February 24, 2010
Chip Kelly's rise as one of the nation's most prominent head coaches has been nothing short of astronomic -- from obscurity as a I-AA offensive coordinator at New Hampshire to a Pac-10 championship and Rose Bowl as a rookie boss at Oregon in just three years -- but he's already forging a reputation for a little outside-the-box gusto. When a fan complained about the Ducks' performance in last year's season opener, Kelly gave him his money back. Before the biggest game of the season, he fired up an early-morning crowd by wearing an oversized Duck head on national television.
And with the critics opening fire from every direction in the wake of a long string of arrests and accusations against his players over the last month, Kelly has ditched the familiar "no comment" routine and jumped into the fray to defend his response -- or, in the case of star running back and alleged domestic assailant LaMichael James, the lack thereof, which came squarely into the crosshairs of Portland columnist, radio host and noted Kelly critic John Canzano after Kelly moved swiftly to boot four troubled back-ups for various offenses and suspend another for the entire 2010 season. The coach went on Canzano's radio show Tuesday for a highly charged, highly entertaining interview in which the host essentially accused Kelly of a double standard when dealing with star players while Kelly all but volunteered to serve as James' defense attorney (emphasis added):
"When a player gets in trouble, John, I meet with him and they tell me what went on and what didn't go on. So I act upon what they told me went on and didn't go on. In certain situations -- and I can't comment on specific situations -- if haven't rendered a decision, that doesn't mean I'm not doing anything. That means I'm waiting to get all the facts.
What uniform is LaMichael James wearing right now? He's not with our football program right now. He's not doing anything. ... The harm [in officially suspending James] is, I believe my player. When this thing comes out, let it come out. You think I'm going to symbolically make decisions to please John Canzano? No. When this whole thing shakes itself out, when the final truth comes out, put me on the air again, and then you apologize."
Kelly made the same request in much more polite terms (sans demand for apology) to ESPN's "Outside the Lines" earlier in the day, but it's no wonder he saved the heat for one of the local foils. Canzano was the first to question Kelly's grip on the team after LeGarrette Blount's violent postscript to an embarrassing loss at Boise State in Kelly's first game last September, and took more shots at the coach when he decided to lift Blount's season-long suspension with four games to play. Later in the interview, Kelly was even more blunt, telling Canzano, "I think you love when we mess up," before closing the session by questioning whether the host's parents "really believe in" him. For his part, Canzano stuck to his guns, needling Kelly by repeatedly telling him, "I think you think you're doing the right thing."
As for James, he's still trying to find a way to maintain his eligibility even if the courts do eventually break in his favor. But at least he knows his coach is in his corner, apparently waiting to be tagged in.