If there was any doubt that the NFL would come calling for Oregon head coach Chip Kelly after the conclusion of the 2012 season, Texas A&M's Saturday upset of Alabama, which set Oregon on top of the AP and Coaches' polls on Sunday morning, put that to rest. Kelly may be the finest offensive mind in the college game today, and he came close to accepting the offer from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that eventually went to Greg Schiano before the 2012 season.
Kelly, who's put together a 43-6 record since he took the Oregon job in 2009, is considered by many to be the most appealing non-retread head coach prospect in the pros right now. If you're not going after Jon Gruden, Marty Schottenheimer, or Bill Cowher, and you want to catapult your offense into the meat of the 21st century, Kelly and his playbook are good places to start.
Seattle Seahawks center Max Unger starred on Kelly's Oregon offense in 2008 -- his last collegiate season before the Seahawks selected him in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft. Unger told me this week that while he doesn't have a current barometer on Kelly's thought process, he won't be surprised if -- actually, when -- Kelly takes that next challenge.
And according to Unger, Kelly's more ready for the NFL than some people think -- he's not just a spread offense one-trick pony. I've had former Pac-12 players tell me that Oregon's zone running game is as complex as anything they've seen in the NFL, and there seems to be little doubt among those in the know that Kelly will adapt his game to the speed, power, and complexity of the NFL as he needs to.
"Chip's offense isn't necessarily set in stone," Unger said. "The reason he's so good is that he can adapt to the players he has, and create the offense around what they do well. If -- and I think when -- he eventually goes to the NFL, I think it's going to be a matter of finding the offense that works well with the personnel that he has. I don't necessarily see him doing a total ... the same exact offense he has now. It will be interesting. If he goes and when he goes, I'll be bummed [for Oregon]. But he's a very, very good coach."
So, when Kelly does take his NFL shot, it won't be a bunch of gimmick plays. The sense is that he'll have a full-blown, NFL-ready offense in the hopper when the time comes. That's been aided by the fact that more and more teams are running option plays at high speed.
"It's tough to run a lot of those plays in high numbers," Unger said, pointing out the need for more than just straight multiple option plays. "Carolina does quite a bit of it, and Washington does it, too. But the speed of the defenses -- it's just a lot higher and the reads are a lot different. That's just what makes it more difficult."
Bill Belichick understands the power of two aspects of that Oregon offense -- running an exhausting number of plays at high speed, and spreading opposing defenses out from sideline to sideline with extremely wide receiver formations. Kelly consulted with former New England offensive coordinator and current Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien in 2011, and you've seen some serious elements of Kelly's modus operandi in the Patriots' offense this season as Belichick continued the conversation.
"I was interested to hear how he did it," Belichick told Greg Bedard of the Boston Globe in early October. "I would say he expanded it to a different level and it was very interesting to understand what he was doing. Certainly I've learned a lot from talking to Chip about his experiences with it and how he does it and his procedure and all that."
More than ever, Belichick has put pressure on defenses with no-huddle snaps and formations that keep opposing defenses in base nickel formations. Not only has this allowed Tom Brady to exploit favorable matchups -- it's also allowed the Pats' run game to succeed as it hasn't since Corey Dillon mashed it up in a more conventional look in 2004 -- the last time the Patriots won a Super Bowl.
It's obviously early to say whether Chip Kelly can win a Super Bowl with the offense he'd bring the pros, but the consensus seems clear -- when he does make that move, Kelly will be far better prepared than many of his predecessors.
He's the top guy in the NCAA now, and the next challenge -- especially if the Ducks are able to win a national championship -- is obvious.
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