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The Fifth Down: Why Chip Kelly May Be Waiting for Belichick to Retire

John Canzano of The Oregonian has an intriguing theory on why Oregon Coach Chip Kelly might have turned down N.F.L. offers, and it doesn’t involve Phil Knight’s Nike millions (although that couldn’t have hurt).

Canzano, whose column deserves a full read, said Kelly “realized his current gig is the best amateur coaching job in America.” But that’s not to say he’ll stay  forever.

I now suspect he would only trade it for the dream gig of every little kid who grows up in New England — head coach of the Patriots.

I think the job Kelly absolutely wants is the one currently held by 60-year-old three-time Super Bowl champion head coach Bill Belichick, who is as close to Kelly in his monomaniacal drive and ultimate hands-on style as there is in sports.

Canzano went on to describe the Kelly-Belichick connection:

Kelly visited with the Patriots this offseason. It’s been well-documented. The Patriots now use some of Kelly’s no-huddle terminology and basic concepts. And I wondered as the Browns and Eagles invested their time trying to convince Kelly they had dream jobs for him, if they could ever measure up to what Kelly learned from spending time with Belichick, who has unique control of Robert Kraft’s franchise in the same way Kelly does at Oregon.

Kelly has turned down enticing offers before — including one from Giants Coach Tom Coughlin when Kelly was the offensive coordinator at New Hampshire — to wait for just the right circumstance: he left to be Oregon’s offensive coordinator.

From an Oregonian article in July by Jeffrey Martin, quoting New Hampshire Coach Sean McDonnell:

“I think he has a great confidence in what he does,” McDonnell said.

This is how he’s always been, even as the Wildcats were setting records. Even then, the perception was he’d outgrown UNH, but he wouldn’t just leave for any job. It had to be a proper fit.

When Tom Coughlin dangled a quality control position — a non-specific, do-it-all role generally reserved for novices — with the New York Giants late in Kelly’s tenure here, McDonnell told him he had to take it. He’d be crazy not to.

“But he said, ‘I want to coach,’ and Coughlin couldn’t tell him he was going to be a full-time coach,” McDonnell said. “So he turned it down. … He wanted to run the offense.”

Martin’s article, also recommended reading, explores how Kelly was shaped by his relatively obscure days as an assistant at New Hampshire, his alma mater.

Lastly, Chase Stuart, a Fifth Down contributor, explained in November why Kelly would one day be a successful N.F.L. coach — and not a flop like another college offensive coaching guru, Steve Spurrier. From Stuart’s Web site,

Kelly’s approaches to running a practice and developing players are creative and intelligent, and there’s no reason to think his style wouldn’t work in the NFL. More importantly, what we’ve seen from Kelly is that he’s spotted inefficiencies in the collegiate market — lack of depth at most schools, focusing on large playbooks over conditioning, etc. — and exploited them. No one doubts that there are many inefficiencies in a league where Norv Turner and Mike Tice will coach on ad infinitum, and Kelly seems as capable of any coaching candidate as exploiting them. That’s what Belichick has done for a decade.

Extra point One problem with the Belichick theory is that he could coach the Patriots for another 10 years. Kelly would be 59 at that point.

One final link on Kelly. In 2009, a disgruntled Oregon fan sent Kelly an e-mail asking for $439 to reimburse his travel expenses to Idaho, where the Ducks had lost to Boise State and where Oregon’s LeGarrette Blount had thrown a punch at the end of the game. Kelly sent the fan a check for that amount. The fan, taken aback, was so grateful for the gesture that he never cashed it.


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