Chip Kelly vs. Gene Chizik: Who's Really the Better Coach?

Ryan FallerAnalyst IDecember 22, 2010

Chip Kelly was named the Associated Press Coach of the Year on Tuesday. Among his competition were Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh, Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio and TCU’s Gary Patterson, who finished third and in a tie for fourth, respectively.

The second-place finisher? None other than Auburn’s Gene Chizik, who will line up across from Kelly in the BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz.

Seven votes separated Kelly and Chizik, which, when you consider a total of 55 tallies, seems like somewhat of a landslide. But are the two really that far apart in terms of coaching prowess?

Let’s take a look.


Worth Every Penny

Let’s begin this little side-by-side comparison by figuring out which is justifying his contract more. I understand that dollars and sense alone don’t dictate a coach’s worth, but in today’s world, especially in college athletics, favorable results are expected to be produced quickly. And one of the main criteria for determining whether a coach has been successful is assessing his monetary value.

So, with that said, who between Kelly and Chizik is creating the better return on investment?

Well, for starters, to make it fair, we’ll throw out Chizik’s two horrendous seasons at Iowa State. For one, his salary in Ames was significantly lower compared to both his current salary and that of Kelly at Oregon. And two, it would only be fair to use Chizik’s two best seasons as a head coach when comparing him to Kelly, who has been wildly successful in his two seasons.

Excluding any type of incentive or performance-based clause, the two coaches’ salaries are pretty close: Kelly rakes in $2.4 million, while Chizik takes home $2.1 million annually. Unless my math skills are betraying me once again, that means that Kelly, who is 22-3 in two seasons in Eugene, is compensated just over $109,000 for each victory. Not exactly chump change, but deemed fairly cost-effective taking into account the two Pac-10 titles and a possible national championship.

Speaking of titles, Chizik’s Tigers won the SEC in 2010, so what does he receive for his 21-5 record at Auburn? About $100,000 per win, which should be adjusted to compensate for the fact Chizik has coached an additional game over the past two seasons — the SEC title game. Take that away, and the figure inches over $105,000.

You be the judge. In the grand scheme of things, the $4,000 seems almost negligible, making the two even. But that’s just me.


Paving The Trail

Next, we’ll dissect recruiting efforts. Again, to be fair, we’ll only revisit each program’s last two recruiting classes, including the one that will be wrapped up in February. That’s because even though Kelly was not yet the head coach at Oregon until 2009, he still played a prominent role in the Ducks’ recruiting efforts as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach from 2007-08.

This won’t be as cut-and-dried as some other methods of comparison, simply because those players who are up for evaluation are only now in either their true or redshirt freshman seasons — although Auburn gets a slight nod with running back Michael Dyer, a second-team Freshman All-American who rushed for 950 yards during the regular season.

Not that Oregon was a recruiting slouch prior to Kelly taking over, but since he took the reins, the Ducks have continued to expand their reach beyond the immediate region. Of the 23 signees of the 2010 class, seven are native to states east of the Rocky Mountains, including highly-touted running back Lache Seastrunk, who was one of three players from talent-rich Texas to choose the Ducks.

Of the at least 19 prep players expected to sign a letter of intent at Oregon in February, six are from Texas, Florida, and Iowa.

Meanwhile, under Chizik’s watch, Auburn hasn’t dispersed its efforts like Oregon. But, then again, the Tigers don’t need to, situated smack-dab in the middle of the talent-rich Southeast and only a few states away from Texas, which produces more Division I talent than any place in America.

And let’s not forget it was Chizik who, pay-for-play controversy aside, ultimately landed a player named Cam Newton to headline his first complete recruiting class at Auburn.

According to, Oregon signed the No. 13 recruiting class in the nation in 2010, but only the fourth-best in the Pac-10, behind USC, UCLA, and California. By comparison, Auburn’s 2010 class ranked fourth nationally and second in the stacked SEC.

Currently, with exactly six weeks to go until National Signing Day on Feb. 2, the Ducks have received commitments from eight four-star recruits and 10 three-stars, equating to the nation’s 13th-ranked class.

Auburn has received five fewer commitments, but among the 14 players, five are rated four stars. Of course, these numbers are subject to change between now and February because verbal commitments are not binding, as well as the fact schools often base the size of recruiting classes on the number of scholarships available.


Pac-10 vs. SEC

There are multiple reasons why I shouldn’t compare the in-conference records of Kelly and Chizik, but I’m going to because I think the way in which the numbers are offset make for a compelling argument.

