SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — One of the first questions Oregon coach Chip Kelly was asked after arriving in Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl was about the possibility of coaching in the NFL. The questions haven’t let up in the five days since and only figure to pick up after seven coaches were fired Monday.
Deflection has been Kelly’s defense since the rumors started and it was no different after all those NFL openings cropped up.
“I’ve got a game to play,” Kelly said during the Fiesta Bowl’s media day on Monday. “We’re playing in the Fiesta Bowl. That’s the biggest thing in my life. If I allowed other things to get into my life, then they would be distractions, but there aren’t. Our focus 100 percent is on the Fiesta Bowl.”
Kelly has been an intriguing candidate for NFL teams for a few years. The 49-year-old coach is known as an offensive innovator and his fast-paced, high-scoring offense has led to the most successful stretch in Oregon’s history. The fifth-ranked Ducks have gone to four straight BCS bowl games, a run that includes a trip to the 2011 national championship game, Oregon’s first Rose Bowl win in 95 years last season and Thursday night’s Fiesta Bowl against No. 5 Kansas State at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The speculation over the past few years has been that Kelly has his eye on an NFL job and he even talked to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year before saying he had unfinished business in Eugene.
The rumors began to pick up this season and followed him to the desert, where he’s been asked about the NFL every day he’s been here and has given a different version of the same answer every time.
“My heart is to win today and that’s it,” Kelly said. “I know everybody wants to hear a different answer. And I know that at times when I don’t give you guys the answer that you guys want, then I’m being evasive. I’m not being evasive.”
One reason that Kelly’s stock is so high is that NFL teams are starting to embrace the hurry-all-the-time offense he has nearly perfected in Eugene.
In college, coaches have latched onto the no-huddle offense, with teams across the country employing a version of it.
NFL teams have always seemed to be reluctant to borrow from the college ranks, sticking to smash-mouth football for years even while college offenses had unprecedented success with the spread.
The mindset has changed, at least some, over the past few years as teams have looked for ways to get ahead of the defenses. Several NFL teams have gone the high-octane route on offense, including New England, Seattle, Washington and Green Bay, to a certain extent.
Kelly has been the standard-bearer for the redline approach in college. His Ducks have ranked no lower than sixth in the country in rushing yards since he became offensive coordinator in 2007 and have been in the top 10 in scoring and total offense every year but one.
With success like that, it’s no wonder he’s become a popular target for NFL teams.
“My whole thing since I’ve been here is that I’m going to do the best job I can every single day,” Kelly said. “If that’s good enough that other people look at me sometimes, I don’t really care about that. I think too many people live in the future. We live in the moment.”
The key this week will be keeping the Ducks in the moment as the rumors swirl.
Kelly is reported to be the top candidate to replace Pat Shurmur with the Cleveland Browns and would be a popular choice for the Philadelphia Eagles now that Andy Reid is gone. Arizona, Buffalo, Chicago, San Diego and Kansas City also are without coaches and could come calling on Kelly as well.
Whatever Kelly does behind the scenes, he’s tried to make sure it doesn’t become a distraction for his team as it prepares to play another team that had national-championship hopes that lasted deep into the season.
“I never said a word to our guys about it,” Kelly said. “They understand what the task is at hand. I don’t think about it. They don’t think about it, so ...”
So far, it seems to be working.
Kelly’s players have taken to his stick-to-what’s-in-front-of-you mentality when it comes to games and have done the same thing with the rumors about their coach possibly leaving.
“It’s not really distracting,” Oregon running back DeAnthony Thomas said. “Our main focus is just winning this game right now and just celebrating as a team.”
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