In four seasons as head coach of the Oregon Ducks, Chip Kelly won three Pac-12 Conference championships, appeared in four BCS bowls and amassed an overall 46-7 record. The more significant impact of his tenure in Niketown is how Kelly revolutionized the game. His version of the spread offense threw an already uptempo style into hyperspeed and completely altered how opposing defenses had to gameplan. Very few did so succesfully.
Immediate reaction to his departure for the Philadelphia Eagles feels a bit like Munchkin Land’s impromptu celebration after Dorothy’s house crushed the Wicked Witch of the East.
Kelly leaving for the NFL now differs from Pete Carroll’s 2009 departure from USC in that by the time Seattle came calling, USC was descending from its apex. Oregon is showing no signs of surrendering its place at or right near the pinnacle of the Pac; if anything, the Ducks were showing signs of still improving. But Wednesday’s news is hardly enough to assume Oregon’s half-decade of dominance is at its end.
Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich is expected to succeed Kelly, thus much is unlikely to change in how the Ducks operate. The 2013 team will presumably still have quarterback Marcus Mariota and hybrid running back DeAnthony Thomas. Nick Aliotti should still be leading a vastly underrated defense, built to perfectly complement the offense’s frenetic pace.
The last coaching change at UO was an offensive coordinator, Kelly, improving on the already impressive tenure of his predecessor, Mike Bellotti. The Ducks still have that most elusive of prizes toward which to build. If Helfrich can do as Kelly did before him, the next step is a national championship.
However, a thousand monkeys at a thousand typewriters could never produce the work of Shakespeare — which isn’t to disparage Helfrich. Rather, the adage illustrates how difficult it is for one to emulate the works of a true master at his craft. Helfrich was outstanding as Ducks’ coordinator, but can he match the level of a revolutionary?
The expectations at Oregon are different now than they were before the 2009 season. UO expects the best. That’s a lofty milestone for a first-time head coach to meet.
Kelly’s influence can be seen throughout the league. Arizona hired Rich Rodriguez, whose zone-read option planted the seeds for Kelly’s take on the spread. Noel Mazzone implemented a similar formation at UCLA that unlocked the Bruins’ potential, while Arizona State made Todd Graham’s dream of High Octane Football a reality.
Spread offenses are almost becoming passe in the Pac-12, yet Kelly stayed ahead of the curve.
And whether it’s Helfrich, or any other replacement Oregon might tab, he will have to play the damage control game of keeping recruits committed to the Ducks. The impact of coaching departures can be profound. Last season, Cal lost several verablly committed players when Tosh Lupoi departed for Washington. Rutgers was afforded even less than Oregon’s three weeks when Kyle Flood took over for Greg Schiano just six days before National Signing Day.
RU’s decision to replace Schiano with an assistance helped maintain the Scarlet Knights’ maintain the Big East’s No. 1 overall 2012 signing class, but they did lose out on highly touted Devin Fuller. Fuller waivered on his commitment in the final week, instead landing at UCLA.
There is already some reported unrest on the Oregon recruiting trail, as highly touted twin brothers out of San Diego, Tyree and Tyrell Robinson, are opening their recruitment to Notre Dame.
Rivals.com currently ranks the Oregon recruiting class No. 44 in the nation, and eighth in the Pac-12. The hypothetical loss of the Robinson Bros., both rated four stars, would significantly downgrade the Ducks’ haul.