Previously, any discussion about Chip Kelly returning to Oregon was hypothetical. Now, it’s not.
But that hasn’t changed the position that Kelly publicly has taken regarding whether he has any interest in returning to college football. Kelly told reporters on Wednesday that he won’t be going back to Oregon.
“Yup,” Kelly said when asked whether he’d stay with the 49ers. “So we’re done with that, I hope.”
He wasn’t completely done, because he was more questions about it.
“The only person I’ve talked to [at Oregon] is [fired coach Mark Helfrich],” Kelly said. “So, we can talk about the Bears.”
And to be clear, he was asked if there’s any chance he’ll be the next Oregon coach.
“No,” he said.
In fairness to Kelly, he’s in a situation where he can’t say anything that would suggest he possibly would be leaving for Oregon while his current team is still playing. That reality prompted Nick Saban to paint himself into an “I’m not going to be the Alabama coach” corner a decade ago, when he was in his second season with the Dolphins.
Regardless of what Kelly says he’ll do, the Oregon vacancy gives him an occasion to have a frank discussion with owner Jed York about Kelly’s status with the team. If York is anything less than fully committed to Kelly, now is the time to say so.
If York is thinking he made a mistake with Kelly, the Oregon opening provides a prime opportunity to fix it. To the extent that Kelly would be making nearly as much at Oregon as he’ll be making in San Francisco, a severance would allow the 49ers to move on without adding a second buyout to the Jim Tomsula money-for-nothing arrangement.
If York truly is committed to Kelly, this would be a perfect opportunity to parlay potential Oregon interest into acquiring more authority over the football operation, especially if the 49ers will be parting ways with G.M. Trent Baalke. Indeed, if Baalke will be gone, it becomes critical for Kelly to ensure that he won’t be saddled with a G.M. who may not be committed to Kelly. In the event that the wind is blowing in that direction, it would be better for Kelly to get blown out of the Bay Area at a time when an opportunity is waiting for him in Oregon.
This assumes that Oregon would even want him. In the aftermath of his first tenure with the team, NCAA sanctions left Oregon with three years of scholarship reductions and reduced paid visits and evaluation days. So it’s possible that Kelly is saying he won’t be going to Oregon because he already knows that Oregon doesn’t want him.
However it all plays out, the only thing that currently can be said with certainty is that he’s not going to be the Alabama coach.