One of the first calls came from Chris Petersen.
In the heady aftermath of last Thursday's Rose Bowl-clinching win over Oregon State, Oregon coach Chip Kelly was surprised to see a message came from Boise State's coach.
|Chip Kelly disciplined LeGarrette Blount after the Boise State blowup, but he didn't give up on him. (Getty Images)|
"L.G." would be Oregon tailback LeGarrette Blount, Public Enemy No. 1 to much of the nation on Sept. 3. But here it was, exactly three months later, and Petersen was calling to offer congratulations.
What happened? Well, Kelly and Petersen have been through a lot together. Shortly after Boise's 19-8 victory over the Ducks, Blount shoved a teammate, punched a Bronco and nearly incited a riot with the Boise crowd.
Remember? Blount was suspended for the season, then reinstated after achieving a mountain of conditions put in place by Kelly.
The story is an old one, but now the jumping off point for Kelly to become the CBSSports.com Coach of the Year. Blount made it back to the field three months to the night after he had seemingly ended his career and doomed Oregon's season.
Lifetime couldn't have written a better docu-drama. The same night Blount returned, he contributed to the game that clinched the Ducks' first Rose Bowl in 15 years.
"I don't think I did anything," Kelly said. "I think he did it all."
It was a season for the ages that rose from the ashes. In an ultra-tough Pac-10, Oregon finished 10-2 (8-1 in the league) with a rookie coach. Subbing for Blount, tailback LaMichael James was the Pac-10 freshman offensive player of the year.
It says something about Oregon and Kelly that there was only one Duck first-teamer on the coaches' all-conference team, tight end Ed Dickson.
"I don't think there's ever a Coach of the Year, because it's not an individual deal," Kelly said. "I just look at it as a team award. ... They have to put one guy's name on it, but I think it's more of an indication that were the team of the year and the coaching staff of the year."
SI.com: Blount's long trip back
Recap: Oregon 37, Oregon State 33
No one could have told the former New Hampshire offensive coordinator how his life would change when he arrived at Oregon before the 2007 season. In his first year under Mike Bellotti, Oregon led the Pac-10 in scoring. A rash of quarterback injuries hit in 2008, with Jeremiah Masoli emerging to become a savior who hovered around the Heisman conversation this season.
In three seasons, nine quarterbacks have played for Kelly. Try that -- and winning -- at other programs.
Kelly was the best coach in the country this season for all those reasons. Most folks, though, will remember he dealt with a unique set of circumstances to save not only his team's season but perhaps Blount's life.
Only those who were there know how bad things had gotten in Boise that night. Blount had seemingly thrown away his career. It took the luster off one of Boise's biggest wins. Somehow both schools ended up in BCS bowls. Both coaches remained friends.
One coach became the best in the country this season.
"For him to reach out to me was pretty special," Kelly said of Petersen.
Q&A with Chip Kelly
CBSSports.com: Do you have an idea what the Rose Bowl means in the Pac-10, and particularly to the Oregon fans?
Kelly: It really is amazing to watch people's reaction after the game. I've only seen other teams react. It seems like it has a tremendous amount of importance to those two conferences and the fact that our school has been there only four times.
I just watched it (growing up) as Tyrone Wheatley ran around. I watched the Penn State–Oregon game, a lot of great Rose Bowls. I've seen them all. It's the only game on.
CBS: Could a season be any tougher for a first-time head coach?
Kelly: I never looked at it as tough. That's what you've got to do. If you had a chance to write it, you wouldn't write it like that. You take what they give you and you deal with it.
CBS: What were your feelings that night of Sept. 3? Were you a deer in the headlights?
|'He made an egregious mistake but he earned his way back,' Chip Kelly says of LeGarrette Blount. (US Presswire)|
Our team never wavered and our coaching staff never wavered. They talked about our demise. We didn't listen to that and we didn't feel that way.
We lost 19-8 to the sixth-ranked team in the country. We didn't lose 50-0.
CBS: Why were your players able to concentrate?
Kelly: It's a neat group. They're not the most talented group. The all-conference team came out and we have only one first-teamer. We're not a team of superstars.
It's a team that has great chemistry and great attitude, great work ethic. We practice extremely hard. Anything we've asked these guys to do as a coaching staff, they've done.
CBS: Did you have to have a come-to-Jesus meeting with LaMichael James about having to step up when Blount was suspended?
Kelly: No meeting at all. You just say, "Hey, you're going."
CBS: You like to play as fast you talk. Have you taken stock lately of what this team has accomplished?
Kelly: This group isn't like that. It's, "Let's keep moving on." We're going to be together one more time as a group, that's in the Rose Bowl. We've obviously had a great season, let's finish it.
CBS: You've been asked about the fourth-down play against Oregon State last week like it was some big gamble. (A 6-yard scramble by Masoli on fourth-and-2 late in the game helped drain the final 6:09 off the clock). It wasn't even close to what Bill Belichick called against the Indianapolis Colts a few weeks ago.
Kelly: We're trying to ice the game. A similar thought process went to both coaches. Bill has Tom Brady and I have Jeremiah Masoli. If you told me the game's on the line, fourth-and-2 and the ball is in Jeremiah Masoli's hands, how do you feel? I'd feel real comfortable.
He's a tough sucker. I love him.
CBS: That was so dramatic when LeGarrette played. What went into that decision?
Kelly: On that play LaMichael got (injured) ... he just kind of tapped out. I knew the next running play I was going to run was an inside zone play. L.G. had worked himself to be the No. 3 running back. Because of the play call I was going to make, I felt LeGarrette was better at it then Kenjon (Barner, the backup).
A defensive back for Oregon State got hurt. So there was a delay of about two or three minutes because he broke his leg. I sent L.G. to take LaMichael's spot, thinking we were going to snap it right away. Everybody knew he was in.
CBS: Why did you play him then? He had been eligible to come back since Nov. 7.
Kelly: When he came back, he started on the bottom of the depth chart and had to work his way up.
CBS: Do you get the feeling that you may have saved this kid's career or life?
Kelly: I never thought of that. It was structured so that he controlled exactly what happened.
He did everything that we asked him to do. People thought that when he came back he's going to be a 25-carry-a-game guy. That's not fair to the rest of the guys in the program.
He's earned absolutely everything that has transpired. He made an egregious mistake but he earned his way back. Only he could get his way out of it.