ORLANDO, Fla. — Chip Kelly checks one box and only one box if indeed he becomes the next head coach of the Florida Gators.
Don’t get me wrong, the box he checks is a VERY big box, but it’s still only one box.
Kelly, who is considered a serious candidate for the UF job left vacated after Jim McElwain was fired two weeks ago, would almost certainly fix a Gators offense that has been moribund for the better part of a decade.
But every other box is not checked, but X’d.
Kelly not only has integrity and personality issues, but there are serious questions about whether he is the right fit culturally, geographically and philosophically in Gainesville.
Self disclosure: Kelly would not be my first choice — not even close. If I’m Florida, my top three choices would be (1) Scott Frost (2) Dan Mullen (3) Mike Gundy. But, then again, I’m not privy to all the information UF athletics director Scott Stricklin has at his disposal — information he understandably doesn’t share with the media. Maybe Stricklin has determined through his extensive vetting process that many of the other top candidates simply aren’t available while Kelly is.
Then again, there’s a reason Kelly is available. He has been fired from his last two jobs — with the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers — not only because he didn’t win enough games but because of his failure to get along with players and colleagues. Is Kelly really the guy the Gators want to hire after they just fired McElwain for not getting along with anybody in the athletic department?
Kelly has the football acumen to do the job, but does he have the people skills? Can he schmooze and glad-hand the boosters who stroke the $5 million checks that pay for indoor practice facilities, expanded weight rooms and laser tag studios. At Oregon, Kelly had one mega-booster to deal with — Nike’sPhil Knight — but at Florida he has hundreds of major boosters
Kelly has also let it be known he doesn’t really enjoy the process of recruiting and prefers the NFL, where he could concentrate on watching tape and game preparation. In the State of Florida and in the SEC, you better embrace the recruiting process or you will get devoured by recruiting dynamos such as Nick Saban, Kirby Smart, Jimbo Fisher, Mark Richt, Scott Frost, Charlie Strong, Lane Kiffin and Butch Davis.
Then, of course, there’s Kelly’s largest piece of baggage — his NCAA issues. At Oregon, he was the head coach held accountable for a $25,000 payment made to a Houston-area football scouting service whose operator funneled players to Oregon and provided players with improper benefits. Kelly received an 18-month show-cause penalty that has since expired. Even so, it will be difficult for the Gators to boast about “winning with integrity” when they are hiring a former NCAA cheat.
Maybe none of these issues matter to UF as long as Kelly can win a bunch of games and score a bunch of points. There’s no question Kelly is an offensive guru whose scoring offense during three of his four seasons at Oregon was ranked among the top three in the country. Kelly is the guy who hired Frost and tutored him on how to coach the no-huddle, fastbreak offense that has now made UCF the No. 1 scoring offense in the country.
With the Gator offense being virtually unwatchable over the last eight years, Kelly would undoubtedly bring excitement back to UF’s beleaguered fan base. The highest Florida’s offense has been ranked over the last eight years is 82nd in the country, which is an absolute embarrassment for the biggest, richest program located in the middle of one of the most fertile recruiting hotbeds in the country.
There’s no doubt if Stricklin, in his first major hire at UF, could make a huge splash by landing Kelly.
He just needs to be careful that the splash doesn’t end up splattering him with mud.
Chip Kelly might be a big fish, but is he the right catch for the University of Florida?