Chip Kelly's love for Oregon made for tough call

Chip Kelly's love for Oregon made for tough call
January 18, 2013, 3:46 am
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Chip Kelly either changed his mind or never made his mind up in the first place.

In his introductory press conference as the Eagles new head coach Thursday at the NovaCare Complex, Kelly portrayed the hours and days that followed his initial decision to remain at Oregon as a tug of war between his NFL coaching ambition and his commitment to Ducks' players and recruits.

I knew obviously I thought that this was the best spot, Kelly said. But theres so much more that goes into it, and I think thats what people have to realize. If Im leaving, what happens when I leave? Whos going to become the next head coach? What happens to those players? Youre not just making reservations for dinner, youre changing not only your life but a lot of other peoples lives.

Leaving Oregon for the NFL wasnt the kind of decision that Kelly planned to make LeBron James-style, in the blinding glow of the national spotlight and accompanied by surreal pomp and circumstance.

The popularity of social media and buzz that typically surrounds one of college footballs most high-profile coaches and one of the NFLs biggest-market franchises had turned the Jan. 5 interview in Scottsdale, Ariz., into a global attraction.

Kelly feared that any hasty public decision would threaten to destroy the relationships he had built back in Eugene, Ore.

First off, it was a very difficult decision for me, he said. It was more my timetable than anyone elses timetable. Im sure Jeffrey Lurie obviously wouldve given me a little more time to think about it, and I actually would. Im not stringing anybody along.

This thing was a very public thing and Im not a very public guy, so part of that was a very interesting thing. I made my decision and was comfortable in terms of it because of what Im going back to. If the worse thing in my life was that I was going to be the head coach of the University of Oregon, I think a lot of people would trade places with me because its a really, really special place.

Kelly spoke candidly and passionately during the press conference about the institution that he left behind Wednesday, when he agreed to become the 21st coach in Eagles history, and the program he built into a national powerhouse reputed for its uniquely up-tempo pace of action.

He emphasized the significance of the time outside of the spotlight in the days after Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens had announced Kellys initial decision to return in helping to peacefully change his mind about the Eagles job, but his story also left some blanks that might never be filled.

Kelly said his first no-thanks to the Eagles was truly binding at the time but downplayed his curious decision to let Mullens notify the media instead of appearing himself at the press conference.

When pressed for further explanation, the offensive mastermind took a defensive posture.

Because I wasnt doing anything, he said. I dont like this, to be honest with you. Too many people want to hear themselves talk. I decided that I was staying at the job I had, so I mean, if you go to work tomorrow are you going to make an announcement that youve decided youre going to work tomorrow? Thats kind of how I approached it, that theres nothing to say.

Kelly insisted that an ongoing NCAA investigation against the Ducks from potential violations incurred during his time there and the sanctions that might ensue didnt influence his decision to leave.

Pete Carroll, the Seattle Seahawks coach, similarly denied three years ago that NCAA sanctions propelled his exit from Southern California, which in June of 2010 was hit with four years of probation that included a two-year bowl ban.

We fully cooperated with the NCAA and will continue to fully cooperate with them, Kelly said That had no factor into my decision.

One point Kelly made clear was that he wouldnt follow in the footsteps of Bobby Petrino or Nick Saban, two high-profile coaches who at different times bolted from their college jobs for the NFL only to return to college well before their contracts were up.

Saban, who just won his fourth national title, third with Alabama, fled for the Crimson Tide after compiling a 15-17 record for the Miami Dolphins, who had lured him away from LSU.

Petrino didnt even last one full season with the Atlanta Falcons, who signed him away from Louisville in 2007. He went 3-10 and then left in the middle of the night for Arkansas, a ship jump that burned bridges in Atlanta and NFL circles.

Im all in, Kelly said before providing a historical analogy. I think it was Spanish conqueror Cortez who burned the boats. Ive burned the boats, so Im not going back. Im in. Im an NFL coach and this is where I want to be. If there was any indecision in terms of not wanting to be in, I wouldnt have made the jump. I made the jump and Im here and Im excited to be here.

Kelly had met with Lurie, general manager Howie Roseman and president Don Smolenski for nine hours at the Four Seasons, just one day after the Ducks had trampled Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl.

The following day, Kelly returned to Eugene, and the Eagles search committee, which had already met with Falcons assistants Mike Nolan and Keith Armstrong, boarded a flight to Denver for an interview with Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.

Kelly had also met with the Browns and Bills before sitting down with the Eagles but Lurie left the desert feeling confident that no NFL team other than the Eagles were in the running and that Kelly sincerely would decide between the Eagles and Ducks.

Even after they had heard back from Kelly, who informed them hed be returning for a fifth season as Oregons head coach, Lurie never crossed Kellys name off his list.

There is a human side of Chip that is very appealing, Lurie said. He does feel a very strong connection to players and Phil Knight at Oregon and the staff there. That to me was a positive.

When he went to Oregon it took him a week to leave New Hampshire to go to Oregon because he needed time. It was an impressive move to go to UNH to Oregon but even then he took a week to decide. So we never took no as a full no because we knew he was torn, and we knew there was no competition for Chip. It was just did he want to stay or did he want to come to us.

Even before the search team had boarded Luries private jet for Phoenix, a report had surfaced Friday night that Kelly and the Browns were closing in on a deal. Kelly dismissed the report as nothing more than politicking that came from someone outside of his camp.

I dont know if its a shock to you, but sometimes things that are printed arent always true, he said. I said my whole approach was that like a high school recruit. I was going to take my three official visits and then make a determination on what the best spot for me was, and that was always my plan.

I was always going to visit with all three teams that expressed interest in talking to me. I said I would always sit down, and when I did listen it was evident to me that I was either going to go to Philadelphia or stay in Oregon.

Only a few days passed before the Eagles had heard from someone close to Kelly that the coach had second thoughts about staying at Oregon and still had interest in coaching the Eagles.

The Eagles had targeted Kelly as their top choice early in the search and put him back atop their checklist when he re-entered the picture, even though he had already spurned them once.

Kelly had told them he just needed time to make sure the Ducks were in good hands going forward and the right forum to inform his players of his decision to leave. The five-year deal was finalized Wednesday morning, only after Kelly had spoken to his team around 8:15 a.m. in Eugene.

Until he told his players, I dont think we couldve ever known for sure, Lurie said. I think I was waiting for him to tell his players. He felt that was the most important thing that he was going to be the one to tell his players and not hear about it from the media. He didnt like the way some other situations had occurred in football and in college. Thats what happened.

Before he opened his arms to an NFL career, Kelly endured a tearful goodbye to the players and coaches who helped him build Oregon into a Pac-12 juggernaut and nationally renowned program.

For me, it was just very, very difficult to say goodbye to a bunch of men that I truly love and respect, he said. The way our players handled it when I talked to them the other day was nothing short of amazing to me. I probably cried more than they did, but they just wanted the best for me just like what I wanted for them.

I knew this was the place for me. It was just trying to figure out a way to do it the right way and I wanted to be the first to tell my players. I think a lot of guys want to know how this came out of left field, but again, I want to tell you how impressed I was with both Howie Roseman and Jeffrey that they allowed me to do this in a manner where my players were going to find out from me first-hand and it wasnt going to be something that they saw on a Twitter account or saw on a local TV station. That part is extremely important to me.

E-mail Geoff Mosher at gmosher@comcastsportsnet.com.

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