Chip Kelly, the head football coach at Oregon recently turned down an offer to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This after several websites and twitter were all aflutter with stories of his cross-country relocation and upgrade to the NFL. Kelly will stay and Oregon and that is the smartest move he’s made since starting a relationship with Willie Lyles. Plain and simple, the move to the NFL is not nearly the guaranteed of success that staying in Eugene is.
Time was when the NFL just paid better. Contracts were more lucrative therefore college coaches made the leap and fell into a bigger pool of cash. Not anymore. Chip makes somewhere in the vicinity of $3.4 million dollars as a collegiate coach and with bonuses his compensation only goes up. That was before his Rose Bowl win and the NFL came calling. Salaries for head coaches are escalating, and guys like Mack Brown makes over $5 million a year. The average NFL coach makes $3.2 million a year. The money doesn’t make the move smart especially when you consider the other factors.
Oregon is now officially a top 5 coaching job. We would have laughed all this off decade ago but since then Oregon has risen meteorically with the help of smart hiring and the marketing of Nike. We laugh at the various uniform combinations that the Ducks trot out in a given year. You know who isn’t laughing? High school recruits. Flashy uniforms aren’t the only things that Nike’s influence pays for, Oregon’s new academic support building is 37,000 square feet and costs by conservative estimates in the range of $41 million, all paid for personally by Phil Knight. No one knows the exact cost because Phil won’t say, but consider that Miami is building a new academic center that is 30,000 square feet for around $12 million. Oregon also has a six-story 130,000 square foot football center currently under construction. Once everything is said and done, Oregon will have the best facilities in the country. Chip Kelly has a recruiting juggernaut at Oregon that he wouldn’t have in Tampa.
Nick Saban figured it out, so did Steve Spurrier, want your pick of the best athletes in the world? Go back to college. The NFL has these annoying rules about salary caps, contracts, draft position, and free agency. College football has no such restriction. Nick Saban can walk into whichever recruits living room he chooses and woo said recruit on the virtues of the Crimson Tide. Chip Kelly has done the same thing, bringing in top 20 recruiting classes to Oregon. With the Ducks profile, a national championship game in the middle of three straight BCS games, Oregon plays second fiddle to no one. Contrast that with the Buccaneers.
The Bucs went from 10 wins to 2 wins in one season. Chalk it up to a tougher schedule, the growing pains of a young team and the nature of the NFL. Want to make the playoff in the NFC South? Great, just go beat Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Rookie of the Year Cam Newton. Try to do that with a quarterback who took several steps back this season. Now at Oregon, Chip Kelly could get on a private jet, fly to some 5-star guys front door and pitch him on the joys of the O with its 78 uniform combos . Problem solved. In the NFL, Kelly would have to groom Josh Freeman into an elite quarterback or hope the right guys falls to him in the draft or pay out the nose for a free agent.
The college system is tailor made for Chip Kelly to compete for a national title every couple of years. The NFL system is tailor made for parody.
Kelly has several incredible advantages at Oregon, including longevity. As long as he uses the vast resources at his disposal wisely he can stay at Oregon, win the PAC 12, play for national titles, recruit top-flight talent, and be as offensively innovative as he chooses. Not so in the NFL. The NFL is a win now league. It’s also a copycat league. For all the offensive innovation at Oregon, the Ducks still rely primarily on running the football using the quarterback in a scheme to do so. Would his system work in the NFL? Would the Bucs brass be patient enough to let him get the roster needed to implement his philosophies? A lot of people point to Jim Harbough as an example of a college guy who made the leap to the pros and succeeded in doing so. Here’s the distinction, Harbough ran a pro-style system at Stanford using, a lock number one pick as his quarterback for the last two years. He also walked into the worst division in the league. He had success and will have more, but the learning curve wasn’t has steep as it would be for Kelly.
The closer comparison is Steve Spurrier. Spurrier ran the aggressive “fun-n-gun offense” at Florida. He ran four and five wide sets and blew up the SEC in the process. He arrived in the NFL and found out Vanderbilt was no longer on the schedule and his college philosophies didn’t translate. Let’s admit that Spurrier was never known as a guy who went blind watching film and didn’t burn much midnight oil, both things that Kelly was known for, but the difficulties of transitioning are similar.
Chip Kelly will walk into Autzen Stadium next year with the number two ranked team in America instead of a two win team. Chip’s a smart guy and proved it by staying a Duck.