What if Chip Kelly had left Oregon for the NFL? Here are some candidates the Ducks might have looked at as their next head coach.
Mike Bellotti, former Oregon head coach – Bellotti’s name was in the rumor mill for openings at Arizona and UCLA, but it’s uncertain if he was ever a serious candidate. Bellotti worked at Oregon from 1989-94 as the team’s offensive coordinator and then served as the head coach from 1995-08. He compiled a 116-55 record and earned one outright Pac-10 title during his 14-year tenure as the Ducks’ head coach. It could be a little awkward for Bellotti to return to the sidelines after choosing to retire as a head coach and become the school’s athletic director after the 2008 season. However, he’s certainly a good fit in Eugene and would likely keep many of the assistants and schemes the Ducks ran under Kelly. Going from Bellotti to Kelly would seem to be a pretty easy transition.
Pete Carroll, head coach, Seattle Seahawks – If you are Oregon, don’t you at least have to try to nudge Carroll back to the college game? Yes, it's a longshot, but why not? Although the Seahawks improved during the second half of the year, they probably aren’t ready to make a Super Bowl run in 2012. And if the Seahawks struggle to earn a winning record next year, would that be enough to lure Carroll back to the college game? His resume at USC was impressive, recording an 83-19 record over nine seasons and a BCS title in 2004. The Ducks can throw a lot of money in Carroll’s direction, but it’s certainly a longshot that he leaves the NFL. However, it’s not too often one of the top 15 jobs in college football is open, especially on the West Coast.
Dave Christensen, head coach, Wyoming – Christensen inked a contract extension at Wyoming this offseason, but figures to have interest in BCS jobs on the West Coast. He has an 18-20 record in three years with the Cowboys, but has led the team to two bowl appearances with freshmen quarterbacks. Christensen is also familiar with the Pacific Northwest, playing at Washington (1980-1982) and coaching with the Huskies for one season (1988). Although Christensen has emerged as a solid coach and someone who will move up the ranks to a BCS job, he seems like a longshot to land in Eugene - if Kelly leaves for the NFL after the 2012 season.
Sonny Dykes, head coach, Louisiana Tech – Just like Wyoming’s Dave Christensen, Dykes received a raise and a contract extension after the 2011 season. Dykes has compiled a 13-12 record in two seasons in Ruston, including an 8-5 mark and an appearance in the Poinsettia Bowl in 2011. Dykes has experience coaching in the Pac-12, as he worked at Arizona from 2007-09. He also has stops as an assistant at Kentucky and Texas Tech. It’s only a matter of time before Dykes makes the jump to a BCS program, but if the Ducks have to replace Kelly next offseason, it seems unlikely he would be one of the top choices.
Mark Helfrich, offensive coordinator, Oregon – The Ducks may not have to look far for Kelly’s successor. Helfrich is considered a rising star in the assistant ranks, making stops at Boise State, Arizona State, Colorado and Oregon. He joined the Ducks in 2009 as the team’s offensive coordinator. Although Kelly significantly shaped Oregon’s offense, Helfrich is well-versed in the up-tempo attack and would likely keep much of the same scheme and assistants in place. If the Ducks want to keep continuity, Helfrich could be a perfect choice to become the next head coach. However, Helfrich has no head coaching experience and one has to wonder if he is ready to take over at one of the top programs on the West Coast. Is he the next Chip Kelly or Bill Stewart? That’s going to be a key question facing Oregon if they have to replace Kelly next offseason.
June Jones, head coach, SMU – Jones was reportedly very close to landing at Arizona State, but he was eventually passed for the job in favor of former Pittsburgh coach Todd Graham. As a native of Portland, Ore., it would be very surprising if Jones didn’t have interest in this position. Jones compiled a 76-41 record in nine seasons at Hawaii and has a 24-28 mark in four years at SMU. He inherited a very difficult situation at both schools and turned both programs into consistent bowl teams. There’s very little downside to Jones, although the current personnel wouldn’t be a perfect fit with his pass-first offense. He will be 60 when the 2013 season starts, so Jones would be the oldest coach in the Pac-12.
Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers – Roman is a wildcard candidate to watch in coaching searches for 2012. He is a highly-regarded assistant, working under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford from 2009-10, before following him to the 49ers last offseason. Roman was reportedly in the mix at Vanderbilt last year and interviewed at Penn State this season. He doesn’t have any head coaching experience, but is considered a bright offensive mind, which would certainly go over well in Eugene. Roman is a longshot, but is due for a shot to run his own program in the near future.
Gary Patterson, head coach, TCU – Patterson’s name may pop up in BCS job searches next offseason, but it is highly unlikely he leaves TCU. Most of his coaching career has been spent in the Midwest, playing at Kansas State from 1980-81 and becoming TCU’s head coach in 2000. Patterson is considered one of college football’s top defensive minds, which would be a contrast to Kelly’s offensive background. After he helped to guide TCU to a BCS conference (Big 12), it would take a lot to lure Patterson out of Fort Worth. A longshot, but his track record makes it hard to ignore when elite BCS jobs come open.
Chris Petersen, head coach, Boise State – Outside of Helfrich, Petersen seems to be the most likely candidate to take over in Eugene. Petersen has experience in Eugene, as he coached receivers at Oregon from 1995-00. He reportedly turned down UCLA, but Oregon would seem to be a much better fit, as he could stay in the Pacific Northwest. Combine his familiarity with the program and his success at Boise State, Petersen would be a home run hire for the Ducks (if Kelly was to leave). However, Petersen was granted a contract extension and a salary bump this offseason, while Boise State is in the process of updating the football facilities. Although Petersen has had tremendous success with the Broncos, there’s no question Oregon is one of the top 15 jobs in the country. And the commitment is certainly in place to win big (national championships).
Justin Wilcox, defensive coordinator, Washington – After spending two seasons at Tennessee, Wilcox has moved back to the West Coast to take the defensive coordinator position at Washington. If there’s a candidate that’s built perfectly to become the head coach at Oregon, Wilcox is it. He was born in Eugene, Ore. and played as a defensive back with the Ducks from 1996-99. Wilcox has no head coaching experience, but is very familiar with the Pac-12, as he coached as an assistant at California from 2003-05. The lack of head coaching experience could be the only downside to Wilcox’s resume, as he is considered one the top up-and-coming assistant coaches in the nation.