Chip Kelly NFL rumors: It's not about the Benjamins

Doug Pensinger

What's going on in Chip Kelly's head and why is he playing hardball? Is it about the money, or is there something else going on?

When we see coaches leveraging open jobs, the typical reaction is to follow the money. Whether taking a new, higher paying job or keeping the same job with a raise, the coaching carousel is almost always about the Benjamins. From November through January, it's not at all uncommon to see rumors pop up, only to watch as a coach announces they're happy in their present situation -- an announcement that typically comes with a contract extension and pay increase. None of this is the case with Chip Kelly.


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Right now, Kelly is playing a game with NFL teams. He's wanted, just as he was last year. Kelly's stock remains high, giving him an incredible amount of leverage in negotiations with NFL teams. Add in the fact that he can happily walk away and go back to Oregon, and you've got a situation where Kelly holds all the cards.


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So what's he thinking? Why is Chip Kelly playing hardball with everyone? It has to be about money, right?

Not quite. There's a few factors at play for Kelly when it comes to a leap to the NFL. First and foremost, he wants personnel control -- something that's been rumored as all these interviews take place. Kelly is a college coach with a system that demands certain personnel. The college coach part means he's accustomed to having full control over his roster -- he recruits and selects his guys. And while he surely will tweak and adapt his system to the NFL game, he still has certain types of players he looks for.

The biggest factor in these negotiations is not money -- it's control. Kelly is making about $4 million a year at Oregon, after incentives. His assistant coaching pool is about $3.2 million. In total, Oregon is investing nearly $7 million in base salaries for its coaches, putting the school in the upper-echelon of the college football ranks. Last year, when Kelly took then turned down the Tampa Bay job, it was his assistants that benefited -- the school added about $800,000 to the pool. Kelly didn't leverage that situation into a raise for himself.

Kelly isn't wired to simply chase money. He's already making a comfortable living and the people around him are taken care of. Quarterbacks coach and de facto offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich is reportedly in line to take the wheel at Oregon if Kelly leaves, as well, He does care about those he works with, and Kelly has been taking care of them first instead of demanding raises for himself.

The NFL is a different animal for Kelly. It's a new challenge; a chance to test his system on a bigger stage. To make the leap, though, Kelly wants to be in the right situation. He has tons of leverage, and is using it to place himself in the most advantageous position. It's not worth making the leap if he jumps right into a situation where he's almost doomed to fail from the start.

All of this together means he's looking for a spot where he has the right personnel and the control to build, as well as a supportive front office and ownership. Seems logical, right? The difference between Kelly and most coaches testing the NFL waters, though, is that he has all the leverage in the world and can patiently bide his time until he finds a situation that tickles his fancy.

And if Kelly doesn't find the situation or fails to receive the guarantees he wants? He plays the trump card and walks back to Oregon. His stock won't be falling -- Kelly is, and will remain, well-respected in coaching circles. If the NCAA does hit Oregon with sanctions, he'll be just fine; recruiting violations aren't going to scare NFL teams away because, again, these aren't "real-life" rules.

So no, it's not about the money with Kelly. It's about the challenge of coaching in the NFL, and the control to succeed.

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