Looking back, it feels naive to think there was ever doubt about Chip Kelly’s coaching ability. When he took over as the Oregon Ducks’ head coach in 2009, they weren’t the elite juggernaut they are now. They were a good team moving upward, but they weren’t a consistent national championship contender. Oregon was losing Mike Bellotti, the main architect of its success. Kelly was a relatively inexperienced offensive coordinator. It would have been no surprise if Oregon had taken a downturn.
Instead, Kelly kicked Oregon up about three levels to become one of the elite and distinctive programs in the country. Oregon went on a tear of wins, using its blur offense and flashy uniforms to play for national titles and win a Rose Bowl. Today, to Husky fans’ terror, Oregon is the country’s coolest football program, and one of the most successful.
Kelly has now moved to the NFL to coach the Philadelphia Eagles, generating sighs of relief up and down the west coast. He is currently the most influential person in football, and his move and overall impact have clear implications for Seattle’s football teams, especially the Washington Huskies.
For those Husky fans agonizing over nine straight losses to Oregon (thus, all fans), Kelly’s move brings hope for a step back by the Ducks. New coach Mark Helfrich is extremely respected, and most expect him to be successful. Any coaching change brings potential for failure, however. Moreover, Helfrich could be successful by most standards and still fail to live up to Kelly’s level. Kelly is a football genius, and the chances of finding two coaches in a row at his level are slim. Helfrich should be fine, but Oregon might lose just a bit of the edge Kelly gave them.
Closer to home, the Huskies could look rather Kelly-ish on the field this season. They spent the offseason installing a no-huddle offense that somewhat mimics Kelly’s attack at Oregon. It remains to be seen exactly how the offense will run, but it sounds like it will be similar in nature to past offenses, run at hurry up pace. The plays aren’t changing. The Huskies aren’t converting to a full spread attack. They’re just going to move at a much faster pace, without a huddle.
There are several reasons for this. For one, football is changing, and until teams figure out a way to keep up with these faster moving offenses, there’s an advantage to be had. It’s also a good fit for Keith Price’s skill set, and will hopefully aid a sometimes suspect offensive line.
As much as the change could help the offense, the hope is it will have an even greater impact on the Husky defense. Coaches are banking on the idea that seeing the no-huddle offense and practicing at the increased tempo will provide experience and conditioning to a defense that has struggled against hurry-up and spread offenses recently. Though it’s not guaranteed to work, the coaches should be commended for going to great lengths to improve the defense in whatever way possible.
Kelly has said his goal was never to have an offense moving at lightning speed. That was merely a byproduct of his effort to increase the number of practice reps for his players. He feels the best way to improve is to practice more, to run a play so many times that there is little room for error. Some coaches would practice longer; Kelly decided to practice faster. In the time one team might run 15 reps of a play, Kelly aims for 45, or more. The idea is so obvious it seems ludicrous all teams don’t operate in such a fashion. By all accounts, the Huskies have dramatically increased the speed of their practices. Hopefully, significant improvement will be the more important product of the no-huddle switch.