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June 5, 2008

Oregon's Kelly appears to have bright future

Oregon offensive coordinator Chip Kelly won't say it, but I will: he's a rock star. In fact, I wouldn't be shocked if he's a I-A head coach at this time next year.

Not bad for a guy who was coaching Division I-AA New Hampshire in 2006. I know it has a good program. But, c'mon, it's New Hampshire.

Kelly could have stayed in the fiefdom he had built, but bigger things beckoned. That's when Ducks coach Mike Bellotti plucked him to ramp up Oregon's offense.

What did Kelly do? Only lead the highest-scoring offense (38.2 ppg) in Oregon history. Oh, and the Ducks also set a school record for most yards in a season (467.5 ypg).

The job as Oregon offensive coordinator has been special. Guys such as Bellotti, California coach Jeff Tedford and former Arizona State coach/current Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter used the post to launch themselves to big things.

Kelly, 44, will be next. If Oregon has a big season again and it could happen, thanks to what looks a strong offense and a killer defense led by coordinator Nick Aliotti Kelly will be in demand. Word is he committed to Bellotti to stay two seasons in Eugene.

How about the Arizona or Syracuse jobs?

Oregon's offense teems with potential, but Kelly has a problem: He needs a quarterback. Kelly did a great job last fall grooming Dennis Dixon into a legit Heisman contender and helping vault the Ducks into a run at the BCS title game before Dixon suffered a late-season injury.

Justin Roper came on late, guiding Oregon to a 56-21 rout of USF in the Sun Bowl. But the job doesn't belong to Roper. In fact, don't be shocked if sophomore Nate Costa wins the job. He's coming off knee surgery and redshirted last season after playing briefly in 2006 but will be full-go during camp.

"He was pressing Dixon before Costa hurt his knee," Kelly says. "If he hadn't hurt his knee in practice (in October), Costa would have been the guy playing late last year after Dennis got hurt.

"Nate is built a lot like the guy at Missouri (Chase Daniel), but Costa isn't as bulky and is quicker."

The comparison to Daniel and that Kelly visited Missouri's coaching staff in the offseason to glean ideas on how to better utilize his quarterbacks' skills seems to indicate Costa may end up being the man when the Ducks open the season Aug. 30 against Pac-10 foe Washington.

"It's a competition," Kelly says. "No one has the job yet. I like guys battling."

It may be, but Costa's athletic ability makes him the intriguing choice. At 6 feet 1 and 220 pounds, he may have the best skill set to make Kelly's spread option thrive. He also has a strong arm. Roper? At 6-6 and 205 pounds, he's better suited to work from the pocket, lacking the niftiness and nimbleness that Costa possesses.

Bottom line: I expect Costa to be Oregon's quarterback. And Kelly to be a head coach somewhere in 2009.

ON THE LINE

I was in Tallahassee this spring for a story. First thing I did was see Florida State offensive line coach Rick Trickett.

"You still haven't grown any hair," he says to me.

But he was more interested in watching highlights of high school linemen. He was jammed in a back office, sitting among a sea of DVDs and tapes.

"Watch this guy move," he says. "Got to get him to camp."

Trickett is looking for linemen. He needs them. He has to have them to bolster a Seminoles' front that was awful last season, his first in Tallahassee. Trickett doesn't give a rip if you're a five-star recruit or a no-star recruit. Trickett's only requirement: that you love football.

"When I was at West Virginia, I didn't have any star recruits," Trickett says. "I beat out schools like Lehigh and Penn for guys.

"I am looking for big, mean and nasty guys who play with an attitude."

West Virginia annually had some of the nation's best fronts with Trickett at the controls. And the core of a Mountaineers unit he left behind in Morgantown will be one of the best fronts in America this fall. Bill Stewart should send Trickett a thank-you note. Better yet, maybe he could buy Trickett some chrome parts for the Harley he loves to ride.

"Oh, yeah," Trickett says. "I have had the bike out several times this spring."

