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In defense of Chip Kelly and an open invitation back to college football

Sep 19, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly reacts during the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 19, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly reacts during the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Buzz Bissinger says Chip Kelly never won a big game? That is so incredibly wrong, it’s not even funny.

This is a college football themed website, so it may seem odd to lead off  a post by discussing the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles are off to a 1-3 start in the NFL season, far below the expectations of many in and around the City of Brotherly Love, although there have been some skeptics given the offseason roster moves made by the team. Those decisions were made by none other than Chip Kelly, the former head coach of the Oregon Ducks and now the head coach and newly appointed general manager of the NFC East franchise. Despite winning 10 games in each of his first two years in the NFL, Kelly’s 1-3 start has the media vultures starting to fly around Lincoln Financial Field, and it sure is not for Temple head coach Matt Rhule. Instead, people all over, in Philadelphia and beyond, are starting to think about Chip Kelly returning to the college game to resurrect the Texas Longhorns or South Carolina Gamecocks.

This week one of the latest critics to come out and make some harsh statements about Kelly in Philadelphia was none other than Buzz Bissinger. This week Bissinger made an appearance on 94 WIP’s morning sports radio show with Angelo Cataldi, during which time he labeled Kelly a fraud.

“I don’t like him because he’s a fraud,” Bissinger told Angelo Cataldi on Tuesday’s WIP Morning Show. “He’s a fraud because he gets ordained by the media, and even now they’re too nice to him. He has no clue.”

Kelly won 10 games in each of his first two seasons in the NFL, so saying he has no clue is a bit, well, wrong. And since joining the NFL coaching fraternity from Oregon, I feel the media reception to Kelly has been more mixed than Bissinger chooses to believe. There have always been doubters, especially given the lack of playoff wins, division titles and so-called big wins. It is a fair critique of Kelly the coach. And there is little to stand on in defense of Kelly the GM. Just about two and a half years into the Kelly regime in Philadelphia and Kelly has completely overhauled the roster by replacing players like DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy and other pieces that were core players under his predecessor, Andy Reid. So far this season, the GM decisions have not panned out and the coaching has not shown much ability to adapt to conditions on the field.

Bissinger attempted to support his argument by digging into Kelly’s success at Oregon.

“[Oregon] was good because he recruited a bunch of thugs from L.A. who couldn’t make it academically and many of whom got in trouble,” Bissinger said. “He barely beat a top-20 team, he never won at the national championship, and every time he went against a good team, he lost.”

Let’s address each one of these points briefly, to be as fair and balanced as possible.

“[Oregon] was good because he recruited a bunch of thugs from L.A. who couldn’t make it academically and many of whom got in trouble…”

This past August, Mike Rosenburg compiled data regarding football player arrests around college football over the last five years. The compiled data revealed Oregon had 11 players arrested between 2010 and 2014, 28th most among FBS programs.

OK, so Oregon had roughly two players arrested per year during the study. Yes, a good number of Chip’s players came from California. But what about the academics? Well, let’s take a look at the good old APR scores from 2009 through 2012.

  • 2009-2010: 941
  • 2010-2011: 948
  • 2011-2012: 951
  • 2012-2013: 958

Notice an upward trend in APR scores while Kelly was head coach? It’s true, Oregon’s APR scores over the years compared to other institutions in the Pac-12 lag, but nobody has ever compared Oregon to the academic standards of Stanford or UCLA. Does Kelly not get any credit for seeing those academic standards also increase during his tenure? you can also give Kelly some credit for the continued rise of APR scores in the year or so after he left for the NFL too. After all, he did recruit those players too.

As much as we can all try to live in a world where we think coaches go after scholar athletes, we all know that is not the case and singling out Kelly for this is painfully weak.

“He barely beat a top-20 team, he never won at the national championship, and every time he went against a good team, he lost.”

Here is a list of all the games Chip Kelly coached at Oregon against a top 25 team, between 2009 and 2012:

  • Sep 3, 2009: No. 14 Boise State 19, No. 16 Oregon 8
  • Sep 19, 2009: Oregon 31, No. 18 Utah 24
  • Sep 26, 2009: Oregon 42, No. 6 California 3
  • Oct 31, 2009: No. 10 Oregon 47, No. 4 USC 20
  • Dec 3, 2009: No. 7 Oregon 37, No. 13 Oregon State 33
  • Jan 1, 2010: No. 8 Ohio State 26, No. 7 Oregon 17
    4-2 vs. Top 25 teams in 2009
  • Oct 2, 2010: No. 4 Oregon 52, No. 9 Stanford 31
  • Oct 30, 2010: No. 1 Oregon 53, No. 24 USC 32
  • Nov 26, 2010: No. 1 Oregon 48, No. 20 Arizona 29
  • Jan 10, 2011: No. 1 Auburn 22, No. 2 Oregon 19
    3-1 vs. Top 25 teams in 2010
  • Sep 3, 2011: No. 4 LSU 40, No. 3 Oregon 27
  • Oct 15, 2011: No. 9 Oregon 41, No. 18 Arizona State 27
  • Nov 12, 2011: No. 6 Oregon 53, No. 3 Stanford 30
  • Nov 19, 2011: No. 18 USC 38, No. 4 Oregon 35
  • Jan 2, 2012: No. 6 Oregon 45, No. 9 Wisconsin 38
    3-2 vs. Top 25 teams in 2011
  • Sep 22, 2012: No. 3 Oregon 49, No. 22 Arizona 0
  • Oct 6, 2012: No. 2 Oregon 52, No. 23 Washington 21
  • Nov 3, 2012: No. 2 Oregon 62, No. 18 USC 51
  • Nov 17, 2012: No. 14 Stanford 17, No. 1 Oregon 14
  • Nov 24, 2012: No. 5 Oregon 48, No. 16 Oregon State 24
  • Jan 3, 2013: No. 5 Oregon 35, No. 7 Kansas State 17
    5-1 vs. Top 25 teams in 2012

If you lost count, that is a 15-6 all-time against teams ranked in the top 25 for Chip Kelly. And there were some solid victories in that bunch. Bissinger’s narrative right there is trashed. every time Kelly went up against a good team, he won more than two-thirds of the time. That’s actually a very respectable winning percentage.

I did always find the argument about Kelly never winning a national championship to be an incredibly faulty one as well. You know who else never won a national championship?

Mark Richt. Jackie Sherrill. Hayden Fry. Don Nehlen. Gary Patterson. Earl Bruce. Pat Dye. Bo Schembechler.

Sometimes really good coaches in college football do not win a national championship. It happens, but does that mean they are not a successful coach? Of course not.

Is Kelly a fraud? No. Is he in over his head in the NFL? That may be a fair argument to make.

Until Kelly proves he is capable of winning a big game in the NFL, there will always be a thought or some whispers about his eventual return to the college game. I stand by the notion he is in the NFL to succeed and will not choose to ditch the league for a chance to return to the college game the way Steve Spurrier or Bobby Petrino did. I think Kelly has his sights set on proving he can win at this level. With that said, if the day comes when the Eagles part ways with Kelly, I will be among the many who will welcome him back to our Saturday routines with open arms.

You'll always have a home in college football, Chip.

You’ll always have a home in college football, Chip.

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About the Author

Kevin McGuire
Contributor to College Football Talk on NBCSports.com. Also a contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Member of Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.
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  1. […] this week Buzz Bissinger attacked Kelly as a head coach and, erroneously, downplayed his previous work at Oregon. Bissinger’s sentiments have been shared by a number […]