GLENDALE, Ariz. — Chip Kelly brought up-tempo offense to Oregon football, but now it might be time to implement the “hurry-up” to his career.
If Thursday was Kelly’s last game as head coach, well, it was a blur. These four years passed as quickly as his team played.
It was fitting that Oregon’s 35-17 Fiesta Bowl win over Kansas State at University of Phoenix Stadium started with De’Anthony Thomas’ 94-yard kickoff return for touchdown.
“My role in this game was to be a momentum builder and a game changer,” Thomas, the speedy game-changer star of last year’s Rose Bowl victory, said.
Thomas extended his chest across the end zone the way a sprinter does through a finish-line tape.
The question now: is Kelly ready for the next race?
“I’ve said I’ll always listen, that’s what I’ll do,” Kelly, 49, said after the game about his named being linked to several NFL coaching possibilities. “I know people want to talk to me because of my players.”
Kelly said he’s not sure what will happen next. He told his agent David Dunn to keep all inquires away from him until after Thursday’s game.
Representatives of the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Brown are apparently ready to pounce.
Kelly even joked with a Philadelphia reporter about his sudden interest in the Fiesta Bowl.
“I don’t know,” Kelly said of the process. “It’s more of a fact-finding mission. Find out if it fits or doesn’t fit.”
Kelly said he wanted the NFL issue solved quickly — what a surprise?
While you were marking down Thomas’ almost 100-yard dash, Oregon had already scored on a two-point conversion to make it 8-0.
By the time you blinked twice Oregon had the ball back and quarterback Marcus Mariota was tossing a short pass to Thomas, who threw his 176-pound body at the Kansas State defense all the way across the goal line.
This wouldn’t go on all night, because this wasn’t Oregon vs. Tennessee Tech. Kansas State fought back with a touchdown and then a field goal and was driving toward the go-ahead score when momentum hit the brick wall.
Down only five points, faced fourth-and-one at the Oregon 18, Kansas State lined up to go for but the plan backfired when left tackle Cornelius Lucas was called for a false start.
Coach Bill Snyder then opted for a 40-yard fieldgoal attempt, which Anthony Cantele hooked left.
It was an expensive mistake.
Oregon got the ball with a minute left in the half and drove 77 yards in 53 seconds, scoring on Mariota’s 24-yard pass to Kenjon Barner.
“I would concur it had a significant impact on the outcome of the ball game,” Snyder said of the sequence. “It was a big swing.”
Kansas State (11-2) did a lot of little things that never matter against Oregon. The Wildcats dominated first-half time of possession, 21:09 to 8:51. The Wildcats had outgained the Ducks, too, 170 yards to 158.
Kelly’s team shrugged and hauled a 22-10 lead to the locker room.
Oregon added a field goal early in the third and essential put the game away when Mariota ran two yards for a touchdown.
The extra point was blocked, resulting in a rare one-point safety. It occurred when Kansas State defender Chris Harper, a transfer from Oregon, was tackled trying to return the ball out of the end zone.
“Never heard of it,” Harper said of the one-point rule.
Oregon and its fan base now brace for the next phase.
Post-game comments by Duck players sounded like testimonials.
Kelly left Thursday’s field with a four-year Oregon record of 46-7.
If this was his last team, it ended up 12-1 with a chance to finish No. 2 in the final polls.
Kelly’s 2009 debut could not have been worse, that ugly loss at Boise State in which tailback LeGarrette Blount threw that infamous punch.
Kelly and the program recovered to win three straight conference titles and make four straight BCS bowl appearances.
“What Coach Kelly brought to the program has taken it to another level,” Barner, the senior tailback, said.
Kelly’s up-tempo offense has changed the very look of college football. He brought a swagger to a conference that will be difficult to replace.
Kelly took the program to the brink of the national title two years ago before losing to Auburn, 22-19, on a last second field goal on this same Arizona field.
Only a heartbreaking overtime home loss this year against Stanford kept Oregon out of this year’s BCS title game.
“We knew the rules of engagement going in,” Kelly said. “We’re not a ‘what-if’ operation.”
Kelly almost left last year for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before returning, he said, to complete “unfinished business.”
Kelly didn’t quite finish. He never had a perfect season, but came close as he turned Oregon into a perennial football power.
Kelly was touched by the chants of “We Want Chip!” and “Four More Years!” as he left the field.
“We’ll have to see,” Mariota, a redshirt sophomore, said. “Whatever he decides to do, we’re behind him.”