Allow me to add my applause of Oregon coach Chip Kelly to the growing chorus. In handing down suspensions to Jeremiah Masoli (entire 2010 season) and LaMichael James (at least one game), Kelly has almost assured his Ducks will dip this fall. Losing a probable Heisman candidate for a year and a leading rusher for some stretch makes considering Oregon the prohibitive Rose Bowl favorite and a top-tier national title contender is a thing of the past.
But Kelly's stance has nothing to do with the football field, and everything to do with the young men who play on it. His commitment to trusting his players, valuing their integrity and honesty, and permitting them to pay penance for mistakes is where he wins.
James didn't get Masoli's punishment. That's because he didn't lie to Kelly, and didn't commit as serious a crime. The strangulation and assault charges James was once facing were dropped, and court documents in James' case reveal that his altercation with his then-girlfriend got no more physical than James "removing" her from the area in front of the door of his apartment, "grabbing" her by her collar and "pushing" her against his car. What James did was criminal, but he owned up to it from the jump, to both police and Kelly, and he was sentenced accordingly. Where Masoli lied and covered up his crime, James opened up about his. It's no shock that James maintained his trust with Kelly, and Masoli didn't.
But that honesty from James gave Kelly a convenient out. Kelly could have gotten away with not punishing James at all, tossing off some lines about the value of honesty and the punishment James already faced legally -- ten days in jail, which turned into ten days of electronic surveillance thanks to overcrowding, and two years of probation -- being enough for his crimes. He didn't, putting James on the bench for at least one game, maybe more if he doesn't behave to Kelly's standards.
The suspensions of Masoli and James and the various punishments meted out to the rest of the downed Ducks are evidence that Chip Kelly will not let criminal or indefensibly stupid acts from his players go unpunished. But his forgiveness for Blount, and, theoretically, for Masoli and James, proves that Kelly believes that the young men he is teaching deserve both reprimand and a chance to make restitution. Kelly may not have a hard-and-fast set of rules, but he has rules that make sense for him and his program, and he applies them to people while disregarding their value as players.
It's admirable, if almost quaint: sport as a way to build character for life, not just a vehicle to make money and generate glory. Chip Kelly gets that, and displays it through his essential decency and clear commitment to teaching, not just coaching.
I still think Oregon will soar on the field under Chip Kelly. But even if the Ducks don't ever reach the heights of the Rose Bowl again, their coach's character ensures they will show their plumage proudly.â†µ
This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.