Etched against a lead-cold, carbon grey November sky, the rumors flew like tracer fire, hell-bent on bringing to ground a twisted shard of truth.
Chip Kelly's a lock for the NFL.
He's already been in talks with the GM at Philadelphia.
Ex-Ducks Casey Matthews and Chad Peppars endorsed the Twitter scuttlebutt and then recanted. He is or he isn't. The rumors persist, largely and chiefly because Kelly's done nothing to dispel them.
If he WERE staying at Oregon, in spite of his penchant for playing his cards in the manner of voters in the New Hampshire primary, always coy with the media in the days leading up to the ballot, wouldn't it be in the best interest of the program and its recruiting fortunes to come out and sign an extension and declare his intention to remain in Eugene?
Kelly seems to love to stare down a firestorm, or shut down a line of questioning. Last month a reporter invited him to address "the elephant in the room" and speak about the persistent notion that he wasn't long for his visor-wearing stay as the denizen of Autzen with the gargantuan gonads, that the pull of the big money and the Coors Light-lit stage in Roger Goodell's steroid-fed, growth hormone-enhanced, silicon-implanted NATIONAL Football League was his destiny. Kelly, the ultimate competitor, the fast-talking, obsessively efficient football savant who shredded former NFL defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's NFL defensive scheme for 62 points and 730 yards, seemingly wants the ultimate coaching challenge and an office with a cot in one corner.
Kelly rebuffed the reporter with a quick "No." He remains as silent as the NCAA has on the outcome of the Will Lyles investigation.
So it's left to the Twitterverse and the columnists and the bloggers to speculate, and as always, speculation runs ramant. The Philadelphia rumors have the biggest legs, Schwarzenegger-sized quadriceps from the Conan the Barbarian days, ripped veins and sinews of factual muscle: Kelly would be a great fit in Philadelphia. The fans and the media would love his fast-talking, quotable, no-nonsense ways, his take-control style. Kelly has expressed admiration for Nick Foles, a quick-release, whip-smart gunslinger who'd be perfect for the version of the spread offense that works in The League, a bright quarterback making quick decisions against a spread-out defense that has to declare its intentions, like Tom Brady in New England.
Kelly's an exceptional football coach. The notion he couldn't adapt to the NFL is ridiculous. NFL defensive linemen are too quick and powerful to run his patented zone-read plays, but he'd quickly adjust to what works, beat them with the pass and tempo and discipline and organization. He's a master at getting buy-in and getting players to understand and embrace his expectations. That will succeed at any level of football, or any walk of life. Kelly could run UPS. He'd hire a great staff, gather the information he needed and coach them up.
The greatest likelihood is that he leaves Oregon in a few weeks, probably to Philly or the Jets. What's left to the athletic administration and Oregon fans is to frame how they respond to the inevitable change.
And the correct response is to name Mark Helfrich the new head coach.
Oregon football has thrived on continuity. The core of the staff has blessed Duck fans with 20-25 years of impeccable leadership. The program has had three head coaches in the last 35 years, each one doing a successively more masterful job in shaping what's become one of the elite programs in college football. What Brooks and Bellotti built Kelly has turned into a juggernaut, with a record-tying four straight BCS bowl games, three conference titles and a 45-7 record.
Naming Helfrich the new head man continues that tradition of orderly transition. It assures the existing players and recruits that the identity of the team and its trademark blur offense will remain in place. It allows the superb coaching staff to thrive intact, with perhaps a couple of changes, receiver coach Scott Frost joining Kelly in the pros, maybe one or two of the coordinators entertaining another offer or the opportunity to retire.
Can Helfrich succeed? Remember that Kelly didn't look like a budding genius in his early weeks running the team. The Ducks stumbled badly in Boise and struggled for three quarters in wins over Purdue and Utah. Two young phenoms had to bail them out with big runs, a couple of redshirt freshman named LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner.
In October of this Bruce Feldman of cbssports.com interviewed former Oregon quarterback and current Comcast Sports Oregon football analyst Nate Costa about Helfrich and his role in the Ducks' success:
The biggest misconception would have to be the involvement of the OC Mark Helfrich. This is CK's system, people know this, so they automatically think Helfrich has little input on what happens on Saturdays. This is simply not true. Helfrich doesn't get half the credit he deserves. He is one of the smartest people in the college football world and has a great football mind. He has a large amount of involvement in the game-planning, scripting and coaching on a weekly basis. He may not call all the plays on game day, but he has a high amount of input in what plays are called and why they are called.
Helfrich already enjoys a great working relationship with Marcus Mariota, and the trust and confidence between the two will be vital in extending Oregon's run of success. A new system or adjusting to a new head coach with a different scheme and philosophy would take time, and the 2013 team is ready to win now.
Choose Helfrich. He's an Oregon native, born in Medford, a graduate of Marshfield High and Southern Oregon University. He has a great pedigree coaching the passing game and high-output offenses, here at Oregon and previously at Boise State and Arizona State. He'll preserve what's essential to Oregon's success, follow Kelly's model in practice organzation and philosophy. He'll grow in the job and stay long term.
Ironically, Helfrich differs from Kelly in one noticeable way. In his manner with the media, answering questions and handling interviews, the Helfrich on-camera persona is more like Mike Riley.
Maybe he'll even let fans and the media attend an occasional practice.
Most importantly, the Ducks should remain competitive and successful. The athletes Kelly assembled will achieve their own memorable legacy. Naming Helfrich as successor, decisively and quickly will get everybody refocused on the mission: wishing The Visor success, and getting back to winning the Fiesta Bowl, recruiting season and spring practice.