Chip Kelly came very close to leaving Oregon for the NFL, but ultimately decided to stay. His “heart” may be with Oregon, but he proceeded far farther than he would have had the NFL not intrigued him. How this played out should raise questions for Oregon fans (and rival fans), Oregon players and potential Oregon recruits. Why did Chip Kelly consider leaving? Will those reasons tempt him again in the future?
More Money? Obviously this is a factor, but it’s hard to see it as the deciding one. Kelly would make more money per season coaching in the NFL, especially in state income tax-free Florida. Though, with a six-year $20.5 million contract in place, even a Harbaugh-type contract would be a lateral move, especially if he had to pay his buyout. He, reportedly, called off negotiations before money entered the discussion, which seems to discredit this notion.
The NCAA Hammer? Oregon received a notice of inquiry from the NCAA, regarding Willie Lyles and Lache Seastrunk’s recruiting, leading many to believe Kelly might be pulling a slippery Pete, conveniently exiting through the back door before the storm came. The problem with this hypothesis is he stayed. Kelly knows what happened. He likely knew what he was doing when it happened. Even if the NCAA can substantiate charges, the worst-case scenario sanctions may be manageable. If he was anticipating doom, it didn’t affect him during the 2011 season.
The Ivory Tower? This is more plausible. The NFL is a grind, but a grind that might be more appealing to Kelly. He has to be a promoter in college. He must recruit, deal with parents, raise funds, be an ambassador for the school, put up with ESPN features etc. If you’re not a born salesman, that can wear on you. Kelly might be working 18-hour days in the NFL, but that would be 18-hour days spent in his office devising even more devious ways to score on people. The chance to reduce the noise and to focus on football had to have some appeal.
To Challenge Himself? Kelly has mastered the college game. When teams don’t have an inordinate amount of time to prepare for his offense, he eviscerates them. He has a 34-6 career record, 25-2 in the Pac 12. He has taken Oregon to three BCS games. There’s still the national title, but, basically, Kelly has hit the ceiling. The choice is to keep butting up against that ceiling, or move on to a bigger challenge. That itch caused Saban and Spurrier to leave. It may cause Kelly to as well.
It’s hard to see this as a Paterno turning down the Patriots moment for Chip Kelly. I would bet he leaves Oregon for the NFL eventually, if not next year in the next few years. He has a great college job. Oregon is a national name, with Nike and Pac 12 TV money. He can coach 10-12 more years there, compete for a BCS title every year and retire a multi-millionaire. With the fickle nature of NFL employment, it’s only sensible to leave that stable environment for a great NFL job. Tampa Bay might not be the ideal fit, but the Giants or the Patriots might be harder to turn down.
[Photo via Getty]