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January 16. 2013 11:23PM

Chip Kelly goes from Central to UNH to Oregon and now the NFL


Chip Kelly, then offensive coordinator at the University of New Hampshire, directs from the sidelines during a 2006 game as UNH head coach Sean McDonnell looks on. The two men remain close friends. (MARK BOLTON/UNION LEADER FILE)
DURHAM - Looks like University of New Hampshire football coach Sean McDonnell and his assistant coaches will be searching for a different destination to visit this spring.

McDonnell was talking to his good buddy and longtime coaching colleague Chip Kelly a couple of nights ago and discussed bringing a couple of UNH coaches out to Eugene to talk football with Kelly at the University of Oregon.

Those plans changed abruptly Wednesday afternoon when word came that Kelly was indeed leaving Oregon for his first-ever job in the National Football League, as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Born in Dover and raised in Manchester, a graduate of Manchester Central High School and UNH, Kelly is believed to be the first Granite State native to become an NFL head coach.

"Did it surprise me? No," McDonnell said of Kelly's decision to join the Eagles after spurning them and other NFL suitors. "Did it surprise me? Yes.

"My phone just started buzzing this afternoon, and everyone was saying Chip was going to go."

McDonnell brushed off any suggestion that he would be heading to Philadelphia to coach with Kelly, as has been speculated by some who know how tight the two coaches are.

"Come on," McDonnell said with a laugh. "Do I look like I'm going anywhere?"

When Kelly was interviewing with NFL teams two weeks ago, McDonnell said that it would be intriguing to coach with him at some point in the pros, but that the timing was not right.

"I think that would be very, very doubtful," he said when asked again Wednesday about joining Kelly's staff.

Kelly interviewed with the Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills and Eagles in Arizona after his Ducks beat Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl Jan. 3, and at first it appeared he was going to make an immediate jump to the pros.

But then nothing happened with him and the pro teams. The Browns hired Rob Chudzinski, and the Bills went with Doug Marrone.

The Eagles looked elsewhere, and it looked like Kelly was going to stay at Oregon.

McDonnell saw Kelly last week at the NCAA football coaches convention in Nashville.

"For the most part, it had all died down, and he was very comfortable, as he always has been when he makes a decision," McDonnell said. "He was going back to Oregon, and he was going to meet with recruits. And we were talking about going out to visit in the spring."

Then came Wednesday's noontime blockbuster, which quickly made its way through the UNH Field House.

Director of Athletics Marty Scarano chuckled about the remarkable story of the rise of the former Manchester Central quarterback, turned UNH defensive back, turned Central assistant coach, turned Wildcat assistant coach, turned Oregon and now Philadelphia head coach.

"Seven years ago, he was sitting right there in that chair," Scarano said in his office. "We were talking about how we could increase his pay by $3,000. Sean was always coming in because of what (Kelly) was accomplishing, and we were trying to raise him by a few ticks. I think it was $1,500 one year and $2,500 his last year, and he was always appreciative of it. We're talking (a total salary) in the $55,000-$60,000 range."

Kelly was making about $4 million at Oregon before leaving for the Eagles and their millions.

"It's the best," McDonnell said of the Kelly story. "You can't make this stuff up. He's here and goes out to Oregon as the coordinator, and his offense is top five in the country, and he becomes the head coach and takes his team to four BCS Bowls. Now he's going to the Eagles. It's great. It's a great story about a great guy."

McDonnell thinks Kelly can make a successful transition to the pros.

"He's good at what he does," McDonnell said. "I believe he can get people to buy into what he's doing and how he's doing it. He's smart, and he knows people, and he knows football, and I think those are things you need to know to be successful at the NFL level.

"But I'm only guessing. I'm a college guy."



alessels@unionleader.com

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