GLENDALE Ariz. — De’Anthony Thomas took the suspense out of the Fiesta Bowl in 12 seconds on Thursday, taking the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown.
Now, can anyone catch Chip Kelly?
Kelly has gone where no other coach has gone before — in four years as Oregon’s head coach, he has taken the Ducks to 46 victories and four BCS games.
The latest, a 35-17 humbling of Kansas State in the Tostito’s Fiesta Bowl, shifts the focus from the team he has built onto the one that he might be Godfathered into. Given his resume, Kelly seems certain to receive an offer or two for one of the seven NFL vacancies. There may be one he cannot refuse.
Steve Spurrier received $25 million to leave Florida for the Washington Redskins 11 years ago. Times are tougher now, and there will be more taxable income, but the money can be so tempting, no matter how many shoes there are in the Phil Knight collection.
Kelly said he would speak to his agent, Dave Dunn, either late Thursday or early Friday and then move into the listening stage.
Kelly has been mentioned as a candidate for several NFL jobs, and he is to interview with the Buffalo Bills on Friday, according to several published reports. Kelly also has been linked to jobs in Cleveland and Philadelphia, according to other reports. Arizona Cardinals president Bill Bidwill got a first-hand look from his box in the University of Phoenix Stadium, where the Cardinals play, on Thursday night.
“I’ve said I’ll always listen. That’s what I’ll do,” said Kelly, who was approached by Tampa Bay last winter but did not find a fit.
“It’s a fact-find mission. See what fits and doesn’t fit. I’ve been in one interview in my life. That’s what this deal is all about for me. If people do call, we’ll try to get it wrapped up quickly and move on. People want to talk to us because of our players. It’s an honor that someone would say they want to talk to me. It’s because of what those guys do.”
Well, sort of.
The players do what Kelly designs.
That’s what motivates the NFL’s interest.
Kelly is considered an offensive innovator, and some would call him a radical thinker. He builds around speed on both sides of ball, and that never was more evident than in the Fiesta Bowl victory over a solid Kansas State team.
Thomas was untouched on his return, too fast for a Wildcat to get an angle. Quarterback Marcus Mariota, who set a school record with a 68.5 completion percentage this season, escaped the pocket and outran defenders several times while accounting for three touchdowns. Mariota also set a school record with 38 rushing/passing touchdowns this season, a product of Kelly’s system.
Kelly has turned the Ducks into a national power. They have become among the handful of teams that can be penciled in every year as top conference and national contenders. They will finish in the top five of the final poll for the third consecutive year. The program is thriving beyond its wildest expectations, even as the Ducks face possible NCAA sanctions moving forward.
Other than remaining the king of Oregon, what else is left?
Kelly has nothing else to prove here. The Ducks fans know as much.
“We want Chip” the Oregon fans chanted in unison before the trophy presentation on the field.
Then came “Four more years.”
The question an NFL organization might ask is, will Kelly’s system work at the next level? The system revolves around a fast, quick-thinking quarterback who can make the proper decision in the blink of an eye. Mariota did that. Darron Thomas did that the previous two seasons. But it opens the quarterback up to extra contact, and possible injury.
Washington made the playoffs this season with run/pass Robert Griffin III at quarterback, but Mike Shanahan’s decision to draft a second rookie quarterback, Kirk Cousins, helped push Washington over the hump after Griffin was KO’d.
Moving to the NFL is not always the best move, as hindsight shows. Spurrier resigned less than three years into his five-year, $25 million deal before finding safe haven at South Carolina, where he has resuscitated his career. Nick Saban didn’t last with the Miami Dolphins.