Trickett needed time to clear his head on Harley rides after a trying first season at FSU. He is well-paid, reportedly $400,000 per year, but he's earning his money. Calling FSU's line "patchwork" is kind. Trickett would like to sign five linemen in February to bolster a roster with just 11 scholarship linemen.

This fall may be no better. Trickett faces one of the biggest challenges of his career trying to mold a decent front wall from a group littered with youth and inexperience. His task got more difficult when projected starting tackle Daron Rose was declared academically ineligible for the season. Rose is expected back after the season; he will spend this fall at a junior college in his hometown of Tampa.

If FSU opened the season tomorrow, Rodney Hudson (sophomore) would be the left tackle, Evan Bellamy (sophomore) the left guard; Ryan McMahon (sophomore) the center; Will Furlong (redshirt freshman) the right guard and Antwane Greenlee (redshirt freshman) the right tackle. Hudson was a freshman All-American at guard last season.

"It's going to be a challenge," Trickett says. "But we'll get it done eventually."

CATCHING UP WITH GLEN MASON

I caught up with Glen Mason on Monday to congratulate him on his new gig with a financial company.

Mason is vice president for business development for Marquette Asset Management, a financial company in Minneapolis that is owned by Twins owner Carl Pohlad. Mason, who didn't coach last season, also will continue to work as an analyst for the Big Ten Network.

Mason received a few phone calls from headhunters last season, but he never got deeply involved in any job searches - though he was interested in coaching again. Mason says he wants to focus on his position with Marquette, but don't close the door on him coaching again.

"I think sometimes you can stay somewhere too long," Mason says. "I think that's what happened to me at Minnesota. My phone rang a lot when I was coaching there. But I stayed. If I had known I was going to be fired, I obviously would have left earlier. A lot of people still are shocked I lost my job."

I am. I don't think Mason, 57, ever received the respect he deserved. Remember, this is a guy who made winners out of losers at Kansas (1988-96) and Minnesota (1997-2006). And he also was the last coach to lead Kent State to a winning record, going 7-4 in 1987. Mason has a career mark of 123-121-1, with nine bowls in 21 seasons as a head coach. He twice engineered 10-win seasons, going 10-2 in 1995 with Kansas and 10-3 in 2003 with Minnesota.

A quick look back at Mason's career:

BEST TEAM: "The team I had at Kansas in 1995 was special. No one thought we were going to do much. But we went 10-2 and beat UCLA in a bowl."

FAVORITE WIN: "Winning at Michigan (23-20) in 2005 was great with the way the players reacted. We had lost some close games to those guys, which built our resolve."

TOUGHEST SEASON: "The 1996 season (4-7 at Kansas) was difficult. We lost a lot of tough games and had few home games early in the season."

BEST PLAYER: "I had a lot of good ones to single any out. Football is a game of toughness. That's the kind of kid we recruited. We didn't get caught up in chasing talent. We wanted guys who had been knocked down and could get up."

Here's hoping Mason is back in coaching in 2009.

IRISH LOOK FOR A.D.

When Notre Dame athletic director A.D. Kevin White left last week to take the same post at Duke, the Irish named Missy Conboy the interim athletic director. The school has set no timetable to replace White.

Conboy could retain the title, but a source told me the Irish might make a run at Illinois A.D. Ron Guenther. He's a no-nonsense former Illini football player who has earned a rep as a shrewd negotiator in Champaign.

Another name I have heard is Cal A.D. Sandy Barbour. She was Notre Dame's deputy director of athletics from 2003-05 and was an associate A.D. in South Bend before that. She also has been athletic director at Tulane.

Tulsa A.D. Bubba Cunningham is another who is expected to be in the mix. Cunningham also has been athletic director at Ball State and spent 15 years working in the Notre Dame athletic department. He was Notre Dame's associate director of athletics for external affairs when he was hired by Ball State. He's also a Notre Dame alum.

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



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