SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Back then, he was the little guy nobody had to fear.
So when he asked if he could see how they ran their offense at Clemson, they opened their office doors and handed him the VCR remote control. Boston College? Sure, grab a chair. Wake Forest? Pitt? North Carolina? Penn State? Georgia Tech? Northwestern?
Over the years, he visited and borrowed from them all.
And, yes, that includes Auburn too.
For, at the time, Chip Kelly seemed harmless enough. I mean, the guy looked like a lifer at the University of New Hampshire. He played ball at the Division I-AA school in the late 1980s and would later spend 14 years there as an assistant coach. What harm could possibly come from letting an assistant from a smaller conference swipe a few notes from your playbook?
Cue the Godzilla theme.
Just 25 games into his career as a head coach, Kelly has unveiled an offense as close to unique as it gets in college football. He has guided Oregon to a 22-3 record in his two seasons and has the Ducks in the BCS national championship game Monday evening against Auburn. And suddenly coaches are now coming to his door for guidance.
"When they watch us practice," Oregon center Jordan Holmes said, "the first thing that comes out of their mouths is, 'Wow.' "
"They probably think we're out of our minds," left tackle Bo Thran said.
It's not that Kelly's offense is completely foreign. We've seen a spread formation before. We've seen a running game operated out of the shotgun. We've seen the no-huddle for years. What's unique is Kelly has put it all together, then turned up the volume.
Oregon runs a fast-paced offense that never relents. It's as if the Ducks are forever behind by a touchdown and have 50 seconds to go the length of the field. And they play that way all game.
It's an offense that Kelly, 47, has been developing and refining for more than a decade. He has taken bits and pieces of lots of offenses, and talked with coaches around the country about various philosophies.
He uses what he likes and discards the rest. He studies how defenses attack other spread formations to figure out ways he can counter. And he's not afraid to push the envelope when he thinks he has found something new.
The entire concept is based on what Kelly learned when he visited Clemson in the late 1990s, when Rich Rodriguez was the offensive coordinator. Rodriguez had been tinkering with the spread formation for years after studying Mouse Davis' old run-and-shoot offense.
Rodriguez used it when he was head coach at Glenville State (West Virginia), then took it to Tulane as an offensive coordinator. That's where Rodriguez made his name, as the Green Wave went 12-0 with Shaun King at quarterback.
"Oregon is way more uptempo than what we were doing, but there are similarities in the offenses," said King, a former Buccaneers quarterback and currently a Tampa Bay-area radio host. "What they are mimicking is what Coach Rodriguez was trying to do, and that's get the ball to your best players in open spaces. You're trying to put pressure on the defense to make tackles in the open field."
The style has become a huge part of college football in the past 10 seasons with Florida winning two national championships — former offensive coordinator Dan Mullen is a lifelong friend of Kelly's — and several other teams employing the spread.
What Kelly has done is take it to another level. It's not that Oregon is whipping the ball all around the field — the Ducks actually run far more than they throw — but they are pressing the defense by spreading the field and taking only 10 to 13 seconds before the next snap.
The concept not only tires out defenses that aren't used to that pace, but it keeps them from making substitutions depending on down and distance. And if the defense isn't prepared, it can get caught in the wrong package at the wrong moment.
"We've been constantly working on pace at practice to get ready for them. Pace, pace, pace, pace. That's all we've heard," Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes said. "Because if you slow down or have a breakdown on just one play, they're going to be 60 yards down the field in a blink of the eye. If you're out of your gap or you're not deep enough, you're in trouble with the way they play."
Auburn will have its hands full trying to match Oregon's pace. Kelly introduced the concept when he came to Oregon as offensive coordinator in 2007, but he went to hyperspeed when he took over as head coach last season.
"Meetings are quicker, films are quicker, getting to places is quicker, our Senior Night was quicker. Get your homework done quicker. Meals are quicker," guard C.E. Kaiser said. "Every part of your life is expected to be done quickly."
"When we get down time, we don't know what to do," receiver D.J. Davis said. "It's taken over our whole world."
Which is exactly the way Kelly has planned it.