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October 20, 2009

One-on-one with Oregon coach Chip Kelly

Few coaches have risen to prominence quicker than Oregon's Chip Kelly.

In 2006, Kelly -- who turns 46 on Nov. 25 -- was offensive coordinator at FCS member New Hampshire. Now, he's the coach of one of the nation's top programs. Kelly has the Ducks off to a 5-1 start, including a 3-0 mark in the Pac-10.

Kelly's Ducks have a big game at Washington this Saturday. Win that, and a huge showdown on Halloween at home against USC looms. That game that could determine the Pac-10 crown.

What has pleased you most about the development of your team?

"I have been impressed with the way the young players have stepped up, [CB Anthony] Gildon and others. We have been tested because of injuries."

Which areas still need to develop?

"We need to develop everywhere to take the next step. We are still young on the offensive line. We only have one senior [starter] on offense, and we really only have two on defense. Our linebackers are all underclassmen. The secondary was the strength of our team, but we have injures there. We are just an extremely young team in all facets."

It looked as if your season could have gone downhill quickly after the season-opening 19-8 loss at Boise State and subsequent suspension of LeGarrette Blount. But you kept things together and Oregon has won five straight. How did you keep the team together?

"I certainly didn't give them any Tim Tebow speeches that are going to be up on the wall. My big thing was that one game doesn't define you. A lot was put into it by some because we were playing Boise State and it was our first game. Very rarely is any team going to go unbeaten. We just happened to lose in the first game. We had to learn from the mistakes we made and correct them. We all knew it was going to be a tough game on the road. I knew we were very young in a lot of areas and that it was going to be a good test and a good battle."

And you were able to follow that tough loss with a 38-36 home win over Purdue.

"Our guys played hard. And if you play hard, you have a shot. That's why we practice so hard. We finish everything we do in practice, finish every drill. It's establishing that mentality of finishing everything. And that carries over [on the field] and helped us in that Purdue game. In our last game, we went in down at halftime at UCLA and we had to come out in the second half and finish. Our guys have really bought into that."

How has Blount been doing?

"He has been practicing. He has been with us every day. He still has a long ways to go and will be evaluated when we get into November.

Did you think his initial suspension for the entire season was warranted?

"Yes, I did. And I made the decision. I felt like he had to understand that he made an egregious mistake and what [he would] do in the weeks after that would make me reconsider. At this point in time, I would still make the same decision. He has to understand that there is a certain way to play the game, and that's not how you behave and that's not what Oregon football is all about.

"I still agree with what I did on September 4 [the day after the game]. After that, I started looking into giving him another chance because of the way he was acting. But I didn't want him to act a certain way thinking the only reason he was doing it was because there was a chance he could get back on the team. He had to really, truly show remorse. Was he showing remorse because there was a shot at him coming back? Or was he truly remorseful? And I have had a chance to find that out."

What do you think of critics who feel his suspension should have remained for the entire season?

"They don't walk in our shoes. There are critics in every walk of life. There were people who agreed with our original decision and some who agreed with the second one. They aren't with him every day; they don't see him every day. The day I start to take a poll on what people on the outside think of how I run this football program will be the day I walk out of here."

Upward mobility

A look at Chip Kelly's career track:

1990-91: Columbia. Secondary coach/special teams coordinator on the freshman team in '90, outside linebackers/strong safeties coach for the varsity in '91.

1992: New Hampshire. Running backs coach

1993: Johns Hopkins. Defensive coordinator

1994-2006: New Hampshire. Running backs coach from 1994-96, offensive line coach in 1997-98, offensive coordinator from 1999-2006.

2007-08: Oregon. Offensive coordinator

2009: Oregon. Head coach.

What's the difference between you and Mike Bellotti?

"I didn't know Mike at all before I interviewed. I had talked to Gary Crowton, who used to be on the staff [as offensive coordinator], but I hadn't met Mike until I came out here to interview. The two differences with me and Mike is, No. 1, I talk faster than he does. No. 2, he has 116 victories.

"One of the first things he said to me and one of the only things he ever has told me is, 'Be yourself. You can't be me. I couldn't be Rich Brooks [who was Bellotti's predecessor].' As the athletic director, he hasn't micromanaged me. But even when I was offensive coordinator, he didn't micromanage me. Mike empowers the people who work for him. I talk to our staff about doing things better than they ever have been before. There are a lot of things we do the same, and there are some things that we have tweaked because we think it's in our best interest."

What are some things you have changed?

"We practice a little different. We now practice in the morning. We had done some studies on what that does to our recovery time in terms of playing games. We practice maybe a little bit shorter. Our practices are as long as they were before, but we think they're faster. We think we can get a little bit more work in the body of practice. A 15-minute team period, because you want to get 'X' number of reps in, can be 10 minutes long and you still can get the same number of reps in."

And you still call plays?

"Yes, but I think that's overblown. I think a lot of our decisions about play-calling are made during the week as an entire staff. I will call the plays on game day, but I will have a tremendous amount of input from Mark Helfrich, our offensive coordinator, and Steve Greatwood, our offensive line coach."

Can you fathom how quickly your career has risen?

"Could I imagine this is where I would be [three years ago]? Yes. ... Just kidding.

"Someone asked me that at my opening-day press conference: 'You were offensive coordinator at New Hampshire and two years later you are head coach of Oregon.' And I looked at him and said, 'Yes.'

"Sean McDonnell is the head coach at New Hampshire. He is a friend and role model for me. He really has taught me how to do things the right way, with honesty, integrity and hard work. Because of our situation at New Hampshire ... Mac always asks, 'How do you do more with less?' Our facilities weren't the greatest. It was all about the players and the character of the people, the players and the coaches. They have been in the playoffs five years in a row. Nobody in that league has done that. It is unheard of when you see that stadium they play in and some of those other things. You wonder, 'How does this team consistently do things?' It's about creating an environment where your team has a chance to be successful.

"Also, the former [New Hampshire] head coach, Bill Bowes, is a big influence on me. Me and Sean both played and coached for Bill."

What do you think of the job Steve Sarkisian has done at Washington?

"I think 'Sark' has done a great job up there. I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. He has those guys playing hard."

What will it take to end USC's dominance in the Pac-10?

"That's a good question. We are all gunning for them. Until that happens, it's just a matter of staying the course and keeping your playmakers healthy. At times, we have had teams that can compete. Two years ago, we lost Dennis Dixon and things were a little different for us. If you can keep your playmakers healthy, then you have a shot."

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.

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