Oregon Ducks head coach Chip Kelly is greeted with a bucket of gatorade by Bryan Bennett and Michael Clay after defeating the Kansas State Wildcats at the Fiesta Bowl football game in Glendale

With rumors swirling of Kelly’s departure, Oregon keeps its focus in Fiesta Bowl

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The Fiesta Bowl was, in fact, treated as a party — a going away party for Oregon coach Chip Kelly.

Kelly’s name has become surgically attached to the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles in recent weeks. Both organizations are reportedly in Glendale, Ariz., for the bowl game in an attempt to steal Kelly away from Eugene and into the NFL. They’ll have Oregon’s permission to speak to Kelly too.

From the moment Kelly turned away the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a year ago, everyone — players, Oregon’s administrators, fans and media alike — knew this time was coming again. Hot coaching commodities have windows of opportunity and Kelly’s is wide open right now. The thought of Kelly departing Oregon for the pros surely weighed on those collective minds, and perhaps on Kelly most of all.

Yet through the distractions, Kelly did the one thing for which he’s best known: keeping his focus on the task at hand. “Win the day” is not just a cliché for the Ducks’ head coach. Neither is the “next man in” philosophy.  It’s what he personally practices and asks of everyone involved with the program. As a result, Oregon’s identity has been closer to that of a machine rather than a football team over Kelly’s four years as head coach of the Ducks.

The focus was apparent Thursday night when the No. 5 Ducks knocked off No. 7 Kansas State 35-17. On the opening kickoff, De’Anthony Thomas darted around defenders for a 94-yard touchdown run. Immediately, Oregon converted a two-point conversion by catching K-State off guard.

That’s focus (or, speed).

Up 22-10 heading into halftime thanks to a more Oregon-esque 45-second drive, Kelly still wasn’t satisfied. “I have to call a faster game,” Kelly said to ESPN’s Holly Rowe. “That’s on me.”

That’s focus (or, logistics).

The Ducks then made excellent halftime adjustments along the offensive line and running back Kenjon Barner finished with 143 yards after a sluggish first two quarters.

That’s focus (or, great coaching).

These are just examples of why Oregon is going to be fine if Kelly leaves for the NFL. His players don’t fear his departure. In fact, they respect that their coach seeks to win at the highest of levels because it’s a quality they all possess as competitors. It helps that the university also has a plan. Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich is reportedly the next-in-line to grab the reins should Kelly take his final bow. Per USA Today‘s George Schroeder, Helfrich is a pure cut from Kelly’s philosophical cloth.

He can finish Chip’s sentences,” a source told Schroeder about Helfrich. “He’s been in that environment long enough (to succeed). It’s a leap of faith but it’s very similar – I’d almost argue that it was a bigger leap (promoting) Chip than with Mark.”

If it is a leap, it’s a calculated one. Oregon has a brand and an identity on and off the field matched by few in today’s college football environment. So whether it’s Kelly leading the Ducks on to the field or Helfrich, Oregon is in a position for continued success even with a hearing with the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions looming.

If it is Helfrich? Well, Chip, it’s been fun. And a little too fast in every sense of the word.

Washington State coach Mike Leach fires a shot at the SEC

EUGENE, OR - OCTOBER 19: Head coach Mike Leach of the Washington State Cougars looks on from the sidelines during the second quarter of the game against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium on October 19, 2013 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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Washington State coach Mike Leach is known across the country as one of college football’s most interesting characters, rambling on from time-to-time about everything from pirates to the history of Geronimo. The latest subject the quirky head coach has turned his sights on? The big ol’ SEC.

The Jackson Clarion-Ledger spoke to Leach recently as part of a profile on new Ole Miss offensive coordinator Phil Longo, and let’s just say the Air Raid guru of the Palouse didn’t hold back when discussing the state of offenses in the league widely considered to be the best in the sport.

“I’ve got bad news for all these levels people,” Leach said. “Your level isn’t special, your conference isn’t special. All this different level this, different level that. That’s crazy.

