The Buccaneers appear to be on the verge of hiring Oregon’s Chip Kelly to become the team’s ninth head coach. Here’s a look at Kelly’s attributes, some of the different ways he can help the Buccaneers and why now may be the right time for him to make the jump from college to pro football.
THE TIMING IS RIGHT FOR KELLY TO LEAP TO THE NFL
After losing to Ohio State 26-17 in the 2010 Rose Bowl and losing to Auburn 22-19 in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game, Kelly’s Oregon team finally won a BCS game this year, beating Wisconsin 45-38 in the Rose Bowl. It was Oregon’s first Rose Bowl title since 1917.
In three seasons as the Ducks head coach after being Oregon’s offensive coordinator from 2007-08, Kelly compiled a record of 34-6, including a 25-2 mark in the Pac-12 conference, making him a proven winner at the college level. In 2009, the Ducks had a 10-3 record and then in 2010, Oregon finished the season with a 12-0 record prior to losing to Auburn in the BCS National Championship Game. It was the first time in school history that the Ducks won 12 games in a season, a feat that was matched this past season when Oregon finished with a 12-2 record.
Additionally, there is an NCAA investigation looming into recruiting violations at Oregon and possible sanctions could be forthcoming. Like Pete Carroll did when he left USC to make the jump to the NFL as the Seattle Seahawks head coach two years ago ahead of recruiting violation sanctions, Kelly could follow a similar path – and might be wise to do so. USC was banned from the postseason this past year and there is speculation that Oregon could be headed for the same fate.
With three straight Pac-10 championships and a BCS bowl victory, Kelly has already proved enough at the college level and may be looking for his next challenge. At age 48, Kelly is young enough to withstand the rigors of coaching an NFL team year-round.
Kelly’s name has been linked to the head coaching vacancies in Indianapolis and Miami, but the Dolphins hired Joe Philbin on Friday and the Colts have not confirmed or denied any interest in Kelly. Tampa Bay has reportedly expressed the most interest in Kelly and he could be named the team’s ninth head coach as early as Monday.
KELLY IS KNOWN AS AN OFFENSIVE INNOVATOR
Although Rich Rodriguez is known as the modern day pioneer of the spread offense in college football, Kelly is known for taking the spread offense to another level. From a creative, four-image chart system to relay plays in from the sidelines to his fast-break, no-huddle offensive attack, Kelly is a true offensive innovator and that has keyed Oregon’s success.
From his first year as offensive coordinator in 2007, Kelly’s offense averaged 38.15 points per game and 467.54 yards to lead the Pac-10. The next year, Oregon averaged 41.9 points per game and 484.8 yards per contest. In the Ducks’ record-breaking 2010 season, Kelly’s offense averaged 49.3 points and 537.5 yards per game in the regular season as he was named the AP Coach of the Year, the Walter Camp Coach of the Year and the Pac-10 Coach of the Year for a second straight season.
With Tampa Bay’s offense struggling to score points, keyed by a sub-par year from quarterback Josh Freeman, who threw only 16 touchdowns and a career-high 22 interceptions in 2011, Kelly could definitely provide a fix. While some might think that Kelly’s spread offense might not work with more of a pocket passer like Freeman at the helm, the no-huddle, up-tempo approach in the passing game just might.
The Bucs offense could use some imagination and innovation after last year’s inconsistent performance and uneven play-calling and execution. Kelly, who is well-respected by former Tampa Bay head coaches Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden, would certainly cater his offensive approach to developing Freeman and putting points on the board. With New Orleans, Atlanta and Carolina all capable of scoring 30 points or more seemingly at will, the Bucs offense definitely needs to be able to keep pace.
CAN KELLY RESTORE BLOUNT’S PRODUCTION?
Kelly was the Ducks offensive coordinator when Bucs running back LeGarrette Blount was at Oregon. Blount rushed for 1,002 yards and a single-season school-record 17 touchdowns as a junior in 2008 in Kelly’s spread offense while splitting carries with Jeremiah Johnson.
Blount was suspended for most of his senior season for punching a Boise State player after the Ducks’ 19-8 season-opening loss in 2009. He finished that year rushing for just 82 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.
In his rookie season with the Buccaneers, Blount averaged 5.0 yards per carry while rushing for 1,007 yards and six touchdowns after the undrafted free agent was claimed off waivers. But in his second season, Blount battled an early-season knee injury and a late-season fumbling problem and rushed for only 781 yards and five scores.
Blount has had success with Kelly before as a junior, and the man who could be Tampa Bay’s next head coach could help Blount return to his productive ways.
KELLY THE DISCIPLINARIAN
Kelly is known as a disciplinarian, evidenced by the fact that Blount was suspended for the rest of the 2009 season by Kelly after a season-opening loss to Boise State in which the running back punched a Broncos player after the game.
“He understands that his actions are unacceptable,” Kelly said. “We will not put up with that.”
However, Blount was allowed to continue to practice with the team and after showing remorse, Kelly reinstated him for the final three regular season games and the Rose Bowl.
Kelly also showed firm discipline after he suspended and later released starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli prior to the 2010 season. In 2011, Kelly booted Cliff Harris, the Ducks’ best cornerback and punt returner, off the team on December 5 after multiple traffic offenses and an arrest for marijuana possession.
The Buccaneers don’t have a lot of players on the current roster that have run afoul of the law, but given the fact that Tampa Bay has the youngest roster in the league, the players will require discipline to become better performers on the football field. Kelly is a serious, no-nonsense coach that could run a tighter ship than former head coach Raheem Morris did from 2009-11.
KELLY, THE BUCS AND THE 2012 NFL DRAFT
Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas, who has been a two-year starter for Kelly, entered the 2012 NFL Draft as a junior. With Josh Johnson and Rudy Carpenter heading for free agency, the Bucs will need a backup quarterback behind Freeman. If Kelly takes over as head coach, Thomas would likely be a target in the upcoming draft.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Thomas has completed 449-of-733 passes (61.3 percent) for 5,910 yards with 66 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. As a junior, Thomas threw for 2,761 yards with 33 TDs and only seven INTs. Despite good production in Kelly’s offense, Thomas is listed as a late-round draft pick or a possible undrafted free agent.
Another Ducks player that could end up in Tampa Bay, especially if Kelly becomes the Bucs head coach, is running back LaMichael James. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound James is one of the quickest and most electrifying runners in the nation with 5,082 yards and 53 touchdowns on 771 carries (6.6 avg.). James, who is leaving for the NFL after his junior season, rushed for a career-high 1,805 yards and 18 touchdowns on 247 carries (7.3 avg.).
James, who is considered to be a second-round pick, broke Blount’s single-season touchdown record as a sophomore with 21 TDs while rushing for 1,731 yards on 294 carries (5.9 avg.). That followed up a redshirt freshman year in which James ran for 1,546 yards and 14 touchdowns on 230 carries (6.7 avg.).
As a receiver, James has caught 17 passes in each of his three seasons at Oregon, totaling 51 receptions for 586 and four touchdowns in his career. His size will prevent him from becoming a feature back, but the Buccaneers need a change-of-pace back with speed to complement Blount and help out the passing game on third down.
Other 2012 NFL Draft prospects from Oregon include cornerback Cliff Harris (second round), tight end David Paulson (fifth round) and safety Eddie Pleasant (seventh). Given Kelly's familiarity with those players, they could all become Tampa Bay draft targets.