Senior Writer

Kelly finds out-of-the-box inspiration for Ducks


PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- Be specific because Chip Kelly will cut you off. Reporter, player, coach, equipment manager. Doesn't matter. No B.S., even less chit chat.

"The only question I ask is, 'How do things work?' and I want to know why," Kelly said in describing how he took over Oregon football less than two years ago.

The whirlwind ascension of the Ducks' 47-year-old second-year coach has made everyone, except Kelly, dizzy. To familiarize himself with running the program, the then-novice head coach walked through every department from compliance to the sock guy asking how and why.

Whether through boxing movies, mountain climbers, new age ideas or 'Chuckie,' Kelly knows how to connect with his players. (US Presswire)  
Whether through boxing movies, mountain climbers, new age ideas or 'Chuckie,' Kelly knows how to connect with his players. (US Presswire)  
"The only answer I don't want to have," he said, "is, 'That's the way we've always done [things].' "

And so Kelly listened. Then, he reinvented -- the practice times (mornings), the uniforms (golf coach Casey Martin took over selecting them for game days) and, of course, the offense. By now you know that Charles "Chip" Kelly comes as close to defining the term "offensive genius" as you can get in the college game.

That's why Chip is so clipped. The nation's highest scoring offense, the one that snaps the ball every 21 seconds, mimics its creator. What you don't know is that Kelly is a hopeless romantic when it comes to the hackneyed football practice of motivation. Try figuring out what Jon Gruden and Secretariat have in common. Spend a few minutes with former champion boxer Micky Ward, the inspiration for the current movie The Fighter.

The Ducks have.

"He could have taken any of us," offensive lineman Mark Asper said of Ward. "We were all scared of him. He could have knocked any of us out."

The message? Ooooh, the message. Kelly is always angling for one. NBA coaches from Houston and Portland have watched Oregon's practices, trying to figure how to play fast. Oregon women's basketball coach Paul Westhead -- whose Loyola Marymount men's team once averaged 122 points per game -- has spoken to the team about playing faster.

"The message was," Asper said harkening back to Ward, "play from the heart, play with desire."

You can make fun if you want but it is more high-concept than one-play-at-a-time. Gruden has spoken to the team, shooting that laser stare. Tony Dungy has shared his thoughts about character. The team came out of a movie theater here Thursday collectively nodding their heads after seeing The Fighter. Sure, there was heart and desire but the film was also about serving two masters -- your destiny and your family.

"It depends on the message that week," Kelly said. "What are we trying to accomplish? Every week it's usually something different because everybody we play is different. What am I talking about and how do I hammer that point home? So it's not just, 'Hey, let's have this guy come in,' and while he's speaking you're like, 'Where's he going with this thing?' "

That was a possibility with John Dahlem. Kelly hadn't heard of him either until the 67-year-old alum e-mailed the coach a photo with Dahlem standing on top of Mt. Everest with an Oregon pennant. Kelly was fascinated. Dahlem and his son Ryan, 40, had become the oldest father-son pair to summit the peak. They trained with rocks in their back packs, dragged tires behind them. Dahlem's quick stop by the office to present the coach with the pennant turned into a 30-minute appearance before the team. That was a couple of days before the season opener.

"If you guys can climb Mount Everest," linebacker Spencer Paysinger thought to himself, "we can win a few games."

See how it works? It's not about ceaselessly playing the underdog card. (Auburn is favored by three points in Monday's game.) If that was the case, Kelly wouldn't be drawing inspiration from Secretariat.

"You win the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths, that's not an underdog in my book," he said.

The coach coined a phrase, "Win The Day," from his New Hampshire days. It's printed on everything Duck. But it's the school that trademarked the phrase. Kelly doesn't get a dime. It's not about getting paid -- although, at $2.4 million per season, Kelly is handsomely compensated -- it's about getting everything done now, efficiently. The game itself is a reflection of Kelly's urgency. The winning coach in the game is assured of becoming the fifth coach since 2000 to win a national championship within his first two seasons at his school. Gene Chizik is in second year at Auburn as well.

"All the [usual] messages are the same: 'Play hard, play fast, finish, stay in school, don't do drugs, drink your milk,' " Asper said. "If you hear it from the same guy over and over and over, you start to get numb to it. [But] you bring somebody else to say it, it's exciting. When Tony Dungy says it, it's 'Oooh' -- a little more pizzazz."

This is where Oregon football gets little Oprah. Greg Bell had returned home from a road trip a couple of years ago. The motivational speaker and self-help guru had written a book, Water the Bamboo. The title is a metaphor for the growing cycle of the Giant Timber Bamboo. His wife begged him to check his e-mail that day. There were hundreds of messages congratulating him. Bell played basketball at the school (class of '90) but what was all this noise about Chip Kelly?

"There was a link on bottom of one of the e-mails," Bell said. "It was just a press conference and he starts talking about the concept. I about passed out watching it."

Kelly was talking about "watering the bamboo" in terms of Oregon football. The Giant Timber Bamboo is planted deep in the ground. It takes three years to sprout. Then in the space of 90 days it grows rapidly, eventually to a height of more than 40 feet. You can see the connection if you're a 230-pound senior linebacker who came to Eugene as a 190-pound receiver.

"He just finds those diamonds in the rough," Paysinger said. "We don't have to go after those five-, six-, eight-star players to become a championship team. We can go get those two-, three-star players to be a good team. I was only a two-star player -- now I'm a linebacker for the Oregon Ducks in the national championship game."

Maybe it's coincidence but Bell believes a person gets the most done between 7-10 a.m. each day. The Ducks practice at 8:30 a.m. during the season. There isn't a sense of entitlement at Oregon, or there hasn't been since LeGarrette Blount punched a Boise State player and quarterback Jeremiah Masoli messed up enough to get kicked off the team. LaMichael James, the nation's leading rusher, was raised by his grandmother in Texarkana, Texas. He saw a future traveling two-thirds of the way across the country. Leading receiver Jeff Maehl's only offer came from the Ducks.

"I've had a chance to see some of those guys on their recruiting trips, those five- and six-star guys," Paysinger said. "They walk around like their stuff doesn't stink. You see those two and three stars, they are genuinely happy."

Kelly's best trait, then, is his reliability. With all that wacky new-age stuff, somehow the Ducks know what they're getting.

"He finds a way to connect," the lineman said.

"We feel like it kind of seeps into your subconscious a little bit," Paysinger said. "You can hear, 'Win The Day, Water The Bamboo, fast start, finish.' People think it goes through one ear and out the other."

Instead, it goes to a place where no one can see. Watch the Ducks play. Watch how they play. They are undersized, at least in this game. But they have a quality only partly revealed by eight comeback wins. They'll all be here this week to share in their creation -- Dungy, Gruden, Ward. What will they tell the team? Nothing.

"There is no one talking to our team this week," Kelly said.

The Ducks couldn't hear anyway. Their hearts are beating too loud, beating with more than blood.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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