Why Alabama should hire Chip Kelly as off. coordinator-and why Kelly should say yes
If Nick Saban truly meant the last line of his statement Tuesday following Steve Sarkisian's departure after exactly one game as Alabama's offensive coordinator, then Saban may have some recruiting to do.
“We appreciate all Coach Sarkisian did for our program during his time here,” Saban said in the statement. “He is an outstanding coach, and we wish him the best in his new role as Atlanta’s offensive coordinator. As always, when we have an opening on our staff, we will use it as an opportunity to go out and hire the best coach available.”
The best college offensive coach available right now is Chip Kelly. The question is whether Kelly, who has two NFL teams fighting over how to pay the buyouts both owe after firing him as their head coach, would want to work for a notoriously tough boss when multiple athletic directors will gleefully throw money at him during the coaching carousel that begins in November. Kelly doesn't need the job, so what's in it for him? Here's what Saban can say.
Kelly seems to like the lifestyle in the NFL better. He didn't have to recruit. He didn't have to gladhand boosters. His problem is that after flops in Philadelphia and San Francisco, no one is exactly lining up to hire him—even as an offensive coordinator. Alabama's offense has evolved over the years, but the system Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian left behind still looks like an NFL offense much of the time. Rather than bringing in his own scheme, Kelly could learn this one and add his own tweaks. That might show NFL teams that Kelly can adapt and is ready for another crack at that kind of offense.
But if Kelly has decided a return to college is best, he can go to the coach who wouldn't mind renting him for a year. Kelly could burnish his résumé ahead of a carousel that could feature some premium jobs, and Saban would get to pick the brain of one of the game's most innovative offensive minds for the next few months.
Kelly, meanwhile, could recruit for Alabama while also getting a head start on evaluations for his next job. As an assistant, he'd be allowed to go on the road in the spring. (Remember, head coaches can't evaluate recruits in person in April and May because a bunch of coaches got mad that Saban worked harder than they did in 2008.)
Kelly also might learn some valuable lessons before his next head-coaching stint. At New Hampshire and Oregon, he never had an opportunity to run an offense behind five blue-chip offensive linemen. If he were to wind up at, say, UCLA next year, he'd have a better of idea of what he could do with the type of players he'd be able to recruit. Plus, Kelly's offense will need to evolve. Dozens of programs copied what he did at Oregon. He couldn't simply dust off the old Ducks playbook and succeed. A season in Tuscaloosa would broaden his knowledge base and give him new ideas.
Kelly would inherit a quarterback whose skill set is similar to what he had at Oregon. Jalen Hurts isn't the most polished passer, but he's a great runner who has proven unflappable in high-stakes games. Kelly also has experience replacing a quarterback from Texas with one from Honolulu's St. Louis High. He could do that again if the situation dictated. Hurts would play the Darron Thomas role—though he wouldn't inexplicably turn pro—and freshman Tua Tagovailoa would play the Marcus Mariota role.
Kelly also hates answering questions from idiots like me. At Alabama, he wouldn't have to. With the exception of a few required postseason interview sessions, he could simply concentrate on making his offense better and helping Alabama win a fourth consecutive SEC title and earn a fourth consecutive College Football Playoff berth.
No, Kelly doesn't need the job. But this could be the ultimate football symbiosis. So pick up the phone, Nick.