Oregon head coach Chip Kelly
Nearly 24 hours ago, Oregon head coach Chip Kelly was considered a near lock to be leaving Eugene and the game of college football for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Yet, an apparent change of heart by Kelly has the beloved coach sticking around, but for how long?
The ink was thought to be drying and the boxes were thought to be checked, a highly placed University of Oregon source told the Eugene Register-Guard’s George Schroeder late Sunday evening.
Oregon head coach Chip Kelly was thought to hold the imminent title of “former Oregon head coach”; headed to the Sunshine State instead to fill the vacated head coaching position for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the NFL. The Buccaneers, who fired previous head coach Raheem Morris the same day the Ducks celebrated their first Rose Bowl victory in 95 years, secretly met with Kelly last week and were within hours of finalizing a multimillion dollar deal that would have likely doubled his current salary at Oregon.
But it was all a dream -- or fleeting nightmare depending who you ask.
It never happened.
Exactly 74 minutes after Schroeder’s Tweet suggesting Kelly’s deal with the Bucs was all but done, his Register-Guard colleague and fellow sports reporter, Adam Jude, confirmed the deal was dead.
Kelly notified the university he had changed his mind; “I’m staying,” Jude reported.
In the roughly seven hours from when the news broke publicly on Twitter to the moment when Kelly proclaimed he was staying put in Eugene, the internet and social media, in particular, was a buzz with everything from rampant discussion surrounding potential head coaching replacements for Kelly to conjecture about Kelly’s desire to depart to whether Kelly’s trademark “Win The Day” crests would remain tattooed inside Autzen Stadium and on the facilities surrounding the Casanova Center.
Today, all of that can be put to rest. Though for how long?
Kelly says he has “unfinished business” to attend to at Oregon, which one can only assume means building upon Oregon’s three consecutive conference championships and subsequent BCS bowl berths. Yet, I surmise the true meaning of Kelly’s words strike far deeper than simply a desire to extend his run of success.
For Kelly, “unfinished business” means national championship, if not national championships, plural.
It means leaving an indelible mark on Oregon football that stamps a proud legacy for himself and the program, possibly validating to Kelly that he is in fact ready to move on to the next challenge.
If that isn’t the case, why stay?
Indeed, if Kelly wanted to leave Oregon at this point in his career, he could, and you can bet the line of NFL suitors would be long and distinguished. In three short seasons, Kelly has emphatically staked his claim as one of college football’s premier coaches, but after his recent flirtation with Tampa Bay, it’s undeniable that Kelly’s coaching philosophy and acumen is recognized and appreciated far beyond the scope of the college game.
That’s a reality that Duck fans will have to come to grips with moving forward, as Kelly’s name will be attached to many an NFL head coaching search, a la former USC head coach Pete Carroll, season after season. If you don’t believe it, ask Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens, who admitted as much Monday, saying, “[Oregon football] is on a platform now, with the success we’re having, the personnel in our program is always going to be sought after.”
How long it takes for Kelly to complete his “unfinished business” at Oregon, there’s no telling. Kelly will be charged with the regular task of dispelling rumors of his “imminent departure", as competitors on the recruiting trail will no doubt use his dalliance with the NFL against him, given the opportunity. Additionally, Kelly will have to continue navigate what is rapidly becoming a supremely competitive Pac-12 Conference. Coaches such as Rich Rodriguez (Arizona) and Mike Leach (Washington State) have joined an already respected league, combining impressive track records of success at previous stops with well-thought out visions of Pac-12 dominance of their own.
For now though, Kelly stays. Motivated now more than ever, one would figure, by his yearning to finish what he’s built upon since taking the head coaching reins from Mike Bellotti in 2009.
Though the pressure to succeed has never been greater for Kelly -- who has now publicly welcomed upon himself an even higher degree of expectation (and criticism) from those outside his team’s locker room -- his apparent steadfast belief in Oregon should serve as a glowing endorsement for those invested in the program’s future.
At least temporarily.
Follow Chris Courtney on Twitter at eDuckCCourtney