After four years as Oregon's head coach, Chip Kelly has left the ranks of college to tackle the challenge of the NFL. - Jeff Gross
In his four years at Oregon, Chip Kelly raised the Ducks to previously undreamed of heights. His departure creates the potential of a power vacuum that 11 other Pac-12 coaches and teams will scramble to fill.
Judging from the tone of our comments section, there is a sizable contingent of Washington fans who wanted nothing more in the upcoming season than to beat an Oregon Duck team under the command of Chip Kelly in the first year of the reopened Husky Stadium. Even after losing to the Ducks nine consecutive times, all of them blowouts by no less than 17 points, these Dawg fans would go to bed with visions of spoiling an undefeated Oregon season dancing in their heads.
To those fans, I say this: You may not realize it right now, but Chip Kelly's departure to the NFL is the best thing to happen to the Washington program since Mark Emmert and Scott Woodward fired Ty Willingham after the 2008 0-12 season.
Simply put, Oregon under the Chipster was one of the most dominant programs in modern college football history. In his six years with the team (as offensive coordinator from 2007 to 2008, and as head coach from 2009 to 2012), the two-time winner of the Pac-12 Coach of the Year award led the Ducks to a record of 65-14, including a 46-7 mark as head coach. To put that winning percentage (.868) into perspective, consider that such legendary coaches as Pete Carroll (.823), Nick Saban (.609) and Don James (.568) fall short of Kelly's standard in their first four year as head coaches. Granted, with the possible exception of Carroll, none of those men came into a program with cupboards as loaded as Kelly's when he took over at Oregon, but it speaks volumes about his coaching abilities that Kelly was able to initially maintain the high level at which Oregon was operating under Mike Bellotti, and seamlessly transform the Ducks from a top-25 program into a consistent national title contender.
But no matter how dominant Oregon has been against their opponents, under Kelly, they saved some of their best performances for the Huskies. In the six years that Kelly has run Oregon's high-octane offense, the Ducks outscored Washington by 281-117 (40.1 ppg vs. 26.7 ppg). Those points were the product of the Ducks' seemingly unstoppable running attack that produced 24 rushing touchdowns against the Dawgs in that span, versus just 11 passing TDs. In fact, the only game in the streak in which the Ducks scored more touchdowns through the air than on the ground was 2012, when Marcus Mariota threw for four scores compared to the two ground TDs that came courtesy of De'Anthony Thomas and Byron Marshall.
As Chip Kelly's handpicked understudy, it's likely that the Oregon offense will look much the same under new head coach Mark Helfrich as it has under his predecessor, at least initially. As the years pass and Kelly's influence begins to wane, though, the idea that Oregon must return to Earth seems almost inevitable, for one simple reason: It'll be a monumental task for Helfrich to even begin to emulate Kelly's success, let alone exceed it. However you might feel about Kelly, there's no denying that he is one of the most electrifying coaches in the history of college football, and that the Pac-12 Conference lost a good deal of its luster when he departed to the NFL.
In my view, it's a huge weight off of the shoulders of Steve Sarkisian that Kelly's departure comes in the year in which college football pundits have long predicted would be Washington's best chance to break into the upper echelon of college football teams. With the Dawgs expected to return 18 starters in 2012, Sark and the rest of the coaching staff no longer get to cry "youth!" as an explanation for blowout losses to teams they weren't expected to beat, and head-scratching losses to teams that have no business even hanging around with the Dawgs in the fourth quarter, like Washington State in the 2012 Apple Cup. Beat Oregon in 2012, and not only does Sark provide a signature win for the season in the new stadium's maiden year, he also denies Oregon fans the opportunity to repeat the phrase "decade of dominance" ad nauseam. Lose to the Ducks, however, and Sark not only surrenders bragging rights for another year, but also loses what currently looms as Washington's biggest home game of the season.
Whatever happens in 2012, Duck fans can rest assured in knowing that Chip Kelly's name will long be synonymous with high-scoring, mile-a-minute offenses. And though Kelly himself won't roam the sidelines of Oregon games next year, there's little doubt that his influence on the game will reverberate for years, if not decades, to come.