Chip Kelly called me on Thursday. I picked up. We ended up on the subject of the 6,281-square-foot house he built years ago on a half-acre, double-lot off Gilham Road in northeast Eugene.
Looking for “The House that Chip Kelly Built”?
That’s the one. It has six bedrooms and five-and-a-half bathrooms. It also has an indoor basketball court, an 800-square foot garage, and a swimming pool.
“I only lived in it for a year,” Kelly said.
You were thinking Autzen Stadium?
Kelly sold his house in Eugene after he left Oregon for the NFL in 2013. I heard a rumor once that Kelly’s custom-built home may have included a mammoth-sized room that could seat as many as 80 or 100 college football players.
It sounded like “The Great Hall” in Hogwarts Castle. But on Thursday, UCLA’s coach told me: “Nah, it had nothing like that. It was just a regular house. I don’t think there’s a house in Eugene that could fit an entire team in it.”
The house does sort of look like a castle, though. It has lots of grey stone work on the front and six gables that rise above the second story. People who live in the neighborhood still drive past and refer to it as “Chip Kelly’s old house.”
Autzen Stadium holds that same distinction.
I’ve wrestled for a while with Kelly’s place in University of Oregon football history. He didn’t invent football. He didn’t coach the school’s first team. In fact, the Ducks had 35 different head football coaches before Kelly took the job in 2009. But what UO didn’t have was a coach who won as frequently as Kelly.
He was 46-7 at Oregon.
Former head coach Rich Brooks lit the match. His replacement, Mike Bellotti, blew on the kindling and got the smoke and fire going. Then, Kelly showed up with a can of gasoline and turned the scene into a raging inferno.
I don’t know about you, but Kelly’s return to Autzen Stadium on Saturday triggers some wonderful memories. I remember watching his first victory there (38-36 over Purdue). I remember College GameDay coming to Eugene on Halloween in 2009 to see Kelly’s 10th-ranked team whip No. 5 USC 47-20. Then, GameDay came back in 2010 when the No. 4 Ducks beat No. 9 Stanford 52-31.
I asked former Oregon running back LaMichael James what he remembers most about Kelly’s tenure. James was a star in the UO offense during that era, rushing for an astounding 5,082 yards.
“He held everyone to the same standard,” James said. “It didn’t matter if you were the water boy, the Heisman finalist, a coach, or a walk-on. Everyone was the same. He never wavered.”
James told me a story about the run-up to that highly anticipated Stanford game in 2010. The running back hated post-practice ice baths. Mid-week, James skipped the post-practice ice bath and slipped into the locker room.
A few minutes later, Kelly called him.
“Hey, LaMike, I noticed you skipped the ice bath today,” the coach said on the phone. “If you don’t get it done by the time I leave, you’re not playing in the game.”
Said James: “You’d think with College GameDay in town and a big-time game and me being a high-profile athlete, he wouldn’t do that. But I knew 100 percent he would sit me and not think twice about it.”
James hung up and went for an ice bath. A few days later, he rushed for 257 yards and three touchdowns in the Ducks victory.
“I respect him for that,” the former running back said, “nobody is bigger than the team.”
No. 10 Oregon will play No. 9 UCLA on Saturday. Kelly will make his return to Eugene — again. And ESPN’s College GameDay will be there — again.
“This is just like any other game,” Kelly insisted on Thursday. “This is my third time back there in five years. It’s not like the first time back… It’s like going to Rice-Eccles Stadium in Utah, that’s a tough place to play, too.
“I know what it’s like to be an opponent there. We’ll land at 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m. on Friday. We’ll have night meetings. We kick off at 12:30 p.m. We’ll be in town less than 24 hours. It’s not like you go see a million people.”
Decide for yourself if you believe him. I think it’s probably what Kelly tells himself in order to stay focused on the task. There’s no advantage to waxing nostalgic when you’re trying to win a football game. But anytime Kelly faces off against his old program, it feels big, doesn’t it?
I find it interesting that Kelly has lost exactly the same number of Pac-12 games as a visiting coach (0-2) at Autzen Stadium as he did when he was UO’s head coach (26-2). But I didn’t bring it up on Thursday.
Instead, we talked about other things.
Kelly on Dorian Thompson-Robinson, a fifth-year starter at QB:
“He’s such a great learner and really wants to be coached. All great players want to be coached. He rarely makes the same mistake twice. He’s got so much more experience now.”
Kelly on coaching college QBs:
“They’re all different. Everybody has different learning styles. Everybody has different strengths and weakness. Are they visual learners or audio learners? Do they have to do it or see it? What’s the best way to adapt your style to theirs?”
Kelly on the Ducks:
“That’s a really good football team.”
I wished Kelly well. We hung up. Then, I sat down and started writing this column. The house that Chip Kelly built isn’t really a football stadium. It just feels like it on a week like this.
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I wrote him a letter before the announcement he was leaving. I gave him my best reasons for not leaving. He left.
Dan Lanning is our coach now; he is not Chip Kelly, but we are still the Ducks.
The house that Phil built proceeded Chip & made a huge contribution to UO's success.