Oregon Ducks head coach Chip Kelly has spent the last month getting his team ready to play in the Fiesta Bowl, but he has also spent most of the last week dealing with rumors about what his future holds.
According to a report from Mike Garafolo and Erick Smith of USA Today, Kelly will interview with three NFL teams over the next few days.
He will interview with the Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills about their respective vacancies, according to a person informed of Kelly's plans to meet with the teams.
Obviously, not trying to be a distraction for his current team as they prepare for a BCS game, Kelly is saying all the right things in interviews. He told Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian that all of his attention right now is on the Ducks.
I've said this a million times. I'm never surprised by anything. I do not know what the future holds. I do know we have a football game tomorrow night and I'm going to be there.
Since Kelly's future, at least at this moment, will include discussions with NFL teams, it is as good a time as any to examine his legacy with Oregon if he does decide to walk away after Thursday night's game.
Kelly has been with the University of Oregon since 2007, when he took over as the team's offensive coordinator under head coach Mike Bellotti. The results his offense produced were felt immediately. The Ducks averaged nearly nine more points per game in his first year (38.1 to 29.4).
He would remain in the same position for the 2008 season, The offensive output continued to increase, as they averaged nearly 42 points per game. After the season, Bellotti would take over as Oregon's athletic director and Kelly took over as head coach.
A New Chapter
For years Oregon was a program that could get close to the mountaintop in the Pac-10, only to see USC snatch everything away.
Kelly's tenure launched a new era of Oregon football, and with it came new results for the program.
On the field, the Ducks would thrive immediately under their new head coach. They did lose their first game under Kelly, 19-8 against Boise State. After that they would win their next seven games, including a 47-20 thrashing of USC.
In his first season as head coach of the team, Kelly led Oregon to its first Rose Bowl since 1994. It would lose that game to Ohio State, but the foundation was put in place for this program to do something special.
Those results on the field, playing in the spread-option offense that was built on quick plays and speed, began to bleed over into recruiting for the program. Between his first and second season as head coach, Oregon went from No. 32 in recruiting to No. 13 (via Rivals.com).
In fact, since the 2010 season, the worst recruiting class that Kelly has had finished No. 16. His style of coaching, with a wide-open offense that would move the ball down the field at will, was obviously attractive to high school players who want to play in a real-life video game.
The Defining Season
After Kelly guided Oregon to the Rose Bowl in 2009, expectations were obviously high for the program in 2010. They started the season ranked No. 11 in both the USA Today and AP Top 25 polls.
It was not long into the year before you could see that Kelly's scheme and recruiting had finally meshed together for the Ducks. They won their first four games by a combined score of 231-44 heading into a showdown with Stanford, which was ranked No. 9 in the country.
After falling behind 21-3 in the first quarter, Oregon's relentless offensive attack took over. The Ducks scored 49 points over the final three quarters to win the game 52-31 and keep their undefeated season alive.
Oregon finished the regular season with a 12-0 record and an offense that averaged 49.3 points per game. It was the first time in school history that the team went undefeated in the regular season.
Kelly won the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award. Star running back LaMichael James became the first Oregon player since Joey Harrington in 2001 to be a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.
An undefeated regular season was rewarded with a trip to the BCS Championship Game against undefeated Auburn. Even though the Ducks would go on to lose a close game 22-19, Kelly had forever left his mark on this program.
Adding To The Legacy
Getting to a BCS Championship Game made Kelly into an icon in Oregon, but it is the level of consistency this program has played at for the last three years that has made him one of the most sought-after coaching candidates for NFL teams this offseason.
Including Thursday's Fiesta Bowl appearance, Oregon has played in four consecutive BCS games (2010 Rose Bowl, 2011 BCS Championship, 2012 Rose Bowl and 2013 Fiesta Bowl).
That level of consistency has been unmatched by anyone else since Kelly took over as head coach. Even Alabama had the one season under Nick Saban in 2010 where it missed the BCS with three losses.
The (Potential) Bad
For all the good that Kelly has done with the Oregon program in his four years as head coach, there are potential NCAA violations coming down due to money and recruits.
According to a March 2011 report from Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports, Oregon "paid more than $28,000 to two men with ties to multiple recruits who signed letters of intent with the school."
In a follow-up on December 19, 2012, Robinson and Rand Getlin of Yahoo! Sports reported that Oregon could not resolve the issue with the NCAA through summary disposition.
The sources said Oregon is now anticipating an appearance before the NCAA's committee on infractions (COI) this spring – something the school was hoping to avoid following an investigation into the football program's financial relationship with prep adviser Will Lyles.
If Kelly leaves the program in the midst of an NCAA investigation, his sterling on-field record and reputation will be altered forever.
Kelly has made Oregon into one of those programs that you make a point to watch each week, but all anyone ever remembers in a situation like this is the last thing they see.
As John Canzano of The Oregonian wrote, Kelly will use his leverage to get a better-paying gig in the NFL and let Oregon carry the burden for sins done under his watch.
Chip Kelly has an impressive record as a coach at Oregon, and I have no doubt he'll win in the NFL, but if we're talking about his legacy at Oregon, let it show that he probably gets to dance off, scot-free, and leave the Ducks holding the NCAA-investigation bag by themselves.
All it takes is one mistake to forever alter the perception of a coach and program. Kelly and Oregon are facing a situation that could diminish everything the two sides have spent the last four years building.
Speaking strictly on the field, Kelly has ushered in a new era of college football that no one in the country can match. His teams play faster on offense than anyone else, routinely driving down the field and scoring touchdowns in less than two minutes.
That style is one that plenty of teams try to mimic, yet none of them are able to recruit the athletes or execute it as well as Kelly's teams are able to.
There are extraneous factors that will ultimately determine what Kelly's legacy with Oregon is, especially if he chooses to leave. Right now, though, he has established himself as one of the best and most innovative coaches in all of football during his time with the Ducks.