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Chris Dufresne: Chip Kelley will lend creativity to a stale NFL

By Chris Dufresne
Los Angeles Times

January 18. 2013 12:13AM

LOS ANGELES -- Chip Kelly's about-face decision to accept the Philadelphia Eagles' job immediately makes the National Football League more interesting and college football less interesting.

This is different than Nick Saban leaving Alabama for the pros, where he would simply implement on a higher level the NFL system he already runs in Tuscaloosa.

Kelly, who led Oregon to a four-year record of 46-7 and four consecutive Bowl Championship Series bowl games, is a different Duck entering a different league.

"Everyone is excited to see some new idea, and how it will work," former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, who hired Kelly in 2007, said by phone Wednesday.

People are intrigued about Kelly in the NFL for the same reason they wanted to see up-tempo Oregon play slug-it-out Alabama for the national title.

The 49-year-old Kelly offers creativity, contrast and bombast to an operation noted for being conservative, conventional and staid.

The NFL is a retread operation. If you've seen one Marty Mornhinweg haven't you seen them all?

It is a league where Norv Turner (an Oregon grad) will coach in some capacity until he drops and the same league where one-time NFL kingpin Monte Kiffin, who failed as USC's defensive coordinator, can immediately get hired by the Dallas Cowboys.

Oh boy. Kiffin will now get to face, twice a year in the NFC East Division, the former Oregon coach whose offense last year scorched USC for a school-record 62 points.

Chip Kelly isn't a retread; he's a brand new tire ready to put rubber to the road. But will this former Duck fly?

The NFL has historically rejected innovation from the college level and likes to mold the putty in its own likeness.

With rare exceptions, the NFL has been a graveyard for college coaches going back to Bud Wilkinson.

The old boys, years ago, ran Mouse Davis' run-and-shoot offense out because it didn't have a fullback or a tight end.

Times are changing, though, and Kelly just set his watch to EST. The zone read concepts he ran so successfully at Oregon are already matriculating to higher ground.

Dual-threat quarterbacks Robert Griffin III in Washington and Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco are helping to change the construct, and the New England Patriots already run elements of Oregon's up-tempo offense.

Bellotti says Kelly is hitting the NFL at just the right time.

He says the Eagles are getting "a guy who understands how to put pieces together and how to be successful. He is detail oriented and adds dimensions of creativity. I think he's got the answer. Will he have immediate success? Probably not. But the reality is he's a quality coach that is built for the NFL."

Kelly, of course, will have to adjust. He can't expose his quarterback to the constant hits required in the conventional spread.

The truth is, even at Oregon, Kelly constantly adapted his offense to fit his personnel.

Jeremiah Masoli, who led Oregon to the Rose Bowl in 2009, was a better runner than a passer. So Masoli ran more _ 121 times for 668 yards.

In 2011, when Kelly had two great running backs in LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner, quarterback Darron Thomas ran only 56 times all season.

"Chip is very, very smart, very intelligent," Bellotti said. "He'll take what he believes will work. He'll try it and then decide what things will work and what things can't."

Bellotti said it's a mistake to think Kelly's offense is based on finesse. It is, in fact, a power offense based on the run.

"The run-and-shoot didn't work because it didn't have a running component," Bellotti said.

Bellotti is more concerned that Kelly's up-tempo style won't translate as well to the NFL.

"The read option is already there," he said. "They've already taken it from college. The tempo thing is different. It's a full-time commitment. Full time, I'm not sure you can get those guys to do that. It requires a lot of depth on both sides of the ball."

Wednesday was a better day for the pros than it was for the college game.

Bellotti hired Kelly at Oregon in 2007 because he saw the spread offense as college's future. It just might now be the NFL's future.

Kelly took over as head coach for Bellotti in 2009 and led Oregon to unprecedented heights that included a BCS title game and the school's first Rose Bowl win since 1917.

And just as Oregon carried on successfully without Bellotti, it will carry on without Kelly.

All indications point to Ducks offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich being promoted to replace Kelly. Helfrich lacks Kelly's edge and doesn't talk out of the side of his mouth, but he is a respected offensive mind who won't have to tinker much to keep the program on a winning course.

There is no denying some buzz got knocked out of the Pac-12 Conference. The odds of Oregon winning next season's national title, according to RJ Bell of, dropped from 4-1 to 7-1.

Everybody knew Kelly was going to leave Oregon some day, even if no one would have predicted Wednesday.

He faked us last year, with the Tampa Bay flirtation, and then last week, when he announced he was staying at Oregon.

Getting a read on Kelly has never been easy -- as NFL defensive coordinators will soon discover.


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