Any rational fan will have no problem admitting that the SEC is a superior conference to the Pac-10. But does Kelly’s eye-popping success negate Chizik’s ability to withstand stiffer competition?

Granted, the Pac-10 features one more conference game than the 12-team SEC, but that should not tarnish neither Kelly’s 17-1 record in Pac-10 games over the last two seasons, nor the Ducks’ surreal 22-point margin of victory over that span.

Chizik is 11-5 within the SEC, which seems modest by standards set in any other conference, as does his 11.2-point margin of victory. But I would be remiss in excluding the fact that not only is the SEC the best conference in America arguably every season, but the SEC West was loaded in 2010, placing five of six teams in the final BCS rankings.

Are Kelly’s six additional wins enough to moot the Pac-10’s additional conference game every season? Or does Chizik’s success in navigating one of college football’s most rugged schedules make up the difference?


Beaten At His Own Game? (Part 1)

Though Chizik, who has been part of a defensive staff everywhere he’s gone, is not known for his offensive schemes, he, in collaboration with offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, doesn’t mind playing at a feverish pace.

For that matter, neither does Kelly, whose spread offense at Oregon makes most other units appear sluggish by comparison.

According to the Web site, Oregon and Auburn finished the regular season ranked first and sixth, respectively, in scoring offense. The Ducks, at 49.3 points a game, averaged just under a touchdown more per game while also recording six more scores in one less game.

But the teams swap places when it comes to plays of 10 or more yards.

For the season, Auburn ranked fifth in the nation with 226 plays of 10-plus yards, just two better than sixth-place Oregon. And as the length of the scoring plays escalates, the gap between the two seems to get even narrower. In terms of plays that covered from 20 to 90 yards, neither team had recorded more than five such plays more than the other. The biggest discrepancy was in plays of 50-plus yards, in which Auburn holds a 43-38 advantage.

Given both teams’ ability to score quickly, it should be no surprise that Auburn and Oregon rank 84th and 105th nationally in time of possession, respectively. And if you exclude the Tigers’ SEC title game appearance, their average time of possession is near 29 minutes, or one more than that of Oregon.

But do the numbers justifiably differentiate one coach’s ability to coach offense from that of the other?

Hard to say for sure, but it’s been impressive what Chizik, a lifelong defensive guy, has created around Cam Newton, which is an offense that clearly rivals that of Kelly, who for years has held a reputation for being one of the brightest offensive minds in the game.


Beaten At His Own Game? (Part 2)

You can make a strong case for Chizik one-upping Kelly in the offense department in 2010, having churned out nearly as much production but in a much more solid conference defensively.

But when it comes to defense, does Kelly, genetically wired for offense, beat Chizik at his own game?

During the regular season, the Ducks allowed 18.4 points per game, good for 14th in the nation. Auburn wasn’t nearly as effective on defense, ranking 54th at 24.5 per game. Of course, you have to factor in that Oregon faced only four offenses ranked in the top 50, while Auburn took on nine, including three in the top 20.

Or could it be that Auburn gives up gobs of points because they can’t get off the field? The Tigers allowed opponents to convert more than 37 percent of their third downs. Fifty-three defenses were better in the regular season on third down than Auburn, including Oregon, whose 33 percent clip is 10th-best nationally.

Additionally, Oregon statistically performed better in terms of total defense and pass defense, a category in which the Ducks are ranked 56th and the Tigers 105th. That gap would explain the one separating the two defenses in terms of interceptions, where Oregon holds a sizeable 20-10 advantage.

Auburn did hold its water more effectively against the run, but to the tune of only six fewer yards per game.


Final Verdict

I give a slight edge to Chizik, though the margin is so slim, you couldn’t separate the two coaches with the thinnest of hairs.

Kelly’s track record speaks for itself, and within the next few weeks, his shelf could hold a crystal football, next two a pair of Pac-10 trophies. In all, in two short seasons, Kelly has taken the program to new heights and is on the cusp of completing what it took his predecessor, Mike Bellotti, decades to build.

In the process, he has strengthened an already-popular Oregon brand and expanded its influence as a nationwide power, and the Ducks could be nearly impossible to contain once the skill level in Eugene achieves an overall balance between offense and defense.

That said, what Chizik has begun to cultivate at Auburn, a program that had entered the doldrums somewhat prior to his arrival, is quickly becoming a force again.

It’s tough to win in college football, period. But the difficulty level skyrockets in the SEC, particularly considering the added pressure that is placed on the conference’s head coaches, the expectations of the fans, and the behind-the-scenes cage fights that are waged for some of the best high school players in the country.


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