This was shocking, and not in the way that big-time college football coaches so often do things that are shocking. This was shocking, what Oregon's Chip Kelly did when he said no to the NFL, because it was so uplifting. Impressive. Unselfish.
Yes, unselfish. Money isn't the only way to measure greed or ambition or self-interest. And Kelly is taking a big hit -- or at least, he's risking a big hit -- to remain at Oregon.
Because the NCAA is about to hammer Oregon. Or it should. And if it does hammer Oregon, it will be because of a mistake that Kelly allowed, maybe approved, possibly even made himself.
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Someone within Kelly's football program at Oregon wrote a check for $25,000 to a scouting service in Texas that didn't provide scouting, but did provide a service: access to the best high school tailback in that tailback-rich state. Someone at Oregon wrote a man named Will Lyles that $25,000 check, and Lyles helped direct tailback Lache Seastrunk to Oregon. These are the facts of the case, as Kevin Bacon said in A Few Good Men, and they are undisputed.
What does the NCAA do with those facts? We shall see, but I have a pretty good idea the NCAA will pick up one of its hammers -- not the sledge used on Southern California, but still, an actual hammer -- and drop it on Oregon. The Ducks will survive, and probably continue to thrive, because Chip Kelly is that good. But for all the wind that Nike has blown in Oregon's sails, the NCAA is about to drop an anchor on Oregon football. It'll still move. But it won't be nearly as easy.
And this is the ship Kelly has chosen not to abandon.
That's impressive. Say what you want about the Will Lyles story -- and I've said plenty (from July 2011), and I've said it more than once (from April 2012) -- but this is a remarkable position for Chip Kelly to take. It's the anti-Pete Carroll move, staying at a school about to get hit by the NCAA despite there being richer, more gratifying destinations available.
And I say that not knowing what convinced Kelly to stay. We'll get the story someday, and maybe we'll learn that Oregon alumnus Phil Knight of Nike was told of the insane money the NFL was offering Kelly -- and that Knight nodded his head and whispered, "Double it."
But again, this wasn't about money. This was about staying at a school about to face adversity, and staying there despite the ego boost available in the NFL. Not all great college coaches dream about coaching in the NFL, but it sure seems that way. Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, Jim Harbaugh ... they tried it. So did Lou Holtz, back in the day. There have been more and there will be more, because the NFL is the final frontier for these men with enormous ego and ambition and confidence -- nothing wrong with those qualities -- to conquer.
It's why Nick Saban continues to be asked about the NFL, even as he has what I would say is the best coaching job in any level of football. It's why Notre Dame's Brian Kelly is being asked about the NFL, and I suspect why he will leave for it if his team beats Saban's team on Monday night for the national championship. Been there in college football. Done that. But the NFL awaits, so let's go see how we do there.
And that has been Chip Kelly's presumed mindset for years, too. He nearly went to the Bucs last year, and that wasn't a negotiating ploy to get more out of Oregon. That was sincere. It almost happened. He changed his mind, then had another dalliance with the NFL this year -- three more dalliances, that we know of. He spoke with the Bills and engaged in heavy talks with the Browns and Eagles, both of whom thought they were going to land him, before returning to Oregon.
That's impressive. I'll say it again: Well done, Chip Kelly. From the way he handled the media before the Fiesta Bowl, answering impossible questions about the NFL without turning off Oregon fans or recruits, to the way he turned away from the escape hatch in Cleveland or Philadelphia, this has been one hell of a month for Chip Kelly. He has shown honesty, integrity, loyalty.
The only way this story would end better would be for Oregon president Michael Gottfredson to do something similar to what Kelly did -- to ignore the financial repercussions, set aside his own ambition, and make a move reeking of honesty and integrity himself:
And fire whoever it was that approved that $25,000 check to Will Lyles.