TAMPA — Less than two weeks ago, Tony Dungy went on record saying he believed Oregon's Chip Kelly would make a great NFL coach. Although not rooting for that outcome, the former Bucs and Colts coach should know because his son Eric plays receiver for the Ducks.
Maybe the Bucs were listening.
Kelly is finalizing a deal to become the Bucs coach, the Tampa Bay Times confirmed Sunday night.
Kelly, 48, met with the Bucs last week, and both sides hope an agreement can be reached within 24-48 hours.
Kelly has been Oregon's coach for three years, winning the conference title in all three and reaching three BCS games. On Jan. 1, the Ducks won their first Rose Bowl in 95 years.
Kelly would make the jump from college to the NFL if a financial agreement can be reached, Portland's KGW-TV reported Sunday night.
Bucs general manager Mark Dominik said he has no plans to travel to Senior Bowl practices in Mobile, Ala., today in anticipation of an agreement with Kelly. As of Sunday night, there were many details to work out, the Times confirmed.
The secret meeting between Kelly, Dominik and members of the Glazer family, which owns the team, came during an exhaustive search in which they interviewed eight known candidates with a wide array of experience in the NFL, from former head coaches to offensive coordinators and position coaches.
Kelly is the first known candidate the Bucs interviewed from the college ranks. Known as an offensive innovator, the Bucs hope he could bring some of his up-tempo schemes to the NFL.
Dungy said recently he believed Kelly would make an excellent NFL coach.
"I've watched him practice at the University of Oregon," Dungy told ProFootballTalk.com. "Chip knows how to motivate people. He thinks outside the box. People say, 'Well, he's got a gimmick offense.' He wouldn't do that in the NFL. He wouldn't necessarily run a spread and do what Denver is doing. He does know how to attack defenses. He knows how to motivate people.
"I think playing at a fast pace, offensively and defensively, using a lot of people, keeping a lot of people, keeping everybody involved in the game, those are the things players like. And I think it would translate over to the NFL. I'm hoping he doesn't go because my son has three more years there. But if you watch them practice and see how they play, he's a phenomenal coach."
After firing coach Raheem Morris on Jan. 2 following 10 consecutive losses that resulted in a 4-12 record, a priority for the Bucs was identifying coaches who could help quarterback Josh Freeman get back on track.
Freeman threw 22 interceptions and 16 touchdowns this season, one year after leading the Bucs to a 10-6 record with 25 TDs and six interceptions.
Kelly joined the Ducks as offensive coordinator in 2007, and his spread attack was an immediate success. In his first season, the Ducks led the Pac-10 with 38.2 points per game and 467.5 yards per game while setting school records for both. In 2008, the Ducks topped both with 41.9 points and 484.8 yards. Helping lead the way for Oregon that season with a then-school-record 17 rushing touchdowns was LeGarrette Blount, the Bucs' current starting running back.
In 2009, when Ducks coach Mike Bellotti was promoted to athletic director, Kelly took over.
A year later, Kelly led the Ducks to a 12-0 record and No. 2 ranking, earning the right to play Auburn in the BCS national championship game. The Ducks lost 22-19 on a last-second field goal.
"Auburn had 10 guys drafted, including two guys in the top seven," Dungy said. "Oregon had one guy in the fourth round of the draft last year, and they were able to play toe to toe with Auburn. I think that's what Coach Kelly does."
Sunday's news continued the Glazers' pattern of stealth efforts to hire big-name coaches. In 1996, they offered the job to Jimmy Johnson and Steve Spurrier before hiring Dungy.
In 2001, they secretly reached an agreement with Bill Parcells two weeks before what turned out to be Dungy's final game, a playoff loss to the Eagles.
When Parcells later balked at the deal, the Glazers embarked on a 36-day search that resulted in the Bucs trading two first-round picks and two second-round picks and $8 million to the Raiders for Jon Gruden.
After firing Morris, co-chairman Joel Glazer promised a "thorough and wide,' search and began by interviewing former Packers and Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman, former Vikings coach Brad Childress and former Browns, Chiefs, Redskins and Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer. Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips canceled an interview with Tampa Bay prior to the AFC division playoff game against Baltimore.
The Bucs also interviewed Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin (hired by the Dolphins), Packers quarterbacks coach Jerry Clements and Panthers offensive coordinator Jeff Chudzinski.
If an agreement could be reached, Kelly would become the first coach hired by the Bucs from the college ranks since Ray Perkins left Alabama in 1987. Their first coach, John McKay, was hired from Southern Cal.