In a stunning reversal, Oregon head coach Chip Kelly has decided to make the jump to the NFL after all, accepting the head coaching position with the Philadelphia Eagles earlier today.  Kelly, who had announced he was returning to Oregon only a week earlier, had a 46-7 record in four seasons and helped turn the Ducks into one of college football’s most iconic brands. 

Mark Helfrich, who has been Oregon’s offensive coordinator during Kelly’s time in Eugene, is expected to take over as head coach.

Boo-birds figure to be coming out of the woodworks any minute now, with many ready to criticize Kelly for bailing on an Oregon program that he did not build but did perfect.  Others will make the claim that Kelly’s run-based spread option offense will be useless in the NFL.  Still others will deride Kelly for abandoning the program while the program is under investigation by the NCAA, claiming that he is pulling a Pete Carroll and jumping ship before the hammer drops (even if it looks like the charges will not be serious).

These people will all be wrong.  Chip Kelly has every right to make the jump to the next phase of his career.

By any measure, Chip Kelly’s tenure at Oregon has been an unqualified success.  In addition to the sterling record, Kelly has led the Ducks to three conference championships, four BCS bowls, the school’s first Rose Bowl victory since 1917, a win in the Fiesta Bowl, and a heads-up play by a freshman running back (and a fortunate non-call) away from potentially winning the 2010 BCS Championship over an SEC school in overtime.

In other words, there is not much left for Kelly to prove in the college game. 

So why not take a chance and see if it can work at the highest level?  Although the NFL has historically been skittish about option-based schemes, principles of the offense are starting to show up more and more in pro-style attacks.  This year’s crop of rookies, for example, was highlighted by a pair of terrific quarterbacks (Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson) who have the ability to beat teams with their feet as well as their arms.   

Now would seem like the perfect time for Kelly to test the NFL waters with his offense. 

It is sad for the players that Kelly is leaving behind with Oregon, but I tend to extend the same courtesy to college coaches that I do to college athletes.

It’s been a long-held policy of mine not to criticize any college athlete who decides to turn pro before their college eligibility is up.  Professional sports tend to have fairly limited windows for earning potential, which can be maximized to a greater degree by the athlete if he or she turns pro at a younger age.  Education, on the other hand, can be attained at any age, and there is no reason whatsoever why an athlete cannot return to school in the offseason or after their playing days are over.  So let the kids earn money while they can.

Obviously, this is not quite the same for a coach like Kelly, who was very well-compensated during his tenure in Eugene.  At the same time, Kelly is likely to see a significant pay raise by jumping to the NFL, and it is really hard to fault a guy for taking more money for the same job he was doing before.

That Kelly will also be moving closer to his native New Hampshire does not hurt, either.

People need to stop romanticizing college coaches and accept the fact that they are paid professionals who have the same right to seek out better situations for themselves just like any other profession.  Chip Kelly has made such a decision, and he deserves nothing but well-wishes from both the college and professional football communities.

And if it doesn’t work out, he can always go back to school.