Chip Kelly and his system quarterbacks

Today I was alerted to a piece on The Classical that takes a look at how Oregon starting quarterbacks as “system players” under Chip Kelly and his highly specialized offense don’t really amount to much after leaving Eugene. This, as an Oregon alum and a huge Ducks fan, was obviously something that appealed to me, and I enjoyed reading it. Here is essentially the column’s takeaway, in excerpted form:

[T]here remains the question of what broader skills these system quarterbacks gain during Kelly’s rigidly planned, obsessively focused practice schedule. A legitimate consolation exists for the competition’s loser—Joey Harrington’s one-time backup, A.J. Feeley, has enjoyed the longest NFL tenure of any Bellotti/Kelly signal-caller—but will the winner be positioned with marketable tools or are they investing the entirety of their human capital on a skill-set with little currency beyond their college eligibility?

“Education is the transference of knowledge,” Kelly said during that same 2009 Coaches Clinic, though in prioritizing a skill-set that produces far greater benefits for employer than employee, the transference of this specialized knowledge runs counter to the University of Oregon’s stated educational mission: “the establishment of a framework for lifelong learning that leads to productive careers and to the enduring joy of inquiry.”

I recommend checking the whole piece out. It’s well-researched and well-written. It’s what all the cool kids on Twitter would call “a good read.” Earlier I shared it on Facebook, where, being an Oregon alum and huge Ducks fan, I am Facebook friends with a number of other Oregon alums and huge Ducks fans who I thought might enjoy giving it a read as well. Not long after, one such Facebook friend commented back, suggesting Kelly isn’t completely to blame for his quarterbacks’ lack of success on Sundays.

I agreed, but it was point I looked over initially, perhaps while enjoyably relearning about the time Darron Thomas laughably compared himself to Cam Newton. By focusing solely on Chip and the Ducks, this piece can be viewed as a case study into a larger issue. However, at the same time, it fails to even mention the Tom Osbornes, the Rich Rodriguezes, the Mike Leaches, the other guys who also have or still run successful systems that require “system” guys and are tailored only for college football and not so much the NFL.

But, it’s true; Chip doesn’t deserve any of the blame for his quarterbacks’ inability to blaze memorable pro careers. He can’t help that Dennis Dixon, Jeremiah Masoli or DT didn’t have the skills to not totally suck in the NFL. And yet it’s Chip’s system that, for lack of a better word, exploits whatever disposable skills they do have, that allows these guys to overachieve so much so soon into their football careers, that takes total advantage of them without giving much in return. (Please save your empty “they get a free education!” argument for the next obligatory “should college athletes be paid?” debate.)

If you already have the inherent skills required to take you to the next level, then great. But kids coming to Oregon ought to know Chip Kelly isn’t there to groom them into a future NFL panty dropper. If that’s what you’re looking for as a prospective college football stud, then go to USC, go to Oklahoma, go hate your life playing for Nick Saban at Alabama. Go to anywhere else that runs a pro-style. But when you commit to the Ducks, you better know what you’re getting into. And it’s a lot more than space-age jerseys, swanky facilities and sweet gifts from Uncle Phil Knight.

Chip is going to run his scary-good college football offense because he’s a college football coach hired to win college football games. This piece makes it seem like Oregon’s the only one who thinks that way. But it’s the case at dozens of other successful programs.

Screengrab via the most Chip Kelly moment ever.

2 comments to Chip Kelly and his system quarterbacks

  • I forget who pointed it out, but beyond USC, none of the traditional “powers” such as Ohio St/Bama/Texas/Florida/LSU have a QB starting in the NFL, and they, for the most part, run Pro-Style attacks at this point. Lack of an NFL QB isnt a huge factor against Oregon; in fact, the secondary has produced plenty of NFL talent. Plus we really havent had NFL-caliber talent at QB, though that might change if Mariota lives up to the potential he’s flashed. It’s an interesting piece, but there’s a definite lack of contextual analysis and hyperfocus on the NFL results of one school, at one position, under one coach. If you widen the scope by even five years, you get Joey Harrington, who was a starting QB, if one doomed by a terrible line and poor coaching.

    • sawley

      yeah, the piece didn’t even mention Kellen Clemens, who was drafted in the 2nd round. Granted, he ended up sucking (still in the league, though!) but a former Duck nonetheless. Wasn’t one of Chip’s QB’s, and that goes with your point about the whole thing being hyperfocused, but he still reaped the benefits of Phil Knight, who the piece extols for being as much of a mastermind behind Oregon football as Chip, like any other player who came after him. And, again, the writer makes it sound like big-time college football programs not producing NFL talent is a bad thing, which it’s not and as you mentioned is actually pretty commonplace.