When LeGarrette Blount threw the "punch heard 'round the world" following Chip Kelly's debut as Oregon's head coach, Boise State's Byron Hout wasn't the only one who hit the deck. Kelly's reputation also took a serious shot after the 19–8 loss on the season-opening Thursday night kickoff.
In his first game on the national stage, Kelly's team appeared to be undisciplined and unprepared - committing eight penalties for 70 lost yards, accounting for only 152 total yards and losing the time-of-possession battle by a staggering 42:32-to-17:28.
Then, Blount added insult to injury - or maybe serious injury to embarrassing insult - when he boiled over after a game in which he failed to back up his tough talk between the lines. Eight carries for a loss of five yards sent Blount over the edge and his reckless reaction to Hout's postgame heckling nearly took Kelly down with him.
Many questioned whether Mike Bellotti's former offensive coordinator and right-hand man was capable of leading his own team. Some even called for Kelly's immediate dismissal.
But the 47-year-old Ducks coach survived his inauspicious 0–1 start and has thrived in Eugene ever since - earning back-to-back Pac-10 titles as well as a pair of conference Coach of the Year awards while going 22–2 (with losses at Stanford and to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl last year).
Now, Kelly is one game away from claiming Oregon's first BCS National Championship. The Ducks are a perfect 12–0 with the nation's highest scoring offense (49.3 ppg), thanks in large part to Kelly's system. Although, the quick-talking New Englander - who coached at Columbia, Johns Hopkins and his alma mater New Hampshire before arriving in the Pacific Northwest in 2007 - is quick to deflect any credit.
"It's all players. If it was the system, then everybody would run it. There's so much blown into that stuff. 'Well it's the system they run.' I would say that every coach in the country is stupid for not running that system then. If it's a system that's going to get you to score 50 points a game, then you should all run it," said Kelly, during a press briefing the week before heading to Glendale, Ariz., to take on Auburn.
"This game is played by players and won by players. It's not surprising that the four guys that were Heisman Trophy finalists (Auburn's Cam Newton, Oregon's LaMichael James, Stanford's Andrew Luck and Boise State's Kellen Moore), their team records was 47–2. One team lost on a field goal (Boise State) and the other team lost to the other guy that was in it (Stanford's 52–31 loss at Oregon).
"College football's always been about the players. And the teams with the best players, usually, are the teams competing for the championships."
Kelly not only has a loaded roster of Ducks ready to compete for the BCS crystal, he also has played a role in Blount's redemption story. After suspending Blount following the Boise State brawl, Kelly brought his 6'0", 245-pound power runner back into the fold for the Civil War with Oregon State and the Rose Bowl against Ohio State.
Rather than abandoning a player whose selfish actions potentially put Kelly's job in jeopardy, the tough-love coach stayed with the 24-year-old he affectionately calls "L.G." And this season, Blount rushed for 1,007 yards and six TDs as an NFL rookie with the Buccaneers.
"I talk to L.G. a couple times a month," said Kelly. "He's doing great and I'm really proud of him. What he's doing doesn't really surprise me."
And after watching Kelly get up off the mat and continue to fight following the negative impact of Blount's sucker punch to the UO program, no one should be surprised if the coach who pulls no punches of his own is able to lead Oregon to a BCS title on Jan 10.