Saturday, March 14, 2009

Chip in charge

The uncertainty at Oregon finally ended on Friday when coach Mike Bellotti announced that he is stepping down on March 30 to become athletic director. Offensive coordinator Chip Kelly, who had already been declared the coach-in-waiting, will take over as head coach.

Of course, Kelly really had been in charge for some time -- Bellotti made it clear that Kelly was making staff decisions when defensive line coach Michael Gray and receivers coach Robin Pflugrad were let go shortly after the season.
"I allowed Chip to address the entire staff, talk with each coach. Those are the only two positions where he's going to bring in people."
It doesn't seem that there will be much transition for the players, and there probably won't be a whole lot for the staff, either -- the only guy who will see a significant shift in duties is Kelly. But that begs the question as to whether the Ducks' insanely potent offense will be able to maintain its, um, potency.

Make no mistake: While Oregon athletic director Pat Kilkenny likes pretty much everything about Kelly, his mind for offense is the reason he's now in charge. In Kelly's two years with the Ducks, the offense has set 24 school records. In 2007, Oregon was 10th in total offense and 12th in scoring offense. In 2008, those numbers improved to seventh and seventh despite the loss of Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart to the NFL.

The guy knows how to put points on the board -- the only question now is whether he knows how to run a team. It's not always easy to do both, but it's certainly been done -- Urban Meyer and Rich Rodriguez seem like reasonable comparisons given Kelly's offensive aptitude, and if he enjoys anywhere near the success those guys have had, Oregon should be in good shape.

And Kelly might get a 6-foot, 215-pound welcoming gift this week -- running back Bryce Brown, the nation's top player according to Rivals (although one that comes with some baggage), is set to announce his college destination on Monday. It's believed to be between Miami and Oregon (although LSU and Tennessee are also in the mix), and with some debate over whether the Hurricanes are still interested, there's a good chance Brown will end up wearing an Oregon uniform, whatever color it may be.

Assuming that Brown commits, it'll cap off one of the most bizarre offseasons in recent memory. It's not often that a team loses it's star running back (LaGarrette Blount) to an indefinite suspension, has its coach resign in March and gets the top recruit in the country a full month after Signing Day.

What's even more remarkable is that despite all the drama and uncertainy, there's a good chance Oregon will come out the other end looking just as strong in 2009 and beyond.

As for Bellotti, regardless of how you want to dissect his lack of Pac-10 championships (just one) or Rose Bowl berths (none), he retires as the undisputed greatest coach in Oregon history. His record of 116–55 speaks for itself, and he just missed playing in two national championship games -- in 2001, when the Ducks got jobbed by the BCS computers in favor of a Nebraska team that was steamrolled by Miami, and in 2007, when Dennis Dixon's knee blew up and the team, ranked #2 at the time, proceeded to lose its next three games.

Simply put, Bellotti built on predecessor Rich Brooks' success and put Oregon on the map nationally (with a little help from Nike, of course). The Ducks might never overtake USC atop the Pac-10, but the fact that they're even in the conversation has to be worth something.

Dr. Saturday, the master of statistical evidence, brings it to us in chart form:

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