After all the drama, Chip Kelly is leaving Oregon

Oregon faces a future without Chip Kelly after all.

The team’s enigmatic coach of four years surprised the Ducks
with an early morning phone call Wednesday to say he was leaving to
become head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, just a little more
than a week after he told Oregon he was staying.

Oregon responded by assuming the ”Next Man In” philosophy that
Kelly had always preached at Oregon for replacing key players.

Kelly had barely boarded a flight for Philadelphia when the
Ducks swung the search for his replacement into gear. A job posting
for ”Head Football Coach” appeared within hours on the
university’s website.

”We’re here moving forward. We’re not going to worry about what
happened. He made a decision that was best for him and we wish him
well,” athletic director Rob Mullens said. ”He’s been great for
Oregon football and we’re moving on.”

Mullens said Wednesday that he had already been contacted by
search firms, although he had not heard from any individual
candidates outside the program.

He set no timeline for replacing Kelly, except to say the Ducks
will ”move as fast as we can” – much like the team’s warp-speed
offense under Kelly.

”We had already done a lot of groundwork, we had already
started the process, knowing that Chip was going to be talking to
the Eagles, Bills and Browns. We had geared up our process. We had
obviously shut it down, but it’s easy to click right back on.”

A person close to the team who spoke on the condition of
anonymity because the coaching search is ongoing told The
Associated Press early Wednesday that offensive coordinator Mark
Helfrich was still considered the ”frontrunner.” Under Oregon
state law, the school must also interview at least one qualified
minority candidate for the job.

Mullens acknowledged there were internal candidates, but there
was no ”leader in the clubhouse.”

”The expectation for this program has shifted,” Mullens said.
”We want to win Pac-12 championships. We want to win BCS
bowls.”

Kelly set the bar high.

Kelly was 46-7 in four years as head coach at Oregon. The Ducks
have been to four straight BCS bowl games – including a bid for the
national championship against Auburn in 2011 – and have won three
Pac-12 championships.

He originally came to the Ducks in 2007 as offensive coordinator
under head coach Mike Bellotti. Kelly was selected to be Bellotti’s
successor before Bellotti left the job.

Oregon finished last season 12-1. The team was ranked No. 1 and
appeared headed for another shot at the national championship until
a 17-14 overtime loss to Stanford on Nov. 17. The Ducks wound up
No. 2 in the final AP poll after beating Kansas State in the Fiesta
Bowl early this month.

The Ducks will likely move forward with hiring a coach quickly,
because signing day for football recruits is on Feb. 6.

Shortly after the move was announced, several potential recruits
went to Twitter to express their surprise, including Nico Falah, an
offensive tackle from Bellflower, Calif., who wrote: ”Chip Kelly
left?!?! He was at my house 2 days ago.”

Following Oregon’s Fiesta Bowl victory, Kelly flirted with three
NFL teams: Philadelphia, Cleveland and Buffalo. But after a wild
weekend of interviews amid rumors and speculation, Kelly told the
Ducks he was staying put.

But just nine days later, Kelly called Mullens to tell him he’d
changed his mind.

KEZI-TV of Eugene caught Kelly at the Eugene airport as he
prepared to leave for Philadelphia.

”It took so long to make it just because the people here are
special. The challenge obviously is exciting for me, but it’s an
exciting time (and) it’s a sad time – saying goodbye to people you
love and respect, and I wanted to make sure I talked to my players
and did it in the right fashion and talked to our staff,” Kelly
told the television station. ”I feel like I did.”

Oregon’s new coach will undoubtedly face possible fallout from
an NCAA investigation into the school’s use of recruiting
services.

The inquiry is the result of reports that surfaced in 2011
concerning payments Oregon made to two such services, including a
$25,000 check sent to Willie Lyles and Houston-based Complete
Scouting Services in 2010. Lyles had a connection with a player who
committed to Oregon.

Oregon had requested a summary disposition in the case and
presented a report to the NCAA infractions committee outlining
violations the school believed occurred and appropriate sanctions.
But last month Yahoo Sports reported that Oregon is headed toward a
hearing with the committee because the two sides couldn’t reach an
agreement.

The NCAA does not comment on ongoing investigations. The hearing
could come as early as this spring.

But on the field, the Ducks appear sound. The team will return
two of its most dynamic players next season: redshirt freshman
quarterback Marcus Mariota, and speedy sophomore running back
De’Anthony Thomas, who ran for a 94-yard touchdown on the opening
kickoff of the Fiesta Bowl.