He took the high ground. He looked like the smartest guy in the room for not leaving the University of Nike, Oregon to jump to any of his many interested suitors in the NFL. He looked like the smartest guy in the room for a week. Now he looks like the most normal. Chip Kelly accepted terms with the Philadelphia Eagles to be their head coach. He made the jump all coaches are tempted to given the opportunity. His team might be bigger, faster, and paid (a little bit) more now, but he will not have the support and backing that he had in Oregon. And the level of dominance he achieved at Oregon is reserved only for coaches named Belichick in the NFL.
This is the biggest that could happen to the Pac 12 conference this offseason, and it means big things for the conference.
Chip Kelly was something of an unknown commodity when he took over Mike Bellotti. But Kelly’s prolific offense quickly took over the conference. He ditched the pro style offense that Jeff Tedford used to run in Oregon with Joey Harrington. Then he ran LeMichael James and Kenjon Barner into the record books, and made Darron Thomas and Marcus Mariota’s two of the nation’s best quarterback’s regardless of their potential draft stock.
The rest of the conference is overjoyed that Oregon may come back to the Pac. They have finished in the top 5 the last 3 seasons, and the top 10 in all of Kelly’s 4 seasons as a head coach, including a loss to Cam Newton in the BCS Championship game 3 seasons ago. The rest of the Pac 12, especially the North, have a better chance against Oregon without Kelly.
Stanford moves up as the preseason favorite to win the Pac 12 championship, and everyone moves up in line. Oregon is losing Chip Kelly, and almost certainly high profile recruits and players. Thus Keith Price, Steve Sarkesian and Washington could rival Oregon, and talented Cal with new Coach Sonny Dykes could surprise. But the bottom teams like Washington State and Colorado are equally overjoyed that the team that puts up at least 50 points against them may be slowed if only slightly. With desires to win the Pac 12 South, both UCLA and USC must be salivating over the increased likelihood they would have a change against Oregon in a Pac 12 Championship game.
It brings the rest of the conference closer together, but the problem is that it doesn’t make the conference better, but hurts it. If Oregon is not as good as they have been it ultimately hurts the conference. Even though they bring back Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas, they will not have the continuity and accompanying edge over the rest of the conference.
It was the Pac 12 that was supposed to de-throne the SEC. It seems almost laughable now but USC was also supposed to be in line in 2012 to wrestle it away. But Oregon has been the best team in the conference over the last 4 years sporting something like a 46-7 record. Chip Kelly as coach almost eliminated Oregon’s typical untimely losses altogether. And without a doubt Kelly’s departure takes a chop block out of the conference of champions. The SEC’s six years and counting of dominance is more likely to continue
While they have a completely different style, the blueprint for how Oregon needs to handle their high profile coach leaving for the NFL is also in the Pac 12 North—Stanford. They were coming off their most successful seasons when Jim Harbaugh left for the San Francisco 49ers. They could have gone out and found a high profile name to fill in for Harbaugh now that Stanford football was on the map now. But they conservatively stayed in house with David Shaw, and are impressively the defending Pac 12 champs and Rose Bowl champs in their second appearance in the game since 1972.
That is exactly the formula and success Oregon is looking to follow. They have been clear from the beginning that if Chip Kelly was going to jump for the NFL they would promote offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich to head coach. If they can learn from these steps they won’t lose many of their fastest steps in the country.
The physical makeup of the conference, and its strength nationally, and the dollars that will come to the conference base on BCS appearances will directly be influenced by how Mark Helfrich adapts as the successor of an outrageously successful program of late. But for now, the conference teams are happy from a competitive edge, but it’s not good for the strength of the conference nationally for Kelly to hit the East Coast.
If Helfrich ends up being more like David Shaw there will not be much of a difference in the Pac 12, but if Helfrich turns out to be more Lane Kiffin to Chip Kelly’s Pete Carroll, the conference became a lot more even this Wednesday, and less dangerous nationally.