The rumors are everywhere. The college and NFL reporters seem to agree that Chip Kelly is planning to leave Eugene for a new challenge in the pros. I don't know if Chip is leaving. I also don't know if he is staying. I do know that Oregon fans, even though this will be tough, should not lose their minds if Kelly decides to move on.
I believe this not because Kelly has been bad. I believe this because Chip Kelly has been so good.
Mike Bellotti may have put up the drywall of the program, but Kelly has designed it and given it character that will last beyond his tenure. Part of Kelly's greatness is this culture he's moulded. When I watch one of Oregon's drives I usually can't even appreciate what is happening until one of their backs is being lifted by an lineman after they get six. Their drives are like a beautifully constructed run-on sentence in Jack Kerouac's 'On the Road'. Kelly's has created a culture that goes beyond the field. There is a saying in Catalonia that describes what he has done. ‘Mas es un club' is the motto of F.C. Barcelona. It translates into, ‘More than a club.'
There are many similarities to this Spanish futbol superpower and the Oregon Duck football program. Barca is a club known for its academy of developing players through its culture. While some European clubs spend the GDP of small nations to acquire players already established, Barca's approach is much more restrained than their Euro rivals. They have the ability to supplement their squad with veterans grown elsewhere but their bread is buttered at home. Oregon may not haul in the five star talent as often as USC, Texas, and LSU but, thanks to Kelly and the system he's engrained in Eugene they get as good as, if not better, results.
On paper, the Barcelona midfielders Xavi and Iniesta don't match up to some of soccer's finest physiques of Drogba and Christiano Ronaldo. The don't run as fast, they can't jump as high, and they can't lift as much. But the accumulation of culture that is embedded in their DNA levels the playing field and allows the synapses to fire off earlier and enables a seemingly telepathic communication link between these former students. The students become masters because they have the same teachings. When a new young Barca player breaks into the first team, it's natural to see the same environment shaped him as the older players he shares the field with. This has become a strength at Oregon that few teams can claim. When Kenyon Barner finds a seam, I can see his Nikes hitting the footsteps that the ghost of LaMichael James has left for him. A Xavi to Thiago, a Masoli to Thomas. An Iniesta to dos Santos, a Pflugard to Huff. These wasp of athletes would never be picked based on stature. However, when on the field, both Barca and Oregon's players seem to create the illusion of time and space around them. Only it isn't an illusion. It's the concrete manifestations of Kelly and Barca's philosophies giving their players advantages. These two systems are able to mine the potent ore that would go wasted at in most other environments. It's why Kelly can find players in Texas and make Heisman finalists out of them.
The Barca manager reigns have been passed to the number two man twice recently. Because of the culture and the stability of the club, the results have been outstanding. They don't spend millions buying out a contract, and millions more luring a manager from another club. This avoids a brand new system that has to be learned and implemented. It allows not only for the current culture to survive, but also for it to evolve and grow.
What Oregon has is unique. It something that AD's at most programs would love to have. The uniforms are part of it. Nike is part of it. Autzen is part of it. Chip Kelly is part of it. If Chip Kelly leaves, don't change right away. Give the job to his number two man. The coach he's spent hours with teaching his philosophy. A culture isn't created overnight and it can't be torn down overnight. I'm not saying it will be easy to watch Kelly leave, and I'm not saying the success is guaranteed to continue with out him. What I'm saying is that the philosophy that Kelly has implemented is worth saving and growing.
If Kelly does decide to leave, give Mark Helfrich a chance. He's seen the way Kelly runs practices, he's seen the way Kelly makes his game plans. I'm not claiming that Helfrich is as good as Kelly or that Kelly won't be missed. Maybe Helfrich turns out to be Larry Coker and the results erode every year, but the foundation is there for the near future. With Helfrich off the field and Mariota with three more years of eligibility remaining, Oregon isn't going to fade away without Kelly. Make the transition of power a peaceful one, Oregon. Learn from what Barcelona has done in Catalonia and bring it to ‘Cascadia'. Don't disrupt your culture, embrace it.