(USA Today Sports Images)GLENDALE, Ariz. - The Oregon fans at the Fiesta Bowl, fully aware that the end of the game started the race by NFL teams to woo head coach Chip Kelly away, started the "We-want-Chip!" chant as the final minute of the Ducks' 35-17 win against Kansas State ran down.
They started the chant again during the bowl trophy presentation. What made that unique was that the Oregon players started their own "We-want-Chip!" chant around the podium.
Oregon's biggest, richest and most notable fan stood at midfield and was asked what he thought.
"I want Chip,"said Phil Knight, the Nike co-founder and enormously influential Ducks booster.
Sentiment and unanimity probably doesn't matter for Oregon at this point. Although Kelly said pretty much nothing about his future after the game, when his players talked about him they seemed resigned to him leaving. Kelly said he's never discussed the situation with his players because they had a bowl to play, but his players see the same news everyone else sees. The NFL is after Kelly with a full-court press, and it sure seems like it will take a miracle for Oregon to keep him from making the jump.
That won't stop Oregon fans from keeping hope alive.
"I think ... I don't know," Knight said when asked what he thought Kelly would do. "We'll have to wait and see.
"Chip will make up his own mind. I won't have much to say about it. We'll talk, I'm sure, but he'll make up his own mind."
He brought up Kelly turning down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after last season as a sign of hope for the Ducks.
"He listened to Tampa Bay for a long time, and he never did accept the job," Knight said. "We'll see what happens."
The pull will be great. USA Today reported that the Bills, Browns and Eagles will interview Kelly. Kelly got out of discussing that news by saying his agent set everything up and kept him in the dark because Kelly didn't want to be distracted for the Fiesta Bowl, which is hardly believable. Kelly can make incredible salary demands and ask for as much power as he wants during these NFL interviews, and he'll probably get offered almost everything he desires from one of his suitors. That's the power of leverage. Oregon's probable upcoming meeting with the NCAA's committee on infractions regarding the football program's financial relationship with prep adviser Will Lyles won't give Kelly more incentive to stay in college. He avoided talking about that too, saying Oregon has cooperated, will continue to cooperate and he felt "confident in the situation," whatever that means.
Kelly talked about upcoming NFL interviews as a "fact-finding mission," like he is blissfully unaware of what the situation is, even though everyone else has a pretty good handle on it.
Oregon understands it'll be tough to keep Kelly, who has brought the Ducks to four straight BCS bowls. USA Today reported that offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich has already been tabbed as Kelly's successor if he leaves, which says all you need to know about what is likely to happen in the next few days.
Oregon's players praised Kelly, saying he has done as much for them off the field as he has done on the field. It seemed like they were giving a final thank you to Kelly with him sitting at the other end of the table.
"What Coach Kelly brought to this program has taken it to another level," running back Kenjon Barner said.
Freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota was asked if he thought he'd played his last game for Kelly.
"Whatever happens, happens," Mariota said. "But we're all behind him."
Kelly was at ease in his postgame news conference, even for NFL questions he knew were coming and tried his best to avoid answering. When a reporter identified himself as being with a Philadelphia newspaper, Kelly quipped, "You guys have a big Tostitos Fiesta Bowl fan base?" Then he danced around answering if he had an interview scheduled with the Eagles. Kelly had other lighthearted moments during his news conference, and why not? He had just won another big game at Oregon, dominating a very good Kansas State team for most of the Fiesta Bowl, NFL teams couldn't wait to offer him a large pile of money and Ducks fans were pleading with him to stay, however slim the chances of that actually happening seem.
"I've always said I'll listen," Kelly said about the NFL possibility. "That's what I'll do."
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