After all the drama, Chip Kelly is leaving Oregon

ANNE M. PETERSON AP Sports Writer Published:

Oregon faces a future without Chip Kelly after all.

After dramatically opting to stay with the No. 2 Ducks a little more than a week ago, the enigmatic Kelly changed his mind and decided to take an NFL job as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Kelly informed Oregon of his plans on Wednesday morning, shortly before the Eagles made it official.

KEZI-TV of Eugene caught Kelly at the Eugene airport as he prepared to leave for Philadelphia.

"It took so long to make it just because the people here are special. The challenge obviously is exciting for me, but it's an exciting time (and) it's a sad time -- saying goodbye to people you love and respect, and I wanted to make sure I talked to my players and did it in the right fashion and talked to our staff," Kelly told the television station. "I feel like I did."

Following Oregon's victory over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl, Kelly flirted with three NFL teams: Philadelphia, Cleveland and Buffalo. But after a wild weekend of interviews amid rumors and speculation, Kelly told the Ducks he was staying put.

Ducks athletic director Rob Mullens told reporters at the time that he was obviously "ecstatic" about Kelly's decision, but Kelly himself never said anything publicly.

Mullens said Wednesday that Kelly called him at 7:15 a.m. to tell him he had changed his mind: "He wasn't sure if that opportunity would present itself again, so he felt this was the right one at the right time."

Oregon was already in the process of finding a replacement. A job posting for "Head Football Coach" quickly went up on the university's website.

"I've turned the page," Mullens said. "I was surprised when I got the call this morning, but as the leader of this organization, my focus is on moving forward and that's what we're doing. I'm laser focused on what's next, and that's finding the right fit to lead Oregon football."

There was no timeline for finding a replacement.

A person close to the team who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the coaching search is ongoing told The Associated Press early Wednesday that offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich was still considered the "frontrunner." Under Oregon state law, the school must also interview at least one qualified minority candidate for the job.

Mullens acknowledged there were internal candidates, but there was no "leader in the clubhouse."

"The expectation for this program has shifted," Mullens said. "We want to win Pac-12 championships. We want to win BCS bowls."

Kelly set the bar high.

Kelly is 46-7 in four years as head coach at Oregon. The Ducks have been to four straight BCS bowl games -- including a bid for the national championship against Auburn in 2011 -- and have won three Pac-12 championships.

He originally came to the Ducks in 2007 as offensive coordinator under Mike Bellotti. Before that, he was offensive coordinator at New Hampshire, where he started devising the innovative hurry-up offense the Ducks are known for today.

Oregon finished last season 12-1. The team was ranked No. 1 and appeared headed for another shot at the national championship until a 17-14 overtime loss to Stanford on Nov. 17. The Ducks wound up No. 2 in the final AP poll after the Fiesta Bowl victory.

The Ducks will likely move forward with hiring a coach quickly, because signing day for football recruits is on Feb. 6.

Shortly after the move was announced, several potential recruits went to Twitter to express their surprise, including Nico Falah, an offensive tackle from Bellflower, Calif., who wrote: "Chip Kelly left?!?! He was at my house 2 days ago."

Oregon's new coach also will have to deal with possible fallout from an NCAA investigation into the school's use of recruiting services.

The inquiry is the result of reports that surfaced in 2011 concerning payments Oregon made to two such services, including a $25,000 check sent to Willie Lyles and Houston-based Complete Scouting Services in 2010. Lyles had a connection with a player who committed to Oregon.

Oregon had requested a summary disposition in the case and presented a report to the NCAA infractions committee outlining violations the school believed occurred and appropriate sanctions. But last month Yahoo Sports reported that Oregon is headed toward a hearing with the committee because the two sides couldn't reach an agreement.

The NCAA does not comment on ongoing investigations. The hearing could come as early as this spring.

On the field, the Ducks appear sound. The team will return two of its most dynamic players next season: redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota, and speedy sophomore running back De'Anthony Thomas, who ran for a 94-yard touchdown on the opening kickoff of the Fiesta Bowl.

Helfrich, 38, has been Oregon's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the past four seasons under Kelly. The affable Oregon native came to the Ducks after two seasons as offensive coordinator at Colorado.

Mullens said last week that two schools had already approached Oregon with interest in Helfrich for head coaching vacancies.

On Wednesday, Mullens said, search agencies had already approached him about Oregon's opening, but he had yet to hear personally from any prospective candidate outside the program.

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