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By now you’ve probably heard that things didn’t well for Chip Kelly in Philadelphia.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 48 hours, you know that Kelly was fired on Tuesday, and that even if the timing was a little weird (just days before the Eagles’ final game of the season) the decision itself wasn’t. Clearly Kelly had lost touch with his players, and clearly the city of Philadelphia itself had turned on him. Once those bridges are burned, there is simply no repairing them.
Of course while the news itself is a bummer (it’s never fun seeing anyone lose their job, even a guy making $6 million a year), it’s now time for the fun part to begin. It’s time to look past what already happened to Chip Kelly this week, and figure out what’s next for one of the single most fascinating men in all of football.
All indications seem to be that wherever Kelly lands, it’s going to be in the NFL. For one, Kelly has already said exactly that, in an interview with Fox’s Jay Glazer earlier this week, and two, it appears on paper that there’s a job that’s already opened up which suits him perfectly. You and I both know we’re talking about the Titans here, an organization which already has their franchise quarterback, a QB that Kelly just so happened to coach in college. The fact that Tennessee could very well end up with the No. 1 pick makes the job all the more intriguing, both for us to speculate about, and for Kelly himself to consider. Simply put, it seems like if the Titans (and Marcus Mariota) want Chip Kelly, that’s where he’ll end up.
But while all signs point towards Kelly heading back to the NFL, I’ve got to be honest: I think it’s the wrong idea. Frankly, I think there is a better option for Kelly, and I’m surprised more people aren’t talking about it. I’m also surprised that Kelly (at least on the surface) doesn’t appear to be thinking about it harder.
That choice is to stay out of football for the entire 2016 season, and return with a vengeance to college during the 2017 season. It gives Kelly both the most options on where he’ll end up, and the best chance to succeed once he gets there. And frankly, I think Chip Kelly would be an idiot to not at least consider it.
Let’s start with the facts and the biggest reason why most believe Kelly won’t return to college football: his personality.
That’s right, just like on ‘Family Feud’ (are Steve Harvey jokes a thing?) if you surveyed 100 people and asked them, ‘Why won’t Chip Kelly go back to college football?’ the overwhelming response would be his personality. Those who know Chip Kelly say that his personality simply isn’t suited for the college game. That he doesn’t like the ancillary things that come with the job. That he doesn’t want to spend his time kissing the butts of 17-year-old kids and their parents in the recruiting game, nor does he want to spend any additional free time kissing the asses of boosters at alumni events.
And that all makes sense. It truly does.
Except at the same time, it misses a larger point, one that I think even Kelly himself is looking past: While his personality isn’t perfectly suited for the college game (no job is perfect), I would argue that it’s actually better suited for college than the NFL. When we look back on Kelly’s failures what do we all agree was his biggest problem? It’s that the guy wanted too much control. He wanted complete control over just about everything; his players, personnel decisions and the media as well.
To which I ask: Where would he have more control than as the head coach at a major university? The answer is nowhere, and ultimately that’s why he should come back to college.
If Kelly stays in the NFL, he’s basically trading one set of problems for another. Sure, he might have a better quarterback in Tennessee (or wherever he ends up) than he did in Philly, but at the end of the day, the same things that plagued Chip Kelly with the Eagles won’t be any different in Tennessee or anywhere else. His star players will still have more power than he does (just ask DeMarco Murray), he’ll still have a GM determining who fits his system best, and he’ll still have an owner who always has final say over everything.
In the NFL, Chip Kelly is just a pawn in the game. He’s a disposable part that can be removed at just about any time. Like he was Tuesday in Philly.
But in college? Kelly will have the complete and unencumbered control he desires. He’ll get to pick his own players (it’s called recruiting), and if he picks the right job, he ultimately won’t have anyone to answer to. There is no “owner” in college football (except at a few select programs, like ironically at Oregon with Phil Knight), no all-powerful overlord looking over your shoulder who has final say in everything. Yes, there are boosters, but if you win enough they won’t really bother you. And the AD? When the head football coach is really, really good, the AD is working for him, not the other way around.
If Kelly picks the right job, and wins enough right away he will immediately become the most powerful man at that university. Forget being in charge of a football program; he will be in charge of an entire school, and in some cases, the entire town as well. He won’t be at the mercy of an owner or star player. They will be at the mercy of him.
Honestly, isn’t that the exact situation that Nick Saban is in right now in Tuscaloosa? As long as Saban keeps winning the way he is, who the heck does he answer to? The answer is no one, and it’s the same with Urban Meyer at Ohio State and Jimbo Fisher at Florida State. If Dabo Swinney isn’t there yet at Clemson he’s damn close, and Jim Harbaugh is well on his way at Michigan too.
That could be Chip Kelly at just about any college in the country too.
Speaking of which, if Chip Kelly did sit out next year, can you imagine the feeding frenzy it would create? I’m not exaggerating when I say it would be the single greatest coaching frenzy in the history of college football. We have never had a guy quite like Kelly hit the market; a coach with this much success, still in his prime, and he’d have a full year to fully gauge the market and figure out what is the single best job for him.
Heck, forget “gauge the market.” Chip Kelly would create it.
For starters, think about all the big-time jobs that could open up next year.
The Texas job could be available. Texas A&M could be looking for a new head coach. Gus Malzahn could be out of a job at Auburn. Heck, Les Miles was a quarter-and-a-half away from being fired at LSU this year too. While I love Les and think it’s idiotic that he could possibly be on the hot seat, all signs point towards Miles coaching for his job in 2016 as well. Think Kelly wouldn’t look great in a little purple and gold (don’t answer that!)?
Those are four great jobs right there, and it doesn’t even factor in that one or two big vacancies that usually pop up that no one could possibly see coming. Could anyone have predicted at this time last year that the USC job would become available this past fall? Or Georgia? You just never know. And you never know what jobs could unexpectedly open up at this time next year as well.
Beyond that, I’ve got to ask: How many other schools who aren’t considering a change would at least have to consider it if they knew Chip Kelly was not only available, but willing to come to their school? For example, say Kelly decided “You know, what I really want the USC job” and had his agent call Pat Haden toward the end of next year. Assuming USC wasn’t in playoff contention, wouldn’t USC have to consider dumping Clay Helton right then and there to bring in Kelly? And it’s the same at virtually every other school in the country. If Georgia goes 4-8 in Kirby Smart’s debut next year (they won’t, but work with me here) wouldn’t they at least have to make a call? If Florida slides back to 7-5 in Jim McElwain’s second year, wouldn’t it be the same for the Gators too?
Think about it a different way: How many schools are there that wouldn’t fire their coach immediately if they knew for certain they could get Chip Kelly? Off the top of my head, I’m thinking Alabama, Florida State, Clemson, Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, Stanford and maybe a handful of others. And really, that’s it. Isn’t everyone else pretty much expendable, if their school knew they could land one of the single greatest coaches to ever hit the market? I think so.
And that’s the crazy part about this: Think about how many schools would actually think they had a shot at Kelly? Unlike so many others, Kelly isn’t tied to a certain program or region. He isn’t Jim Harbaugh, who would only return to college football for the Michigan job, and he isn’t Urban Meyer who (once he cleared health protocols) was only returning to one, or maybe two schools in the Midwest. He is the ultimate free agent, a guy that could end up just about anywhere if the price was right.
And that, above all, is the reason Chip Kelly should return to college football. Not only would he have the complete control he craves, but would have the ability to implement it anywhere he chose.
I understand why Kelly wants to stay in the NFL, and why everyone thinks it’s the best place for him. But hopefully Kelly will come to his senses, and comes back to college football.
It’s the best place for him.