Chip Kelly, 'worst ever' hire: NFL people, please study up before you dismiss

Steve Dykes

Didn't take long at all for a NFL analyst to wade out of his depth on the subject of Chip Kelly.

I believe Heath Evans, former NFL player and current NFL.com analyst, does not spend much time thinking about college football. This conclusion is based on the article he's written at NFL.com on the Philadelphia Eagles hiring Chip Kelly away from Oregon.


Related: Will Chip Kelly give Michael Vick another chance?


There are reasons to criticize the hire. Kelly's likely getting a daunting level of personnel control, he's never worked for a NFL franchise and there's no telling how his systems (on the field and off) will translate to a different league.

But the three reasons Evans chose to use to discredit the hire (he calls it, "one of the worst hires in pro football history," and says it, "simply won't work") have nothing to do with anything.

For the past four years, Kelly has had the biggest recruiting advantage ever known to a college coach. His name is Phil Knight, the CEO of Nike and a major University of Oregon donor and school alumnus who pumps millions of dollars into the football program each year. Despite the enormous benefits of this relationship, Kelly has yet to bring a BCS title to Eugene.

In four years with the Ducks, he has a 46-7 record, but has never finished higher than third in the polls, including 2010 when he lost to Auburn in the BCS National Championship game. In the NFL, you don't get 10 first-round picks, and in Philly, the league's best free agents aren't lining up to join the Eagles.

Chip Kelly's highest-ever recruiting ranking, according to Rivals: No. 9, in 2011. Other than that, he's ranked No. 32 and in the teens. His current class ranks No. 44 and is so unremarkable that actual recruiting analyst Bud Elliott described it as no big loss if it happens to tatter due to Kelly's exit. But, yes, dumb ol' Kelly simply coasted to wins on the wave of elite talent purchased for him by somebody else.


Related: What's next for Eagles?


Oregon doesn't even have the best recruiting advantages in its own conference, let alone the nation, let alone ever. USC out-recruits Oregon every year, often out-recruiting everyone in the country. USC has more talent than Oregon -- it always has, and it likely always will, and yet Kelly's Ducks just set the all-time record for points scored against a Trojans team.

What Knight's money has done is bring Oregon's facilities, uniforms and coaching salaries up to par with the elite. It has not created an incredible advantage no one else in the sport can hope to top.

In fact, what Oregon's recruiting rankings tell us is that Kelly is a shrewd evaluator who can pluck system-compatible pieces from less-than-ideal sets. That sounds like the goal of the NFL Draft to me.

The talent scale Evans describes ("10 first-round picks") doesn't exist at Alabama, let alone the Pacific Northwest.

(Plus, I promise you mobile quarterbacks and fast skill position players will indeed line up to play for Kelly.)

A month and a half ago, Stanford beat Oregon 17-14 to ruin the Ducks' hopes for a perfect season. Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason had 20 working hours that week (mandated by the NCAA, which includes practice, weightlifting, and meetings) to prepare for this so-called NFL-ready offense, and he held them to two touchdowns, 4-of-17 on third down, 0-for-2 on fourth down, and forced a turnover.

I love the discipline and structure that Jim Harbaugh installed at Stanford and that current head coach David Shaw and Mason have continued. And they've done it with much less athletic players than what Kelly has enjoyed at Oregon. If Kelly's high-powered offense could only manage 14 points against Stanford, how will this offense work in the NFL, where all teams -- more or less - are on equal footing?

Every successful NFL coach has never lost a game before reaching the show. Got it.

Stanford and Oregon recruit at about the same level, first of all. The Cardinal brought in the No. 5 class in the country last year, including one of the best offensive line classes college football has ever seen. Oregon is known for overlooked speed demons, while Stanford has imposing defenders and powerful running game components, plus nimble quarterbacks of its own.

Stanford also just won the Rose Bowl, its third straight BCS bowl trip. This isn't South Alabama we're talking about. Losing by three points to Stanford, which boasts the country's best and likely most disciplined defensive front seven, in a game of the year contender is not exactly a thing of shame. Oregon's ranked in the national top five in offense for three years in a row -- somebody had to stop it for a single Saturday at some point.

How did current NFL defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin fare against Kelly, by the way?

If we've learned one thing this season in the NFL, it's that you can't expose your franchise quarterback to vicious and violent hits. I'm sure the RG3 phenomenon is adding to the Chip Kelly hype but Robert Griffin III has been knocked out of a game once by concussion and once from a brutal hit from Baltimore Ravens NT Haloti Ngata that could've been worse than an LCL sprain. One more concussion for RG3 and he would have been watching from the bench the rest of the season.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota carried the ball 106 times in 13 games for Kelly this season at Oregon. Overall, Oregon quarterbacks have rushed the ball 464 times in Kelly's four seasons with the Ducks. I'm not sure he can maintain that in the NFL against much bigger, quicker and faster defensive players without losing a quarterback -- be it Michael Vick, Geno Smith or anyone else -- to injury for a significant amount of time.

First, Geno Smith averaged 2.42 yards per rush this year. He's not really an every-down running threat.

As for the point at hand, I'll refer you to the great Chris Brown:

All quarterbacks - and all NFL players, really - are constantly at risk of gruesome injury. Pocket passers like Carson Palmer, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have missed entire seasons because of injuries sustained while standing in the pocket, and quarterbacks are constantly hit while or just after releasing the ball, a far more vulnerable position than being hit while sliding following a 5-yard gain behind a lead blocker. If the argument is that the scheme is too dangerous to risk injury to Robert Griffin III, then the real argument isn't to abolish these offenses, it's to abolish football.

NFL people, please feel free to discredit Kelly. There are valid reasons to do so. I believe he'll succeed, but I'm a biased college football fan who's watched him as head coach for four years now.

But please: strike these arguments from your list first.


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