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October 19, 2010

Q-and-A: Oregon coach Chip Kelly

Just four years ago, Oregon's Chip Kelly was a largely anonymous offensive coordinator at New Hampshire. Now he's one of the nation's top coaches.

Kelly, 46, has the Ducks ranked No. 1 for the first time in school history, thanks largely to the nation's No. 1 unit in total offense (567.0 ypg) and scoring offense (54.3 ppg). But don't discount the defense, which ranks No. 3 in the Pac-10 (338.5 ypg).

Credit former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti for plucking Kelly from New Hampshire to be offensive coordinator in '07. Kelly had been at New Hampshire since 1994, serving as offensive coordinator from 1999-2006. He also had previous stints as an assistant at Columbia and Johns Hopkins before moving west and eventually taking over for Bellotti before the 2009 season.

Last season, the Ducks reached their first Rose Bowl since the 1994 season. A trip to the BCS title game this season is a real possibility when you consider Oregon likely will be favored in each of its remaining games: UCLA, at USC, Washington, at California, Arizona and at Oregon State.

Rivals.com recently spoke to Kelly, whose Ducks play host to UCLA on Thursday.

Were you disappointed you had to boot Jeremiah Masoli from the team in the offseason?

"Was I disappointed? No. We have rules on the team. And if you can follow them, you can play on the team. If you can't follow them, you aren't going to play here."

Have you talked to him since he left for Ole Miss?

"No. I made sure he graduated, and that was the last conversation I had with him."

What was it about Darron Thomas that gave him an edge over Nate Costa in the quarterback derby?

"He played better during camp. The other kid is really good, too. We feel like we have two."

Is the offense any different this season from last?

"Yes. We are throwing the ball better. We are on track more; we have less negative-yardage plays. Obviously our numbers are a little better than they were before. Jeremiah was probably better than those other two at improvising things. But that also could get us in trouble at times."

How good is LaMichael James (he leads the nation in rushing at 169.6 ypg)?

"He is a lot tougher than people think. He can really run between the tackles. That surprises some people. He's really put together. The other thing is he has the ability to hit a home run. He can take a short run and turn it into a touchdown from anywhere on the field. And that's something that separates him from a good back to being a great back."

What were you thinking this summer when it looked like the Pac-10 would expand to 16 teams?

"I have no say in the matter. It's like anything else. Things are written about the football program that I know aren't true, so when I read things about where the Pac-10 expansion is going, I knew you probably couldn't believe about half of it. I'm big on 'if I have no say in the matter, I really don't care.' Just tell me what our schedule is and we'll go play it."

How do you feel about Colorado and Utah coming aboard?

"I really don't have a feeling one way or the other. They are in the league. And it's two more teams to compete with and we are excited about it."

Where would you like to see a Pac-10 league title game played?

"I never have played in one, so I'd just be guessing. I think they should be played in Eugene, Oregon, every year. If they ask me for my vote, I think Autzen Stadium is the best in the Pac-10 and I think it would be the best place to host a championship game every year."

Did you know Mike Bellotti before he hired you from New Hampshire?

"No. I knew [former Oregon offensive coordinator] Gary Crowton [whom Kelly replaced], but I had never met Mike before I came out and interviewed."

What were you thinking when he called you up?

"It was interesting. He was great the first time we talked on the phone. He talked to me about just coming out here, not for an interview but to treat it like an official visit to see if it was something I would have an interest in. I wasn't looking to go anywhere. I was really happy with where I was. I was on a great coaching staff that was a lot of fun to be around. I loved the players. They had great work ethics and did more with less than any group I had been around. It was a lot of fun. It wasn't something where I was looking to leave. But when Mike called, just the way he presented it ... I was like, 'All right, I'll take a look at it.' "

It didn't take much to sell you once you got out there?

"What really sold me was the staff. I told myself, and I've said this before -- and it's the same thing I tell recruits -- I wasn't going to be swayed by the facilities. I was going to look at the people I was going to interact with every day. Asking Nick Aliotti, Steve Greatwood, John Neal, Don Pellum, Jimmy Radcliffe, these guys who had been here for 20-some-odd years. And Mike, he was in his 14th year as head coach and 19th on staff. That's kind of rare on college staffs. I kept saying, 'Why are these people here at this same place so long? They must be on to something.' That was the thing that sold me, the guys on the staff and being a part of that."

You didn't feel like an outsider?

