Fort Lauderdale — A bunch of journalists had gathered for dinner here Tuesday when one among us, having checked his phone, conveyed word that the Philadelphia Eagles had fired Chip Kelly. This set off a lighting round of speculation: Where will Kelly land next?
“Auburn?” I offered, having heard the not-very-believable rumor that the Tigers might, if they lose the Birmingham Bowl, dump Gus Malzahn, who two years ago had Auburn in the BCS title game. Someone else mentioned the Tennessee Titans, which would make more sense, given that the club is working with an interim coach in Mike Mularkey, of whom you’ve heard, and that Kelly landed Marcus Mariota while at Oregon.
It was noted that Georgia, had it waited a month, could have landed the famous Kelly, as opposed to the career assistant Kirby Smart, to replace Mark Richt. We all laughed at this. (Georgia couldn’t have waited a month to see whether Kelly would be fired, duh.) But our lengthy conversation — which has since been seen and raised by ESPN on all its platforms — got me thinking: Why exactly is Chip Kelly such a big deal?
Yes, he made Oregon a big winner. Yes, he took the Ducks to the BCS title game. (And lost to an Auburn team coached by Gene Chizik, who was fired two years later and who was last seen presiding over a North Carolina defense that yielded 756 yards — 645 them rushing yards — to a Baylor team missing its Nos. 1 and 2 quarterbacks.) Yes, Kelly is said to be innovative in his approach to practice and his embrace of sports science.
But here’s the “but,” and it’s a big one: He’s also considered something of a bad guy. No, he’s not a convicted felon, and no, he’s not alone among coaches in having an outsize ego. Still, he ran out on Oregon when it was facing NCAA penalties — his personal show-cause sanction expired this time last year — and he lasted only three years with the Eagles, who’d once trusted him enough to make him not just coach but de facto GM.
If you’re a college team, do you want to hire a guy who’d been hit with a show-cause at his last stop? (The only other big-name college coach ever to get stuck with a show-cause? Jim Tressel after he’d stepped down at Ohio State. He hasn’t coached since.)
If you’re an NFL team, do you want to hire a guy about whom more than one African-American player has expressed doubts? (Two-thirds of NFL players are black.)
If you’re a college AD or an NFL owner, don’t you have to ask if Kelly is more trouble than he’s worth? I’m neither, but I’m asking now. I know he’s a Hot Name, but that’s not the same as being a Hot Commodity. The college team in Athens is better off with Kirby Smart. The pro team headquartered in Flowery Branch is better off with Dan Quinn.
Further reading: Deshaun Watson is the latest QB from Georgia to eye the big prize.
Even further: Clemson is good enough to hush the ACC skeptics.