IRVING, Texas – Teams can do their best to predict how a college coach will fare in the professional ranks, but it’s an inexact science.
Nick Saban is 154-55-1 as a college head coach but only 15-17 as an NFL head coach. Jim Harbaugh is 58-27 as a college head coach and 24-7 as an NFL head coach. Jimmy Johnson is 81-34-3 as a college coach and 80-64 as an NFL head coach, snagging two Super Bowl championships along the way.
The list goes on and on, while the success of a jump to the professional level fluctuates from coach to coach. Some can make the transition after running an offense or defense that worked specifically for their college program; others can’t.
The Eagles took a chance Wednesday by hiring former University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly, who has no previous experience in the NFL. How Kelly will adapt to the pros after utilizing his quick, fast-paced, unorthodox but hugely successful offense with the Ducks could be even harder to predict.
All that’s certain is the NFC East just received a heavy dose of the Pac-12, with the addition of Kelly and new Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Instead of seeing Kelly’s offense once a year, Kiffin will now face it twice every season.
Kelly appeared to be returning to Oregon this season after it seemed his talks with the Eagles dissipated, so the news of his hiring came as a surprise. It was likely an unwelcome surprise for Kiffin, whose defenses were never spared by Oregon’s high-powered attack the past few years.
Kelly went 46-7 in his four seasons as Oregon’s head coach, including just four total losses his last three seasons while Kiffin was the defensive coordinator at USC. One of those four occurred against Kiffin’s Trojans, but Kelly’s offense dominated in its other two matchups against USC.
Oregon scored 62 points this past season against Kiffin’s defense, racking up a whopping 730 total yards of offense. While none of Kiffin’s teams in his three years at USC ranked among the NCAA’s top 50 in total defense, they did have a knack for intercepting passes.
That wasn’t the case against Oregon.
In the 62-51 loss, the Ducks threw for 304 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Running back Kenjon Barner ran for 321 yards and five rushing touchdowns, while the Oregon offense scored at least 14 points every quarter. The USC defense was simply outmatched.
That wasn’t the case a year prior, when the Trojans beat Oregon by holding them to 35 points, marking one of only two losses that season for the Ducks, who posted their third lowest point total of the year. Oregon still notched 474 yards of total offense that game, compiling at least 200 yards passing and rushing and three rushing touchdowns. But that was actually low considering what it had accomplished against most other teams that season.
Kiffin’s first year as defensive coordinator at USC in 2010 was more like his most recent matchup against the Ducks, who scored 53 points and notched 599 total yards of offense in that game. The USC defense intercepted a pass – the only interception Kiffin’s unit notched against the Ducks in three years – but also allowed 311 rushing yards, three rushing touchdowns and four passing touchdowns.
Outside of losses to USC and Stanford, only the Southeastern Conference ever seemed to figure out the Oregon attack. The Ducks went 1-2 against SEC opponents the last three seasons.
Oregon’s only loss in 2011 occurred in the BCS Championship Game against Auburn’s stifling defense, which figured out the Ducks’ quick, hurry-up offense and held Oregon to 19 points. With preparation, size and speed, Auburn managed to contain an offense nobody else could figure out.
Again, with preparation, size and speed, LSU did the same in the opener in 2011, holding the Ducks to 27 points in a victory. Oregon would score at least 30 points in every game the rest of the year.
Both SEC Tigers had more than a week to prepare for Kelly’s quirky offense, which paid dividends. Perhaps the SEC’s success against Oregon could be more indicative of how a professional team would handle Kelly’s play-calling. The playing field is more level in the NFL than college, where coaches can recruit to a scheme.
That should benefit Kiffin, who’s demonstrated he can lead elite defenses with the right personnel in the NFL. Not to mention, Kelly probably doesn’t have the personnel on the Eagles’ offensive line to run anything similar to what he ran in college.
Then again, Kelly figured out the college game by adapting a style unique to his team. Kiffin’s got to hope Kelly won’t be able to utilize his offense’s strengths so powerfully in the NFL, the way Mike Shanahan successfully did with Robert Griffin III and the Redskins offense this year.