When Chip Kelly coached at New Hampshire, he was a frequent visitor to Morgantown, W.Va. — and it wasn’t for the town’s famous pepperoni rolls.
Kelly, now the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, would travel south to pick the brain of West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez.
“I thought he was sharp then,” Rodriguez said. “I remember watching some of his film when he was at New Hampshire, and I remember thinking, ‘Well, that looks familiar.’ I don’t remember the exact years he would come down, but we had our own little secret society. There were just a handful of us that were doing this kind of deal, and we liked it that way.”
It’s not like that anymore.
Kelly has taken the spread option, zone-read offense to the NFL this season, 16 years after Rodriguez brought it to the Division I level at Tulane.
“Things usually roll downhill from the NFL, not uphill,” former Tulane and Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said. “But this is something that’s here to stay. There are more quarterbacks than ever that can run and throw. I’m not surprised to see it at the highest level. They were just a little late on it.”
Kelly’s installation of the offense could be the best thing to happen to the Arizona Wildcats. If he succeeds and the offense sticks, Rodriguez — the UA’s second-year coach — will have an easier time recruiting to Tucson.
“We’re the new pro-style now. That’s what we’re saying,” Rodriguez said. “For the last four or five years, the NFL game has started to be transformed with the zone-read run; well that’s just one play out of many that you would run. What Chip is doing in Philadelphia is bringing a system-wide approach. He’s taking on the up-tempo with the zone read from Day 1. That’s the way they are going to approach it.
“I think he’ll win big.”
For years, opposing coaches have used Rodriguez’s unique offense against him when trying to lure a high school prospect to their program.
They’ve argued that in the NFL, it’s mandatory to be under the center, take a three-step drop and excel in a traditional offense. If Kelly succeeds and more teams take to it, the negative recruiting should stop.
“People say, ‘This isn’t preparing you for the NFL,’ ” Rodriguez said. “Well that’s the biggest joke I’ve ever heard. Like you have to learn how to take a three-step drop under center. I can teach a third-grader how to do it in five minutes. Now, take a kid and teach him how to throw the ball without the laces in the shotgun; that’s a learned skill.
“Last I looked at the NFL, 75-80 percent of the pass game is in the shotgun. If you’re going to the NFL, you’re going to have to learn how to catch and throw out of the shotgun quickly, and our guys have learned that from Day 1.”
There’s a flip side, though: If Kelly has success in the NFL, franchises could try to lure Rodriguez to the league.
Rodriguez said he’s not interested in the NFL and instead is just focused on keeping the job he has. Things can change, though, and the better Kelly does, the more desirable Rodriguez will become.
“There’s an old saying in coaching that you treat every job like it’s the last one you are going to have, because it may be,” Rodriguez said. “That’s what I do. That’s my approach.”