 

“This is a great time to be in the SEC, everybody’s got the same offense: run right, run left, play action. And they tease themselves  and say we threw it four more times a game this year than we did last year.”

Leach, who coached in the league at Kentucky, also added some other, more colorful language to describe his impression of the SEC and the offenses teams run. While he did play at Auburn with the Cougars a few years ago, he clearly hasn’t kept up with the way things are trending down south as even pro-style stalwarts like Alabama and Arkansas are using more and more tempo and spread principles on a weekly basis.

Either way, let’s hope the Washington State athletic director is already making calls to schedule an SEC opponent in the coming years. If nothing else, any future appearance by Leach on the Paul Finebaum Show should be must-see entertainment.

Willie Taggart completes Oregon coaching staff with familiar face from USF

TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 26: South Florida Bulls head coach Willie Taggart during the third quarter at Raymond James Stadium on November 26, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Jason Behnken / Getty Images)
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It probably took a little longer than most to dot the I’s and cross the T’s, but Willie Taggart has completed his coaching staff at Oregon and the latest addition is a familiar face.

The school announced Thursday afternoon that Raymond Woodie would be taking over as the Ducks’ new special teams coordinator, having previously spent the past four seasons at USF with Taggart and three more before that together at Western Kentucky.

Woodie most recently served as the Bulls’ defensive coordinator this past season but has been a linebackers coach dating back to 2012. He is regarded by many to be a quality recruiter with good ties to the state of Florida in particular and has also coached the defensive line. While his title makes him responsible for the third phase of the game for Oregon, he figures to also help out new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt in some fashion as well.

The announcement is a bit of positive news for Taggart and the Ducks this week after a considerable bit of bad press for the program stemming from the revelation that multiple Oregon players wound up in the hospital following offseason workouts. New strength coach Irele Oderinde (who also came over from USF) was eventually suspended for one month without pay by the school as a result..

Despite Auburn interest, Texas A&M OC Noel Mazzone staying put in College Station

COLLEGE STATION, TX - OCTOBER 14:  The Texas A&M Aggies offense huddles against the Missouri Tigers at Kyle Field on October 14, 2006 in College Station, Texas. Texas A&M won 25-19. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Gus Malzahn’s quest to find a new offensive coordinator has zigged and zagged in the past few days since the surprising departure of Rhett Lashlee to UConn. One place it will not be going however, is to a fellow SEC West school.

Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle reports that despite some interest in Texas A&M offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, the Aggies’ coach is staying put in College Station.

Mazzone arrived at A&M prior to this past season from UCLA and found early success with the Aggies and transfer quarterback Trevor Knight before a late slide in 2016. Travis Haney of 247Sports reported earlier Thursday that he could be considered the leader in the search to replace Lashlee, but it appears that will not be the case.

The longtime coaching veteran’s name being linked to Auburn isn’t too surprising considering he was the OC there from 1999-2001 but Mazzone’s hefty salary and likely high buyout figure provided some big obstacles if he wanted to reunite with the school.

Instead, it’s on to the next one for Malzahn and company.

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan coaches ride go-karts with five-star recruit in Georgia

ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 17:  Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines reacts during the college football game against the Michigan State Spartans at Michigan Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Spartans defeated the Wolverines 27-23.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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National Signing Day is just around the corner and that means a flurry of in-home visits by coaches across the country trying to lock up the next class of impact players for their program.

We’ve seen plenty of unique attempts by coaches to impress prospects over the years as a result, from often used cookie cakes to sleepovers and limo rides. When it comes to this subject though, few have been as creative as Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh. This week, he certainly cemented that reputation.

According to the Detroit News, Harbaugh and several Wolverines coaches took an in-home visit with five-star defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon out of Leesburg, Georgia and went bowling with the recruit’s family before finally racing go-karts together.

And even better, there’s video via ESPN:

Solomon is also strongly considering Alabama and Georgia in addition to Michigan, but something says neither Nick Saban or Kirby Smart will be heading to the race track with the big defensive tackle on their visit. You have to love recruiting either way.