By now, you've almost certainly heard that Chip Kelly is staying at Oregon. In fact, if you haven't heard that Chip Kelly is staying at Oregon, you've probably disconnected yourself from the television, radio and Twitter and might not really be reading this right now. And that's obviously good news for Oregon, but I also think it's good news for college football, for a few reasons.
The Pac-12 is a far more interesting place because of it. First, go take a look at the Pac-12 North division for a moment. I'll wait.
You back? If you consider the history of teams who have had to make mid-January head coaching hires, it's not a distinguished one. Oregon seems to have found a way around this, or at least thought it had found a way around this, by tabbing offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich as Kelly's successor. And it might have worked -- but it also might not have. It's easy to find examples of coordinators or assistant coaches who were thought to be the next great head coach, and instead flopped.
If Oregon had slipped, Stanford might very well have had the run of the division (at least until David Shaw left for the NFL). Sure, an Oregon State or a Washington might have emerged every year to cause Stanford some trouble, but the Cardinal would start most years for the foreseeable future as the prohibitive favorite in a post-Oregon Pac-12 North.
And if Southern Cal were to ever
fire Lane Kiffin and hire a real coach get its act together, there is a distinct chance that the regular season would start to look like an inevitable march toward the Southern Cal-Stanford championship game every season or so. And if Oregon and Stanford were to both fall back to earth and the rest of the division didn't substantially improve -- well, we're right back to the early- to mid-2000s all over again. THE TROJANS ARE THE BESTEST TEAM EVERER IN THE HISTORY OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL!!!1!
No, thanks. I'd rather not take that particular chance.
Maybe it will keep the NFL supremacists quiet for a while. I know, I know -- that's probably a happy dream. Already, you're starting to hear ridiculous arguments, like "Kelly is just staying with the easier job."
The truth, though, is that college football and NFL have always been different games; one is not necessarily inherently "better" than another. I find most NFL football games to be relatively boring affairs, even when the Falcons (my NFL teams) are involved. Some of that is simply because you do have the best of the best athletes playing the game, meaning that variety is just as likely to blow up as to work, but some of it is also because the NFL is inherently more risk-averse than college.
Even taking all that into account, we still tend to see moving to the NFL as akin to graduating for a college coach. "Well, now that you've coached in that little game they call football, you can come try the grown-up version here in the NFL." And, of course, NFL fans like to bring up names like Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier and say that college coaches just can't hack in the NFL.
When was the last time an NFL supremacist brought up Mike Sherman? You know, the guy who took the Green Bay Packers to the playoffs four times and had one losing season from 2000-05 -- only to head to Texas A&M and have one winning season in four tries.
For whatever reason, Chip Kelly just made it clear that taking any head coaching job in the NFL is not automatically better than remaining at any head coaching job in college football -- at least not to him. Maybe that won't mean anything to the NFL fans who have convinced themselves that the NFL is automatically better, but it ought to say something to casual fans who are considering whether the NFL is really inherently superior to college football.
It might not have worked. There were probably a lot of NFL fans, and maybe some general football fans, who had a reaction something like this when the news broke:
My reaction as well. RT @justin_rogers I wanted to see if Chip Kelly's offense could work in the NFL. Oh well.— Pride Of Detroit (@PrideOfDetroit) January 7, 2013
But why take the chance? We know that Chip Kelly's offense works in college football -- and it's remarkably exciting. Even many SEC fans have to give grudging admiration to how fun it is to watch the Oregon offense in action. And there's a chance, a better-than-nominal one, that Chip Kelly's offense wouldn't work in the NFL. Not the least because the first sign of trouble would have brought criticism, and might have made the GM or owner jumpy, and could have slowly undermined the whole enterprise.
Again -- the only reason to insist that we are missing something by not seeing if Kelly's offense works in the NFL is to insist that there is no point for the rest of football -- college, Arena, etc. -- other than to be one giant feeder system for the NFL. It is to reduce football down to one all-important level. There's nothing wrong with having something that works in college football and watching college football if you want to see it.
And we might still get to see Kelly in the NFL at some point in the future. Perhaps Chip Kelly just didn't think that any of the situations that presented themselves this season was the right one for him. Nothing says he has to take the first NFL job that comes along in order to "prove" anything. He can wait for the right job just like anyone else. And if the right job never comes along and Kelly stays at Oregon for years, that doesn't say anything negative about Chip Kelly or his offense. But it might speak volumes about college football.