Mike Bellotti's retirement as head coach opened the door for Kelly, who was ultrasuccessful as coordinator of the Ducks' spread offense
EUGENE, Ore. — Chip Kelly got the go-ahead to succeed Mike Bellotti as Oregon football coach only in mid-March, so he suddenly found himself with a problem on his hands: Whom could he get on short notice to assume Kelly’s job as quarterbacks coach for spring practice?
“One question,” Kelly said to his target, a coaching veteran who was on the phone at the airport in Salt Lake City, returning from a spring vacation to Italy. “Would you coach the quarterbacks?”
So Bellotti extended his day on the Oregon staff by a month, easing out of his role as dean of Pac-10 football coaches by switching roles with Kelly.
And now Kelly might be inclined to pose another question to Bellotti, Oregon’s fledging athletic director: Who in his right mind put together this schedule?
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Say this for it: It’s not a football coach’s schedule. September is composed of Boise State, Purdue, Utah and California, not the sort of downy landing a first-year BCS-school coach would draw up for himself.
In fact, Boise State — a Sept. 3, ESPN-enhanced keynote to the 2009 college season — represents the dark possibility of an early stumble for Kelly. He’ll be pitted against Broncos head coach Chris Petersen, a favorite son in Eugene and former Bellotti offensive coach.
“Am I concerned about that? No,” Kelly says. “It’s never a coaching matchup. It’s never me against him, or me against Sark [Washington's Steve Sarkisian] or me against [USC's] Pete Carroll.
“That’s not the game. The game goes on between the lines.”
Kelly became the designated successor to Bellotti last December, when it was apparent the Ducks were going to have trouble holding onto a coordinator whose offense plastered 65 points on Oregon State’s would-be Rose Bowl qualifiers.
Through a winter of buzz about when the handoff would take place, Kelly says he never spoke with Bellotti about it until late February, and that Bellotti didn’t act like a guy coasting.
“We were running him ragged in recruiting,” said Kelly. “That wasn’t the sign of a guy getting ready to step down.”
In mid-March, Bellotti finally told Kelly, with a whimsical caveat: “I reserve the right to change my mind on the way in to work tomorrow.”
Bellotti didn’t, and he gives way to a successor who, stylistically, won’t be a fax copy of Bellotti. Kelly is a 45-year-old New Englander who grew up on the opposite coast from Bellotti. He speaks rapid-fire, to Bellotti’s measured comments.
On the field, the Ducks might not look much different, especially on offense, since Bellotti had hired Kelly in 2007 to advance Oregon’s development in the spread-option offense.
“This program was tremendously successful before I got here,” said Kelly. “If people think I’m going to drastically change from that game plan, they’d be crazy. They’ve done things right here for a long, long time.”
Kelly is his own man, however. He offed two assistants, Michael Gray of the defensive line and Robin Pflugrad, who schooled receivers. Pflugrad moved on to Montana and his son Aaron, a wide receiver, transferred to Arizona State.
The Ducks are No. 14 in the coaches poll and No. 16 in the Associated Press rankings, but they must replace key parts of both lines, plus second-round NFL picks Patrick Chung and Jairus Byrd in the secondary.
Still, the offense could crackle, because it’s ignited by Jeremiah Masoli, the 5-11, 220-pound dynamo who completed 57 percent of his passes, rushed for 718 yards and is the logical pick for All-Pac-10 quarterback.
“Nothing fazes him,” says Kelly. “He’s got as quick a release as anybody I’ve ever been around, and an absolute cannon for an arm.”
Masoli says he is about 10 pounds leaner this year, adding, “I did a lot last year, but I feel the best is yet to come.”
As for that opener, safety T.J. Ward says he clicked on a tape of the Ducks’ 37-32 loss to Boise State last year and got so upset he couldn’t watch it all.
“We just looked like a team that was unprepared,” he said.
That’s where Kelly comes in. This will be some freshman orientation.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org