"No, they have a way of not making you feel like an outsider. They had a way of making you feel comfortable right from the start at my interview. That was the thing that really struck me because those are the people you have to work with every day and spend your time with every day. I was really impressed with those guys."

Did anyone else try to pull you out of New Hampshire before Bellotti?

"I had a lot of offers. I turned down the New York Giants. I had a chance to go to a lot of different places. I just always made the decision based on 'is the situation I'm going to better than the one I am in now?' A lot of times, I never came up with a good answer because I always had a great deal in New Hampshire."

What was the offer from the Giants?

"It was a quality control job. I have a ton of respect for Coach [Tom] Coughlin. That was the closest I came to leaving because I think the world of Coach Coughlin. It probably was the wrong decision because a year later, they won the Super Bowl. I was probably stupid for not taking that one. For whatever the reason, it just didn't feel at that point in time that it was the right maneuver."

Would you like to coach in the NFL one day?

"I don't know. I'm just happy to have a job. I just try to live one day to the next. I'm happy where I am right now."

Oregon plays host to UCLA this Thursday night. How do you feel about playing on Thursday nights?

"I like them, as long as you have the right amount of time to prepare. I think sometimes it's difficult if you play on a Saturday and have to turn around and play on a Thursday. But I think Thursday night college football is kind of like 'Monday Night Football.' You are the only game on and everybody gets a chance to see you. We have had a lot of success playing night games. I am a big fan of Thursday night games ... at home. Because that makes it a little bit easier for you."

Do you like the Pac-10 schedule, which has an uneven number of road and home games?

"It flip flops every year [five road games and four home games one season, five at home and four on the road the next]. The thing I liked about our league when it was a 10-team league was that you played everybody, so you were the true champion. It wasn't like, 'Hey, we won our league, but we didn't play these teams.' It takes the guesswork out of it. If you're the champion of the Pac-10, you truly are the champion because you play everyone on the field. I am a big fan of that."

It's something that all college football coaches are really, really nervous about. You can't be with your players 24/7. I think sometimes people may feel we aren't monitoring our players. But agents don't show up at our practices or in our locker room and they aren't at a game.
- Oregon's Chip Kelly,
on agents
Agents paying players is in the news. How do you handle agents?

"We spend a lot of time educating our players about agents and what they are and aren't allowed to do. Our director of football operations, Jeff Hawkins, is very passionate about it and spends a lot of time on it. We bring the NCAA in to talk to our players to make sure they detail what you can and can't do. The agents will tell them, 'Hey, don't worry about it. We can do this.' But the real basic concept is there is no need for a player, while he still has eligibility, to have an agent. There is nothing an agent can do for them while they are still playing. There's enough time when your playing career is done, after the regular season and bowl game, where an agent can come in and help you out with training and stuff like that.

"It's something that all college football coaches are really, really nervous about. You can't be with your players 24/7. I think sometimes people may feel we aren't monitoring our players. But agents don't show up at our practices or in our locker room and they aren't at a game. It's when you're not with your players. They send their runners to go get them to talk to them or get to them at certain times; it's not when we are around them. It's hard, but you hope that you recruited kids that understand ... when someone's trying to give you something, they probably are trying to get something from you.

"If they are willing to break the rules to get you, is that a person you want to represent you? What are they going to do down the road for you? They already have proven they aren't going to follow the rules that are in place, so I don't know why you would want to hire someone who would want to do something like that anyway."

How often are you asked about writing that Oregon fan a check to reimburse him for his trip to Boise State in 2009?

"I never have commented on that and I never will."

Do you think there's a backlash against Boise State possibly playing for the national title?

"We played Boise and I have a bunch of respect for Chris [Petersen]. They are a top-five football team and deserve it. They have proven it, time in and time out. Sometimes people look at strength of schedule and other things, but the tough part for us as coaches is we don't really see each other play. I saw part of their Virginia Tech game. I have a hard time weighing in on anybody besides the teams we play.

"A lot of people have opinions. But I don't know if people who have opinions have seen it all."

Could Boise State compete in the Pac-10?

"Yes, I think so."

For a championship?

"I don't know enough about them to say they could [this season]. What is their depth like? What if they played Stanford, USC, Oregon and Washington all in a row? I don't know. And I'm not knocking anybody. It's all hypothetical. And I don't deal with hypotheticals. They aren't in the Pac-10. I don't know if they can play in the Pac-10. I know when we played them [last season], they were really good. They beat us. I know they were good. But I haven't seen them this year."

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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