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How does Chip Kelly fit as Ohio State’s new offensive coordinator?

Did the Buckeyes potentially upgrade by accident?

USC Trojans vs UCLA Bruins Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Well, Ohio State has a new offensive coordinator... Again. Less than a month after naming Bill O’Brien – an experienced head coach with NFL chops – as the Buckeyes’ OC, Ryan Day was forced to go back to the drawing board when O’Brien (smartly, rightfully, understandably?) took the head coaching gig at Boston College.

So what did Day do? He flipped through the ol’ Rolodex and found another experienced HC with NFL chops. This one just happened to be a sitting HC in the Big Ten, with whom Day has a very, very good relationship.

Of course, I am talking about Chip Kelly, now-former head honcho at UCLA. And Oregon. And Philadelphia and San Francisco in the NFL. And, oh yeah, a man who happens to be Day’s mentor and boss from a past (football) life. Talk about continuity and the stars aligning. This would be like if I hired Bill Simmons to be my podcasting coach and/or producer... Only Simmons is completely unaware of my existence, so it’s sort of like a distant, hands-off mentorship. But other than that, we’re super close and you get what I am trying to say here.

Day hiring Kelly is a rare(ish) example of the mentee hiring the mentor. The pupil hiring the teacher. The understudy hiring the star. It is even more rare that Kelly left his post at UCLA – a Power 5 school in the same conference as Ohio State (!) – to come and work for Day. However, this seems to be where we’re at with college football. Coaches are willing to essentially volunteer for a demotion if it means that they can just coach ball and not have to worry about all the other BS stuff.

So now Kelly is in Columbus, for better or (for) worse. As in, is Chip Kelly a better or worse option/hire/OC – for OSU specifically – than Bill O’Brien? I am going to say that Kelly is both better and worse. That’s right, I’m hedging. But for very good and very specific reasons. Please allow me to explain...

When it comes to offensive acumen and simply coaching up a unit, you can’t really ask for a better candidate than Kelly. I mean, sure, you could throw Andy Reid or Kyle Shanahan at me, but let’s not veer off course here. At the end of the day, Kelly knows offense. Very, very well. And he finds a way to put up points like few others can. Need a reminder of how good he has been with high-end talent? I got ya.

With Kelly calling plays at Oregon, the Ducks never averaged fewer than 38.2 points per game. Here is where they finished nationally from 2007-2012, with Kelly acting as OC and then HC: 12th, 7th, 8th, 1st, 3rd, 2nd. During his first two seasons (2013 and ’14) in Philly the Eagles finished 4th and 3rd, again referring to PPG scored.

Then the wheels fell off a little bit, but the talent at Kelly’s disposal fell off even further. In San Fran, his running backs were Carlos Hyde (beloved Buckeye, no offense) and Shaun Draughn. His top two wide receivers were Jeremy Kerley and Quinton Patton. I mean, c’mon!

Some would come back at me and say that Kelly’s best years were roughly a decade ago, but I vehemently disagree. UCLA finished in the top 20 in scoring offense each season from 2020-2022, peaking at No. 8 in ’22 — with far less talent than Ohio State has. I could keep throwing out stats from the past two decades, but my point is this: With considerable talent at his disposal, Kelly has always put up points in bunches. And the Buckeyes have considerable talent.

Kelly’s track record and/or resume is easy to point to as one reason I like the hire. And why I think he could be an upgrade over what O’Brien was supposed to be. But there are also several other reasons. In the interest of time, I will run through just a few of them quickly.

Kelly and Day obviously have great chemistry with each other, but don’t forget that they (both) also have great chemistry with Justin Frye. Frye was another mentee of the Buckeyes’ new OC, and the two helped devise one of nation’s best rushing attacks during their time together at UCLA. Speaking of rushing attacks, OSU has TreVeyon Hendreson and Quinshon Judkins on their roster... Seems relevant, seems good. Just going to let those last few sentences speak for themselves.

Frankly, I just think that the cohesiveness between Day, Kelly, and Frye will pay great dividends for Ohio State, especially in the run game. On top of that, Day trusts Kelly perhaps more than any other coach on the face of the planet, so bringing the latter in will allow the former to focus on his CEO role — even more so than if he had brought O’Brien in, with whom Day does not have nearly the same level of familiarity.

Regarding O’Brien, and why Kelly might actually be the inferior choice... Well, I will keep this brief as well. Kelly is known for his prowess in the run game, not so much for his development of quarterbacks. O’Brien, on the other hand, spent years working with Tom Brady and got the best out of guys like Deshaun Watson and Bryce Young. New Ohio State QB Will Howard could use some seasoning as a passer, and I think O’Brien would have done better in that department.

O’Brien also just has a stronger resume as a pure football coach, so I think he would have demanded greater attention from players. Not that Kelly won’t (command attention), I just prefer a “presence” such as O’Brien. Plus, I think it’s fair to ask if Day will hold Kelly accountable or get on him if need be, given their relationship. Whereas with O’Brien and Day, I think it was set to be a football relationship only, with none of the personal stuff hanging over it.

Hopefully I didn’t talk in circles there, explaining why I believe that the Kelly hiring has its positives and its negatives. But overall, I am pretty excited for this new era, and that’s all that really matters.