked No. 23 nationally in pass offense at 298 yards per game.

It’s rare a team finishes in the top 25 of both major offensive categories. Oregon, for example, ranked No. 3 in rushing offense, yet finished No. 72 in passing offense.

Preparing for a vaunted rushing attack such as Oregon’s is difficult enough, but when a team possesses the ability to throw as well as Arizona did in 2012, the defense has an impossible task to handle.

Matt Scott’s departure at quarterback will be a true test for Rodriguez next season. Can the Wildcats repeat those numbers with a combination of B.J. Denker, Javelle Allen or Nick Isham under center? Not likely, which will force Rodriguez to get creative.

Rodriguez’s first season in Tucson undoubtedly raised fans’ expectations. The program has been irrelevant in the football world since the early '90s when the “Desert Swarm” defense led the Wildcats to a top-10 ranking.

Rodriguez brings hope to the desert. He built West Virginia into a powerhouse in a short period of time.

Rodriguez led the Mountaineers to a 61-26 record in seven seasons, including a 33-5 mark his last three seasons. The Mountaineers won their final three bowl games under Rodriguez, two of which were BCS bowls.

The Pac-12 should be on alert if 2012 is used as a barometer to measure Rodriguez’s success. Stanford, the league’s top defense last season, surrendered 48 points to the Wildcats.

Kelly’s departure pleased Pac-12 defensive coordinators; however, Rodriguez’s arrival will have them all wondering if Kelly really left after all.


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