By REED NELSON
Dear Fellow Eugenians,
Today is a sad day. Today, 46 wins and the nation’s most effective offense is walking out the door, headed for a plane bound for Philadelphia. Those are the facts.
Chip isn’t coming back. No longer will we as fans get to air juggle grapefruit-sized man-parts in the student section. No longer will a visor stalk the North sideline of Autzen stadium. No longer will post-practice interviews sound like they were filtered through a dirty air conditioner. And no longer will an Oregon field goal kicker watch feebly as the offense stays on for fourth-and-forever inside an opponent’s 30.
Today is the end of an era. Or maybe it’s the end of a college tenure. After all, he was the head coach for a poetically collegiate four year term. You could even consider his one-year gig as offensive coordinator under former coach Mike Belotti his redshirt year.
Either way, things at Autzen are bound to change.
Forget the incoming recruiting class, with inextricable ties to the legacy the Chip Kelly not only helped establish, but helped embody. Forget the ruthless efficiency with which Kelly ran his system. Forget the wizardry of an eight-set scheme. But don’t forget the legacy.
Kelly managed to turn Oregon into Florida State-for-the-new-millennium — a lightening-quick offense piloted by lightening-quick players. So what if Long Beach Poly High School produced more NFL talent than the University of Oregon did during his time here (and they didn’t, by the way, but Cal did)?
Chip Kelly changed the face of college football forever. If you ask a guy like Nick Saban, he might tell you that Kelly is the NCAA’s equivalent of Attila the Hun. He came in with an army swifter, more versatile and more unique than anything the world had ever seen, and once he got close to the other side, he vanished.
But Chip didn’t betray the good people of Eugene, or the students at the University of Oregon; he most certainly disappointed them, however. He led them on in a weird pubescent sort of way, accepting the school’s invitation to the prom, then ditching them at the dance. There’s nothing noble in the act, but there’s nothing objectively horrible.
We’re all searching for something — an easier life, a more challenging life, a lost something, a never-found something — but mostly, it seems, we are searching for an eternal something. If Chip never found that here, he never found it here.
What “it” is, we’ll probably never find out. I doubt the good people of Philadelphia will either, because he’s sure to leave them as well once Bill Belichick releases the Patriots job from his cold, dead fingers.
So instead of looking at this as a betrayal, a letdown or a disappointment, you can try to look at this as a blessing. A blessing that a football mind like Chip Kelly’s decided to call the University of Oregon his place of employment for the last five years. A blessing that, during those five years, Chip managed to take Oregon from a middling Pac-12 (at the time Pac-10) program, to one of national fear-mongering status. And a blessing that he supposedly has left his kindred mind-spirit, Mark Helfrich, in place at Oregon to succeed him at the helm.
Is it a sad day in Oregon football? Oh my goodness is it. Is it sad because Chip Kelly is leaving? Why of course it is. But does the abdication warrant cries of disloyalty? Hardly. The concept of disloyalty is rooted in the concept of loyalty, and in sports — and football in particular — loyalty is a thing in the same way that player safety is a thing. Neither of them matter to the powers that be unless they’re affected by the repercussions. The Dark Lord Saban himself has proved that loyalty and winning are about as linked as Reality TV consumption and Pulitzer Prize winners.
Kelly wasn’t born in Oregon, he wasn’t even born in the midwest. Leaving New Hampshire? That’s more The Decision than leaving Eugene ever was.
I don’t like Chip coaching the Eagles, but I hate the Eagles. I still harbor a latent hostility toward Herm Edwards, and his Giant-crushing fumble recovery predates me by over a decade. But it wasn’t going to matter where he went next, because he was going somewhere next.
At least it wasn’t South Carolina, where once-great coaches like Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier go to tread water. Holtz left Notre Dame with a decade left in his gas tank. Spurrier took a shot at the NFL before receiving his South Carolina sentence. Nick Saban bailed on LSU before re-settling in Roll Tide Country.
So Chip never won a National Championship. Neither did Greg Schiano, who’s coaching the Buccaneers, or Bill O’Brien or Brian Kelly who were both interviewed by the Eagles.
Yes, we were hoping that Chip was more Urban Meyer than Saban or Spurrier, but he’s not. And in the hyper- competitive world of sports, where the things that define greatness are constantly mutating, a Superbowl win could seem pretty concrete.
There was an amazing letter written to Chip, posted on FishDuck.com, that implored the coach to stick around because, in their eyes, winning a National Championship, in the long run, means much more to the fans than winning a Superbowl does, and that statement is true most of the time. But the guy who beat Chip in the 2010 National Championship was fired this past season and is still searching for employment, so it’s not always true.
What is always true is that the best offer wins, and in no world could the University of Oregon legally match the contract offer that Philadelphia Eagles and owner Jeffrey Loria undoubtedly put forth.
Now I ask you: If you were offered a job doing the same exact thing you were already doing, but this time your salary was doubled and you never had to come into direct contact with any of your previous co-workers/employees unless you brought them into be on your team, would you take the job?
I’m sure this situation could have been handled with a bit more tact, but let’s remember what really happened in Oregon the last half-decade: A very talented coach reinvigorated a sleepy program and left them about 1,487,982 times better than he found them.
And that’s not such a bad deal.
P.S. If it turns out that this Willie Lyles thing is as big as TJ Quinn and the rest of the Outside the Lines staff hope it is, then forget everything I just wrote and take this with you: He pulled a Pete Carroll on people who loathe Pete Carroll, and then went to a place that booed Santa Clause.