It’s been a tough week for Oregon football so if you’ve had your beak buried in Alton Baker Park, we don’t blame you.
But now it’s time to look up and get up to get ready for the next one, especially because it has probably been circle on your calendar for months.
This Saturday, former Oregon Head Coach, Chip Kelly, will return to the Autzen sideline for the first time in 6 years. This time though, he’ll be entering through the east side and sporting True Blue and Gold. And probably a visor.
As a fan, it’s hard to know what to feel.
On one hand, Kelly was instrumental in putting Oregon Football on the map and his years at Oregon were incredibly innovative and successful. In just a few short years, Kelly became one of College Football’s most revered coaches and an Oregon fan favorite.
On the other hand, Kelly left a bit of destruction behind as he left to the NFL in 2013. The Kelly era was great in many ways but the sanctions he earned the program had some lasting effects in terms of recruiting and beyond (I know, no one likes to talk about that).
And if you ask me, he was responsible for creating at least a small divide between the team and its fans.
Yes, he made being a fan pretty fun. But that was only because the team was winning. He also kept the team overly protected from fans by limiting their time on the field them and closing practices.
Remember all the years when players were rushed off the field immediately following the game? Gone were the days when adoring kids could run and greet their favorite player. Gone were the days where fans were part of the process. I can even remember him snubbing most annual Fan Days.
I suppose none of that really matters if you’re winning on the field. Or does it? I’ll leave that for you decide.
Don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not trying to discredit Kelly. My point is it’s time to move on from the Kelly love affair, because it wasn’t all roses.
Besides, Oregon (and the rest of the Pac-12) has moved on from the Kelly years and a new era has begun. In talking with the Oregon coaching staff this week, it seems they get that. The question is, do the fans?
I’ll be the first one to say that the Taggart experiment was mostly a fail It did however bring some new life into the program after the Oregon Ducks were figuratively plucked in the post-Mariota era. Taggart also gave Oregon a gift by bringing in some new coaching talent, including Mario Cristobal.
So far this season, Oregon football has had its ups and downs but regardless of the outcome of the past two games, Cristobal is still the right guy for the job for so many reasons. He may not understand Oregon’s history under Chip Kelly like Eugene does but he is dedicated to rebuilding a new tradition.
And we should let him. Even if it takes time.
“To me, this is why you do it,” Cristobal told me this week when asked about what he learned from last Saturday’s loss against Arizona.
“This is why you love the opportunity to rebuild the tradition. . . .I do. And I think our players and our coaches understand the pain that comes with it . . . good. Use it.”
He’s right. There’s been pain. But there’s also been joy.
A few weeks ago, as the Ducks took down the Washington Huskies in overtime, I found myself trapped in the middle of thousands of fans hugging, high-fiving, and dancing around. Fans congratulated and patted players on the back while bright-eyed kids snagged autographs from their favorite role models.
Right in the mix was Cristobal, holding up his two sons and beaming with joy.
As I stood there smiling and taking it all in, I couldn’t help but think, “This is how it should be. This is what College Football is all about.”
Cristobal gets that.
So this Saturday, reflect and appreciate all that Chip Kelly meant to Oregon Football.
But then, turn your eyes toward Cristobal. He’s building a new tradition and who knows? It may even be better.