Canzano: Return of Chip Kelly is poetic
No. 9 Bruins at No. 10 Ducks on Saturday
Paul Kelly was a trial lawyer.
“Deeds — not words,” he used to tell his children.
He became a fixture at his son’s high school sports practices. Paul would show up to see young Chip Kelly — 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds — run a leg of the 4 x 100 relay or play quarterback. Later, when his son coached at University of New Hampshire, Paul watched practices.
He died on a Friday in December of 2016 in New Hampshire. He was 87. His funeral was held a few days later, on a Tuesday, in Maine. His son, then coaching the San Francisco 49ers, flew in and stood alongside his mother, Jean. He paid respect to the man who helped raise him.
A contingent from the University of Oregon.
The Ducks were looking for a head football coach. They’d fired Mark Helfrich a week earlier after he finished with a 4-8 record. Would Oregon really consider bringing Kelly back? Would the coach even entertain the idea? He was under contract with his NFL team and sitting on a 1-11 record.
Chip Kelly — the sequel — would have been wild, but not unprecedented in state history. Mike Riley left Oregon State for the Chargers, got fired, and came back. Riley holds the distinction of being both Dennis Erickson’s predecessor and successor.
Would Oregon go for Kelly 2.0?
The game changed. Time passed. Camelot had cobwebs on it. It’s the stuff of the Thomas Wolfe novel: “You Can’t Go Home Again.” All that. Still, luring Kelly back to Eugene was on the mind of several prominent insiders at UO. The Ducks viewed Kelly as a visionary and left the door open.
Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens conducted his coaching search from Dallas, where he served as chair of the College Football Playoff selection committee. While in Texas, Mullens interviewed Willie Taggart, Greg Schiano and Bryan Harsin. Then-Western Michigan coach, PJ Fleck, angled for an interview, too, but it never materialized.
Timing is everything, isn’t it?
Kelly was midseason with the 49ers. The Ducks were seeking a coach. Bringing him back made zero sense — and all the sense in the world — at the same time.
When Kelly left Oregon for the NFL, he did so on good terms. He didn’t borrow a charter plane and meet with the Eagles in secret. He kept administrators in Eugene informed. When Kelly left for Philadelphia, he did so with the blessing of Phil Knight and former athletic director Pat Kilkenny, boosters No. 1 and 2 at UO.
Paul Kelly’s funeral was held on a Tuesday. The following day, the Ducks formerly offered Taggart the job. I’ve always wondered about that. I’m told that the UO contingent paid their respects to Paul Kelly and spoke with Chip Kelly at the funeral. The job never came up.
“It’s kind of like seducing an old girlfriend,” a source present said. “Good idea, but hard to find the words.”
Kelly backed that account and told reporters in the Bay Area, “I’m not talking to anybody about any other job. I have a job. And it’s one thing I did learn from my dad: I have a commitment… I’m not searching around looking for other jobs when I have a job.”
Now, Kelly is the coach at UCLA, where he’s 6-0 and ranked No. 9 in the AP Poll. His quarterback, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, is a fifth-year starter. The offense is explosive. Kelly will bring the Bruins to Eugene on Saturday, where they’ll play the No. 10-ranked Ducks and coach Dan Lanning.
Autzen Stadium at full capacity.
12:30 p.m. kickoff.
It’s a throwback to the Chip Kelly era… starring Chip Kelly, isn’t it?
A lot is made of Oregon’s slow and steady rise under Rich Brooks and Mike Bellotti. They elevated and stabilized the football product, but Oregon’s football program felt like a tech company under Kelly. It soared. I find it interesting that Kelly is now faced with toppling the very program he helped build.
Either that, or it flattens him.
Before Oregon hired Lanning late last year, it requested permission from UCLA to speak with Kelly, per sources. The Bruins weren’t 100-percent sold on their head coach. His UCLA record at the time: 18-25.
Kelly’s agent, David Dunn, was in regular contact with UCLA AD Martin Jarmond, trying to negotiate an extension for his client. The sides weren’t close. Oregon’s telephone call shifted the tone, though. There was still the matter of a $9 million buyout, but given his history with the Ducks, the Bruins were uneasy.
The sides later agreed to rework Kelly’s terms for the 2022 season and add three additional years of job security.
The haul: 4 years, $22 million.
Kelly’s new contract includes a $1 million retention bonus that is paid Dec. 15. of 2022, 2023 and 2024. He also gets an additional $100,000 if he makes the College Football Playoff and he receives a $50,000 bonus for being Pac-12 Coach of the Year.
Lanning, on the other sideline Saturday, is coaching in his first monumental Pac-12 Conference game. That he’s doing it against Kelly, who was once a first-time head coach at Oregon himself, feels poetic.
Two weeks of preparation for both sides. High stakes. Huge audience. It’s a wonderful test for Lanning, who has the home field and the most balanced team in the conference.
The Big Ten poached USC and UCLA in late June and landed a $1 billion media rights deal. They’ll leave the Pac-12 in 2024. It’s possible this is Kelly’s final coaching visit to Autzen Stadium. I’ve wondered about college football in the months since the UCLA defection. Where is it all going? What does the sport want to become?
Then, it spits a wonderful matchup like this at us.
For a Saturday, it makes you forget.
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