Feel better, USC fans? Less eager to see Kevin Sumlin exit College Station or Charlie Strong leave Austin, Aggies and Longhorns? Chip Kelly really isn’t making his return to college football — not for at least another few years, pending the particulars of his new contract with the San Francisco 49ers.
The 49ers announced Chip Kelly’s hire via their website Thursday, ending weeks of speculation about the former Oregon Ducks and Philadelphia Eagles coach’s future.
San Francisco dismissed Jim Tomsula after one disastrous season, and just three years removed from the 49ers appearing in the Super Bowl. Not that Tomsula inherited the best situation, mind you. He was hired to replace wildly successful Jim Harbaugh, whose ouster from the NFL actually did push him back to the college game. Harbaugh and 49ers management butted heads over…well, everything.
Harbaugh is now the toast of college football after leading a one-year turnaround of Michigan football, and the 49ers are cellar-dwellers.
Jed York and Co. hiring Chip Kelly just one calendar year removed from the Harbaugh divorce suggests either 49ers brass learned the error of its way, and is reaching out to another coach with a controlling style and unique game-day philosophy. The alternative? Chip Kelly signed up to be the next 49er head coach jettisoned out of Silicon Valley faster than an in-over-his-head Tech Bro.
Kelly’s decision to remain in the NFL shouldn’t come as a surprise. His professional record is better than plenty of retreads who are typically hired to these posts. His failure in Philadelphia had more to do with personnel moves than coaching — somewhat ironic, given college coaches have more of a responsibility in crafting their rosters than do NFL coaches.
To that end, Kelly’s most famous Oregon recruit, Marcus Mariota, is still without a coach in Tennessee. A Kelly-Mariota reunion would have been awesome, but since it’s the NFL we’re talking here, awesome rarely applies.
Nevertheless, Chip Kelly’s arrival in Santa Clara should pique the interest of those hoping to see Colin Kaepernick make a comeback. Once the young toast of the NFL, Kaepernick’s struggles the last season-and-a-half relegated him to the sidelines.
Kelly’s offensive philosophy is made for a quarterback like Kaepernick, and vice versa. Kaepernick joined Tim Tebow and Cam Newton in the exclusive 20-20 touchdown club, scoring 20+ passing touchdowns and 20+ rushing touchdowns the same season.
He was the perfect quarterback for former Nevada head coach Chris Ault’s innovative Pistol set. Kelly’s spread philosophy at Oregon differs from the Pistol Ault crafted at Nevada, but Kelly introduced similarities during his time in Philadelphia. The use of a lead-blocking fullback implemented for his last Oregon team even showed some characteristics reminiscent of Ault’s set.
Kaepernick replacement Blaine Gabbert played in a spread system at Missouri under then-offensive coordinator Dave Christensen. Gabbert lacks Kaepernick’s mobility, but either is far more mobile than any of the quarterbacks Chip Kelly started in Philadelphia (Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez, Sam Bradford).
The prospect of Kelly sitting out a year and taking a vacancy in the SEC — predicated on the idea Sumlin’s time at Texas A&M is nearing an end — was intriguing. But, if this means a few more years of NFL elitists coming unglued about a deviation from the offensive norm, I’m all for it.