EUGENE — After a weekend rife with rumors and speculation, Chip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks are right back where they started.
Oregon’s enigmatic head coach flirted with a trio of NFL teams over three days before deciding late Sunday to stay with the No. 5 Ducks.
On Monday it was back to business. Kelly was at a coaches’ convention in Tennessee. Oregon did not formally announce Kelly’s decision — for the school his status hadn’t changed, he’s still the head coach — but athletic director Rob Mullens told reporters he was obviously “ecstatic” about it.
It was an anticlimactic end to the whirlwind that started soon after Oregon’s 35-17 Fiesta Bowl victory over Kansas State on Thursday night.
Kelly was peppered with questions about whether he would entertain NFL offers in the days leading up to the bowl game and immediately after it. He told reporters: “I’ll listen and we’ll see.”
On Friday, he met with the Cleveland Browns. The interview went on for some seven hours, and by the end of the night, sources close to the team were telling the media that Kelly was “close” to signing a deal.
But the next day, Kelly went ahead and met for a reported nine hours with the Philadelphia Eagles about their open coaching position. Somewhere in the midst of all that, he also spoke to the Buffalo Bills.
The roller coaster even took a comical turn when musician Mat Kearney released a song entitled “Chip Don’t Go,” on YouTube. Kearney, a Eugene native, joked in the song: “They don’t have half the heart or the jerseys.”
By midday Sunday, The Associated Press learned that the Browns had started looking elsewhere because they weren’t sure Kelly’s heart was in the NFL.
That night, sources connected to Oregon and the Philadelphia Eagles confirmed an ESPN report that Kelly would remain in Eugene.
Mullens said renegotiation of Kelly’s contract with the Ducks was not discussed, and he did not know the details of his coach’s decision-making process. Mullens did admit to lobbying for Oregon.
“I don’t want to speculate on anything, other than to say I think we have something special here. It’s a great place. We have a very passionate fan base. We have a unique culture,” Mullens said. “I think it’s one of the best jobs in all of football. Not just college football, I think it’s one of the best jobs in football. I think that weighs heavily.”
Mullens said he was prepared to open a nationwide search for new coach had Kelly decided to leave.
Kelly has not commented publicly on the matter: Mullens explained he was focused on obligations at the convention and then would turn his attention to recruiting.
Kelly is 46-7 in four years as head coach at Oregon. The Ducks have been to four straight BCS bowl games — including a bid for the national championship against Auburn two seasons ago — and have won three Pac-12 championships.
He originally came to the Ducks in 2007 as offensive coordinator under Mike Bellotti. Before that, he was offensive coordinator at New Hampshire, where he started devising the innovative hurry-up offense the Ducks are known for today.
Oregon finished last season 12-1. The team was ranked No. 1 and appeared headed for another shot at the national championship until a 17-14 overtime loss to Stanford on Nov. 17.
The team will return two of its most dynamic players next season: redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota, and speedy sophomore running back De’Anthony Thomas, who ran for a 94-yard touchdown on the opening kickoff of the Fiesta Bowl.
But there may also be some challenges: Oregon still faces possible NCAA sanctions based on its use of recruiting services.
Reports surfaced in 2011 concerning payments Oregon made to two such services, including a $25,000 check sent to Willie Lyles and Houston-based Complete Scouting Services in 2010. Lyles had a relationship with a player who committed to Oregon.
Earlier this year, Oregon requested a summary disposition in the case. The school presented a report to the infractions committee outlining violations the school believed occurred and appropriate sanctions. But Yahoo Sports reported that the two sides could not reach an agreement and now the matter is headed for a hearing, as early as this spring.
And there’s certainly no evidence Kelly has ruled out a future in the NFL.
It’s hard to argue that his stock has fallen in any way because of the failed courtship by four teams, including his talks with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers early last year. Kelly obviously has a proven offensive mindset.
That said, there was already speculation that he might be waiting for his “dream” job with the New England Patriots, a seat currently held by Bill Belichick.
Only Kelly knows, and he’s not saying.