GLENDALE, Ariz. -- All the semi-anonymous coaches and quarter-anonymous coaches and thoroughly anonymous coaches out there, hear this chant rising from an exuberant corner of the Fiesta Bowl:
"We want Chip! We want Chip!"
All the FCS coaches, the Division II coaches, the Division III coaches, the Division MCLXVIIII coaches, the junior-college coaches, the high school, the junior-high, listen to these fans:
"Four more years! Four more years!"
The coaches who never get any attention, the coaches who never want any attention, the coaches who wouldn't mind some attention but get by without it, the coaches who yearn for attention, listen to this horde of Oregon Ducks football players just below the trophy dais, mimicking their fans:
"We want Chip! We want Chip!"
Then remember something odd. Merely six Januarys ago, this Chip Kelly toiled as one of the legions of excellent American coaches who could walk the streets unencumbered by fanatics and other admirers. He could have gone unnoticed by everyone except the inner-circle geeks who coach the game and get together at their geeky confabs with their geeky films and their geeky plots for trying to befuddle non-geeky linebackers with non-geeky spread offenses. "Not many people knew about me," he said Thursday night, and look now.
He's sitting somewhere in the vicinity of the top of the world. His fourth Oregon team just outran a perfectly commendable Kansas State bunch by 35-17 in a gaudy Fiesta Bowl. His Oregon record stands at an absurd 46-7, the last three years at 36-4, the last year at 12-1, the last four years in BCS bowls. NFL teams that lack head coaches fix to woo as Kelly's agent mines the wooing. A reporter from Philadelphia chimes in at the post-game press conference, and Kelly jokes with him: "You guys have a big Tostitos Fiesta Bowl fan base."
Thousands of Oregon fans plead for more Chip.
Yeah, well, as of January 2007, Kelly had reached age 43 as the offensive coordinator at the University of New Hampshire in his native state, not that there's a damned thing wrong with that. He had stayed there for 13 years and specialized in gobs of Division I-AA yardage, not that there's a damned thing wrong with that either. Twice he had interviewed for head coach at Plymouth State and once he had reportedly turned down an offer to be a "quality control coach" from the New York Giants' Tom Coughlin, among other flirtations, not that there's a damned thing wrong with any of that either.
And before all of this that he had stopped off for assistant-coaching at Columbia and Johns Hopkins, with zero wrong with that either.
He had been a head coach precisely never.
There's also nothing wrong with that.
When Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti considered Kelly among five candidates for an offensive-coordinator job in January 2007, Kelly qualified as a non-splashy hire. Kelly asked Bellotti why he would hire a guy 3,000 miles away in a Division I-AA school, as Kelly told it to the Eugene Register-Guard. Bellotti himself had a Division II pedigree, the awareness of the absurdity of the tiers and designs to make Oregon even more of an outlier than it was, opponent-preparation-wise. Kelly's offense, as told then to the Register-Guard, was "spread 'em and shred 'em," a scheme which attacks with "everything," as in, "We're going to attack you with our snap count, we're going to attack you with the pace we play at."
By the second game of 2007, Oregon routed Michigan by 39-7 in Ann Arbor.
By 2009, Kelly succeeded the retiring Bellotti.
By 2013, senior linebacker Michael Clay was saying, "He's meant the world to us." Running back Kenjon Barner was saying, "Sitting with him in meeting rooms is a lot different than sitting in any other meeting room than I've ever been in because it's not just about football, it's about life." Quarterback Marcus Mariota was saying . . . well, he was fielding a question about whether he thinks this Fiesta Bowl was the last game he played for Kelly.
Kelly to the 19-year-old Mariota: "Do you want me to get it?"
Mariota to Kelly: "No, I got it."
Mariota to the room: "Whatever he decides to do, we're all behind him. He's an unbelievable football coach."
Not only that, but by age 49, Kelly has sort of altered the meaning of football and time itself. With his no-huddle and his deathless hurry-up offense, he's the first person to make some of us think about all the time wasted in life between plays, and not just all that bloody huddling. Hear Mariota from the run-up to the game: "I think the biggest thing is, once the play is done, paying attention to what is going on. That's one thing I really have to focus on. Sometimes in high school, you're able to throw a pass, watch it, see what happens. Now after I throw a pass, I need to get my eyes where they need to be," which is upon the preparation for the next play.
All those decades, all those quarterbacks, all that seeing what happens after they throw a pass. What a waste of human time it all was.
Of course, on that note, Kelly takes a stab at modesty: "If you weren't in the room with Amos Alonzo Stagg and Knute Rockne when they invented this game, you stole it from somebody else." By Kelly’s account in 2007, he stole bits and pieces from here and there, from willing givers who knew they'd never have to play New Hampshire. Now he probably headed for the NFL, and in a crowded corner of a big bowl the multitudes chant his name only six Januarys after they would not have known what it was.