Now that the smoke has dissipated and the realization has set in that the University of Oregon is looking for a replacement for its most successful football coach in school history, what’s next for a program which stands as the only one in the country to advance to four-consecutive BCS bowl appearances, is coming off back-to-back triumphs in the Rose and Fiesta Bowls, respectively, and has posted an unprecedented 12 wins each of the last three years?
Such is the task awaiting the Ducks’ third-year athletics director Rob Mullens, who sat before a room full of inquiring members of the news media Wednesday afternoon in the Casanova Center seeking answers to questions following the departure of Oregon’s fourth-year head coach Chip Kelly, who is expected to be introduced Thursday as the next head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
In four years at the Oregon helm, Kelly accumulated an astonishing overall record of 46-7, including a 33-3 ledger in conference play.
While Mullens stressed that he and the entire university are appreciative of the success Chip helped bring to the community, he emphasized that all thoughts now would be about moving forward to find Oregon’s 31st football coach.
“We will move as expeditiously as possible but we do not have a specific timeline as to when we will be complete,” Mullens said in reference to when Kelly’s successor would be in place. “Obviously we are going to follow the appropriate policies and procedures relative to the university. We will maintain the confidentiality of the candidates just as we ask them to maintain confidentiality. We won’t talk specifically about any candidates. When we have an announcement, we will present it to (the media).
“I got a call at 7:15 this morning from Chip and that was the first I’ve heard anything of Philly since we last talked about him staying.
“He made a decision that was best for him and we wish him well,” Mullens added. “He’s been great for Oregon football and we’re moving on.”
Mullens said that Kelly met Wednesday morning with those players in attendance at the regularly-scheduled morning workouts in the Moshofsky indoor practice facility and informed them of his decision.
“He just shared with them his decision,” the Oregon athletics director reiterated. “(The players) are very respectful, as they always are. Everybody wants what’s best for Chip. He related to them what I’ve always related to them, that this about the players – a player-driven culture and a player-driven organization, and he expressed confidence in the future.”
Those were the same sentiments echoed by center Hroniss Grasu and safety Brian Jackson, who also met with members of the news media Wednesday afternoon.
“We have such great leadership on this team,” Grasu professed. “After he finished talking, we sort of looked around and said, ‘okay, let’s go finish our workout now.’ We know that it’s our responsibility now to step up as leaders, get the squad together and keep this program moving in the right direction.
“Coach met with each of us individually after the meeting and I think he probably hugged all 110 of us,” the junior-to-be added. “He was emotional and we could all tell that he truly loved us. He just explained the situation and we could tell he put a lot of thought into the decision. We respect him for it and we were really happy he came to us and was straightforward about how he told us.”
Jackson, who enters his senior season in the fall heading a secondary that returns all starters, reiterated much of the same as his offensive counterpart.
“(Coach Kelly) kept it really simple. We were in the middle of our workouts and he called us all over and told us. He said that we were going to be just fine moving forward because it’s really a player-run program.
“I just congratulated him and gave him a hug. I really appreciated how he came to us and told him how I was really looking forward to seeing how well he does at the next level. I could tell it was a really hard decision for him and commend him for telling us first.”
While speculation has centered around Mullens already making a decision regarding Kelly’s successor, he professed he would look at candidates both internally and externally to help insure his chances of making the right hire.
“We have a number of internal candidates,” Mullens admitted. “Again, we’ve have a staff that has been highly successful for a long period of time, so we’ve got several coaches on our staff who have the experience and background to be head coaches. Those who have expressed interest, we will obviously talk to because they have played a key role in our success. But we will also talk to others outside of our program.”
Oregon had loomed as the only FBS football staff in the country to remain intact over the last four years, with four of its nine assistants coaching at the school a minimum of 20 years through the tenures of three different head coaches.
So what will the Ducks be looking for in their next head coach, and will a similar style of offense to what has captured the imagination of fans across the country be important?
“The offense has been successful but that’s not the only requirement,” Mullens admitted. “What we want is someone who understands the culture that is unique here, not only within our football program but within our community. We want someone who has proven excellence and that has been around winning programs, who knows what it takes because expectations for this program have shifted. We want to compete for Pac-12 championships and we want to be in BCS bowls and we want someone who understands what it takes from A to Z: from recruiting to creating a culture of academic excellence, to understanding the role of that team in this department and this community, and then of course, on-field success.”
Mullens said that if there was any one lesson he had learned from Kelly contemplating going to the NFL last year, it would be to keep the assistant coaches informed in regards to the situation as it unfolds.
“We set up a conference call (today) because they are all over the country and I felt the need to make sure that we have an open dialogue,” Mullens said. “I talked to all of the assistants the weekend we got back from the Fiesta Bowl as Chip was doing the interview in Phoenix and if I learned anything last year, it’s that I didn’t communicate well enough with the assistant coaches - they felt out of the loop. So I made a pledge at that point to them and to myself that I would keep them in the loop as best as I could, knowing that some information is confidential. We set up a conference call mid-morning, mostly to tell them what I knew. By the time we got to it, much of what I knew had already been reported. And then I wanted to make sure that I could answer any of their questions. Again, there have been an awful lot of people that have been committed to the success of this program and they are critical, and this impacts them. Everybody always focuses on one person but this has an impact on a lot of people, and a lot of staff. I also met with some staff this afternoon that works with football, again, just to make sure we get their questions answered and they know exactly what’s happening.”
Given that the Oregon football program has made such a monumental impact on the surrounding Eugene/Springfield communities, the state of Oregon as well as on the national landscape of college football, Mullens issued the following message to fans who might be concerned about what lies ahead for the program.
“Oregon fans are some of the most loyal and passionate in all of sports,” Mullens added. “And we are fortunate to have them. They’ve been here a very, very long time. I’m confident, because I’ve heard from a number of them already, that they are proud of where we are and they are committed to where we are going in the future, and they trust that we’ll find the right leader.”
In the spirit of the Ducks’ former head coach, it’s now ‘next man up.’
-- goducks.com --