Lowell Cohn: Buzz about 49ers' Chip Kelly and Oregon could be his exit plan
SANTA CLARA - Fact. Billionaire Phil Knight was Chip Kelly’s guest at Sunday’s 49ers game. You know, the one the Niners were leading 14-0, but lost 34-17.
Fact: Knight is a massive donor to the University of Oregon, including the football program.
Fact: Knight attended Oregon’s loss to Cal on Saturday and told one Oregon reporter things were “not pretty” for the Ducks.
Fact: The Ducks are in last place in the Pac-12 North and have not won a game in the conference.
Fact: Ducks head coach Mark Helfrich could be a dead duck in Eugene.
Fact: Knight and Chip are pals, and when Chip coached Oregon, the Ducks were mighty good.
Pure speculation: After this horrendous season with the 49ers, his first in Santa Clara, Chip might go back to Oregon.
This is not my idea, not a speculation I started. The Oregonian ran an article wondering about the possibility of Chip going back to college. Me, I find the idea intriguing and incredibly appropriate. A source told me a Chip-back-to-Oregon rumor is running wild through the NFL. According to this notion, Knight, in his desperation to get the Ducks quacking again, will pay the buyout on Chip’s Niners’ contract.
At his Monday news conference, Chip and I had this dialog:
Me: Over the weekend, The Oregonian ran an article speculating if there were an opening at Oregon you might go back. Would you? A head coaching gig?
Chip: “No. I’m the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. So, not looking at anything else.”
Me: Past this season, you would stay here?
Chip: “Yeah, I’m here.”
OK, Chip pledged his allegiance to the 49ers. He has to. He’s coaching the team and Helfrich is his pal. But that doesn’t mean Kelly was telling the truth forever.
Look at things from his point of view. The 49ers won’t get better this season. They won’t be good — a contender — for years to come. Not with that lack of talent. Not with those quarterbacks. Not with that general manager. Not with that ownership.
It will be hard for Kelly to lose year after year and keep his self-respect. And all that losing will hurt his brand. Remember they ran him out of Philly for losing. This may be his only chance to get the Oregon job. He should take it before he gets labeled a career loser and a has-been.
He may not be an NFL coach. Some people aren’t. Nick Saban came out of college, flopped at the Miami Dolphins, went back to college and is a god at the University of Alabama. His self-esteem seems intact. Chip may be another Saban.
On Monday, Chip and I had another discussion:
Me: Do you have enough talented players on your roster to compete in this league?
Chip: Yeah, we do. We do.
Me: Then why has the coaching staff not brought out that talent to win more games?
Chip: That’s on us. I agree 100 percent in terms of what you’re saying. But, our job is to put our players in position to make plays and we’re not doing a good enough job of that.