In five short seasons, Chip Kelly has threatened to redefine the 116-year history of football at the University of Oregon.
It started in 2007 in his first year as the Ducks’ offensive coordinator and has carried through his third season as the University’s head coach. Throughout the duration has been the emergence of a program among the nation’s elite behind the architect of one of the most prolific offenses in the country that has transformed the standard of college football.
No other coach in school history has guided the football team to three consecutive undisputed conference championships - a feat surpassed only twice in league history. And although nine coaches have accumulated more league titles than the Manchester, N.H. native, only USC’s John Robinson succeeded in doing so as a first-year head coach.
In the process of accumulating a 34-6 ledger in his three seasons at the helm, the two-time conference coach of the year sandwiched a pair of Rose Bowl appearances around the 2011 BCS National Championship Game.
Accentuating the success was last year’s 45-38 Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin.
In addition to accumulating a mark of 25-2 in league play, his .850 overall winning percentage is the highest in school history and his .926 percentage in conference play is the best in league annals.
Meteoric offenses have become synonymous with Kelly’s Oregon coaching tenure as he has led the Ducks to their only two 12-win campaigns in school history (2010 and 2011). His teams have averaged 43.1 points, 489.4 yards of total offense and 273.1 rushing yards per game in the three seasons under his watchful eye, surpassing 40 points in 28 of 40 games. Since becoming associated with the Oregon offense five years ago, his teams have not ranked lower than sixth in the country in rushing, and have placed out of the nation’s top-10 in scoring and total offense only once.
The Pac-10 Conference’s first unbeaten regular-season champion in five years and a berth in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game rates among the program’s historical highlights as Kelly was a near-unanimous national coach-of-the-year recipient in only his second season as a head coach.
Named Oregon’s 30th head football coach in March 2009, Kelly has adopted a philosophy that was successful in eight seasons on the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision front (formerly Division I-AA) and has demonstrated few signs of slowing down at the top level of collegiate competition.
In 2009, Kelly proved that his explosive offense had yet to be figured out by opposing defensive coordinators. The Ducks ranked No. 8 in the nation in scoring and sixth in rushing.
A season later, Oregon improved those numbers behind first-year starting quarterback Darron Thomas, leading the country in scoring (47.0 ppg) and total offense (530.7 avg.), while finishing fourth nationally in rushing (286.2 avg.).
Oregon’s up-tempo aggression on offense also has carried over to the defensive side of the ball as well.
A year ago, the Ducks ranked fifth in the country in quarterback sacks. In 2010, they ranked seventh nationally in pass efficiency defense, 12th in scoring defense (18.7), 27th in rushing defense (128.1) and 34th in total defense (346.0). In Pac-10 play, the Ducks ranked among the top two in rushing defense and scoring defense each of his first two years, and led the conference in pass efficiency defense in 2010.
Under Kelly’s watch, LaMichael James became the school’s first Doak Walker Award winner in 2010, awarded to college football’s best running back. The nation’s two-time rushing leader, who would become Oregon’s first unanimous All-American and a Heisman Trophy finalist during his sophomore season, ran for a school-record 1,731 yards that season before returning to eclipse that mark with 1,805 yards last year.
Thirteen Ducks have earned first-team all-conference accolades and two - James in 2009 and De’Anthony Thomas in 2011 - were named the conference’s Offensive Freshman of the Year during the Kelly head coaching era.
The former New Hampshire offensive coordinator arrived at Oregon in 2007 and promptly solidified his position in UO lore by producing the highest scoring team and most yards of total offense in school history.
Under his guidance in ‘08, the Ducks were the Pac-10’s best at running the ball (280.1 yards per game) for the third year in a row, scoring (41.9 points per game), and moving the football downfield (484.9 ypg total offense). UO ranked second nationally in rushing and was seventh in the country in two other offensive benchmarks. Three of the league’s top 10 rushers wore green and yellow, including a tandem of 1,000-yard runners in Jeremiah Johnson and LeGarrette Blount.
That squad eclipsed 300 rushing yards in eight of 13 games, including one of 400-plus, while Kelly’s offenses surpassed 50 points 14 times during his first three years. Included was an attack that produced an Oregon Pac-10 single-game record 694 yards of total offense in the 2008 Civil War victory over Oregon State. UO’s 65 points that day against the Beavers were the most ever scored by the Ducks, or allowed by OSU, in a Pac-10 game.
Also during his second year in Eugene, the Ducks established school standards for touchdowns (71) and rushing touchdowns (47) on their way to a No. 9 (USA Today) national ranking. Oregon capped its top-10 run with a 42-31 win over No. 13 Oklahoma State in the Holiday Bowl - UO’s second bowl victory in as many years with Kelly at the offensive controls.
Kelly’s schemes on offense have been instrumental in highlighting the talents of a pair of Heisman Trophy candidates in quarterback Dennis Dixon in 2007 and running back LaMichael James in 2010.
Among the most impressive aspects of his Oregon success has been the staggering offensive numbers that have been produced by a different cast of headliners. In 2007, it was Dixon, running back Jonathan Stewart, wide receiver Jaison Williams and tight end Ed Dickson. In ‘08, dual running threats in Johnson and Blount complemented the talents of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and four receivers who each caught more than 35 passes for 400 yards. In ‘09, it was Masoli and redshirt freshman LaMichael James who provided the highlights on offense. Two years ago, the return of James was aided by running mate Kenjon Barner, wide receiver Jeff Maehl, as well as a first-year starting quarterback in Darron Thomas. David Paulson and De’Anthony Thomas joined James, Barner and the elder Thomas to provide the spark in 2011.
The program’s recent plug-and-play success can be traced to Kelly’s first season in Eugene, when Oregon was forced to start four different quarterbacks over the final four games due to injury in 2007. Kelly, then serving in dual roles as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, tutored the final signal caller of that bunch, redshirt freshman Justin Roper, who turned in a near flawless performance in guiding the Ducks to a 56-21 Sun Bowl win over favored South Florida.
The 48-year-old Kelly served as New Hampshire’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 1999 through 2006, where his offenses averaged better than 400 yards of total offense in seven of his eight seasons and more than 30 points a game in his final four years. As a result, three Wildcat players received first-team All-America acclaim each of his last two seasons in the Granite State.
He was named the College Assistant Coach of the Year by the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston following the 2005 season in addition to being selected as “one of college football’s hottest coaches” by American Football Monthly.
Kelly was elevated to offensive coordinator following two years as the Wildcats’ offensive line coach (1997-98) and three seasons coaching the school’s running backs (1994-96).
One of Kelly’s pupils, quarterback Ricky Santos, was the recipient of the Walter Payton Award (awarded annually to the best offensive player in Division I-AA) in 2006 after finishing second in 2005.
While his acclaim may have resulted from his offensive prowess, Kelly also has three seasons of experience coaching on the defensive side of the football. Included was a one-year stint as defensive coordinator at Johns Hopkins (1993) between tenures at his alma mater.
The 1990 New Hampshire graduate (B.S. degree in physical education) broke into the coaching ranks that same year at Columbia University, where he served as freshman secondary and special teams coach. He assumed responsibility for the Lions’ varsity outside linebackers and strong safeties the following year before returning to New Hampshire as running backs coach in 1992.