Questions? Of course there are questions.
As Chip Kelly leaves Oregon for the Philadelphia Eagles, naturally there are questions about how successful he will be. About whether his system and his style will work in the NFL for a guy who has never stepped foot in the league.
Yet, the questions being asked are the wrong ones.
Kelly, you see, isn’t foolish. You don’t compile a 46-7 record and four BCS bowl appearances in four years as a college coach without having a pretty good understanding of football.
Will Kelly’s offense work in the NFL? Doesn’t matter. He’s not going to sit in the film room saying, “Hmmm, that play that keeps getting stuffed behind the line of scrimmage used to work at Oregon. We’ll just keep trying it.”
Kelly is creative enough to devise an offense to fit the players he has and the opponents he will face. It’s not rocket science.
No, the question that will determine whether Kelly is a successful NFL coach is this: Will the league change him?
Because the key to Oregon’s success hasn’t been in the play-calling or the run-the-defense-ragged style. It has been in the preparation. It has been in the mile-a-minute practices. It has been in the way Kelly coaches the other 352 days a year, not just on game day.
Want to know the most impressive thing about Kelly’s tenure at Oregon? It’s not the four BCS bowl games or the Rose Bowl win. It’s not even the 46 victories.
No, the most amazing hallmark of Kelly’s Ducks is the fact they never lost when they shouldn’t have. Never. Not in four years. There was not a single time Oregon was caught unprepared by an inferior opponent and got upset.
The Ducks’ losses under Kelly: Boise State, Stanford, Ohio State, Auburn, LSU, Southern Cal, and Stanford. Six of those teams combined to go 74-7 in the years they beat Oregon. The seventh was Stanford, which was just figuring things out when it defeated the Ducks in 2009 and has gone 37-7 since then.
The mantra of “Win the Day,” might seem juvenile to 30-year-old NFL players who are making $800,000 a year, and yet it will be the key to Kelly’s success in the NFL. It’s not a matter of getting players to buy in; it’s a matter of getting rid of those who don’t.
That is what will determine the success of the Eagles’ grand experiment with an unorthodox coach who has no NFL experience.
Fans and the media and some players will question Kelly’s collegial approach to football, wondering whether it will work with grown men. Whether it will work over a 16-game season. Whether it will work in a league where there are no Colorados or Tennessee Techs on the schedule.
It will work, if Kelly can remember what got him to the NFL and what brought him success in the past. The no-huddle offense? The habit of going for it on fourth down? Time will tell whether they work in the big time and whether Kelly needs to change his approach.
But the one thing he can’t afford to change is the core of what has made him successful at Oregon. Kelly’s teams didn’t just say “Win the Day,” after a victory; they lived it every day. And getting NFL players to follow that mantra will determine whether he is a success in Philadelphia.
The Xs and Os will be the easy part.
Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at greg.jaynecolumbian.com. To read his blog, go to columbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne