Oregon head coach Chip Kelly.
This is the second in a four part series with SBNation's Oregon blog, Addicted To Quack. Each week leading up to the Rose Bowl, David Piper, who contributes to ATQ, will answer five questions for us and I'll answer five questions for them. Last week we got a general introduction to the Oregon program. This week, we take a look at the head coaches. In the final two parts, we'll get into a deeper breakdown of the game by looking at what to watch for when each team has the ball.
My answers to ATQ's questions can be found here.
B5Q: Chip Kelly is one of the few coaches in football that doesn’t have a strong background in playing the game. What led him to Eugene? How did he make the jump from small colleges in New England to a big program like Oregon? Also, give us a refresher on the whole Mike Bellotti becomes athletic director and then he resigns thing. Would it be safe to say that was a good thing for Oregon because Kelly took over?
ATQ: When Oregon switched to the spread in 2005, Mike Bellotti hired Gary Crowton to run it. Two years later, Crowton moved onto LSU, but recommended to Bellotti this unknown guy out of New Hampshire. Bellotti interviewed and hired him, and in his first year he turned Dennis Dixon into the best player in college football, and two years later, Bellotti retired and Kelly was named the head coach. Obviously, the athletic director thing didn’t work out for Bellotti, as he didn’t really enjoy the job and a new university president came in and decided that he wanted an experienced administrator running his athletic department. Despite my eternal love for Bellotti, it's safe to say it was a great move for Oregon. The results speak for themselves.
B5Q: In Big Ten country, the spread offense has been nothing more than a fad and in most cases, it has failed miserably and gotten a lot of coaches fired. How has Kelly been able to maintain success with Oregon’s spread offense?
ATQ: It's really no different than any other offense. You have to have talented players and the depth to withstand injuries. Unlike a pro-set, speed is more important than power, although many of our best players have had both. Oregon’s pace is certainly unique, but you can run a spread offense without it. But, looking at Big Ten country, Northwestern has done just fine with a spread, at least by Northwestern standards. Rich Rodriguez didn’t get fired because of his offense, he got fired because he didn’t have a defense. Ron Zook got fired because Ron Zook isn’t a good football coach. There is nothing unique about the Big Ten. I’m sure Urban Meyer will bring in his spread and do just fine.
B5Q: We’ve all seen the funny play cards on the sideline. Does anyone actually know how they work?
ATQ: No. I’m not even 100% convinced that they mean anything at all.
B5Q: Chip Kelly’s background is offense, but since he’s taken over it doesn’t seem like there has been much of an emphasis on defense. How big of a concern is that for Oregon fans and is it something Kelly gets criticized for?
ATQ: It only seems like there hasn’t been much of an emphasis on defense to those who don’t pay attention. The offense gets the national accolades because of how many points they put up, but the defense the last three years has been absolutely outstanding. They are going to give up some points because they face so many plays due to the offensive pace, but, on a per play basis, Oregon has ranked first, first, and second in the conference defensively. They have far more talent and have produced better in each of Kelly’s three years than they did under any years of the Mike Bellotti era. Any idea that Oregon doesn’t play defense is a myth. Since Kelly’s arrival, the transformation of the defense has probably been more responsible for the elevation of the program than the innovation on offense. We’ll talk more about the defense next week, but they have been very good for some time now.
B5Q: What is the status of the NCAA investigation at Oregon, what caused it and is Kelly in any hot water over the issue?
ATQ: The long and short of it is that Oregon paid Willie Lyles, a talent scout who also had close relationships to players, $25,000 dollars to get access to those players through him. Other schools (Cal, Texas, LSU, specifically) have also made payments to Lyles, though the figures aren’t as high as Oregon’s $25,000 sum. The money was supposedly for a "recruiting service," though the materials produced were of a very poor quality. We know Oregon paid for access. No realistic fan would dispute that. The question is just how against the rules it is. No players received improper benefits. Lyles wasn’t paid for commitments. Some have suggested that he became an "Oregon booster" the minute he was paid, but he was also on the payroll of several other schools. Everything was cleared through compliance, and it appears that Oregon was playing in a gray area of the rules (it's worth noting that it has come out that this practice was started under Bellotti, when Oregon tried to recruit Adrian Peterson, and his high school coaches wouldn’t give Oregon any access, as UT wanted him as well). Oregon has received a letter of inquiry from the NCAA. I suspect that the NCAA will change the rulebook to make it crystal clear that this is prohibited. But the worst I see is some kind of slap on the wrist. Probation. Maybe at worst a couple of scholarships. This isn’t like the USC or Ohio State situations. There is no indication that Chip has been untruthful with the NCAA. And no players received any benefits. I think Chip and the program will both be fine, but with the NCAA you never know for sure.
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