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January 16, 2013

Kelly's departure changes Oregon outlook

MORE: Franklin sticking with Vanderbilt

Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

Two weeks ago, it was believed to be a mere formality. One week ago, it wasn't happening. Wendesday, it happened.

Chip Kelly has left Oregon for the Philadelphia Eagles, ending his on-again, off-again flirtation with the professional ranks.

The good news for the Oregon football program is that it can finally escape the shadow that has cloaked its recruiting and begin moving forward, with National Signing Day just three weeks away. The bad news is, that's not much time to name a coach and build a class without the program's top selling point: Chip Kelly.

As rumors about Kelly's possible departure swirled, it was genrally assumed that Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens would name offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich as Kelly's replacement in the interest of continuity. But there has been no official word out of Eugene yet.

Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said this is one of the most important transitions since Alabama hired Nick Saban.

"Chip Kelly was the reason that Oregon became a national power," he said. "The facilities and attention with the uniforms are fringe benefits, but it is his offense that is scoring a ton of points and making every player want to go there."

Kelly directed the Ducks to four consecutive BCS bowls -- two Rose Bowls, one national championship game, and most recently the Fiesta Bowl in which they beat Kansas State 35-17 -- and accumulated a 46-7 record during four years in Eugene.

His reward is a chance to prove he can have success in the NFL.

Those left on campus to pick up the pieces will have a lot of work to do with National Signing Day fast approaching.

Farrell said that while the timing of this isn't the best it shouldn't be any more damaging than had Kelly made the decision when first afforded the opportunity.

"It isn't really a surprise," he said. "Even though he said he was coming back it was a matter of time for him to leave -- be it this year or next -- so this wasn't really over for Oregon. The plan to keep things the same was what they were going to do anyways so now it is time to get to work.

"It hurts but it isn't like they have a huge class to keep together anyways."

The Ducks' recruiting class has only 13 commitments, and speculation is that the number could shrink.

The top players in the class, prospects including five-star Thomas Tyner, four-star twins Tyree and Tyrell Robinson and four-star running back Dontre Wilson, should expect to have phones ringing no matter what they have said in the media in the past.

Tyner said from All-American Bowl practices that Kelly's departure would not affect him. But that was two weeks ago.

"I am still going to go to Oregon," Tyner said at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio.

Tyner, a 6-foot, 200-pound prospect who rushed for 3,415 yards and 45 touchdowns in his senior season, is the top-ranked player in the state and the No. 41 player in the Rivals100.

He admitted that the offensive philosophy is important to him.

"I want to be in the spread," Tyner said. "I don't know if anybody can run it like Chip does. With the athletes Oregon has and everyone they have there, I think we'll be just fine. I'm not really too concerned about this whole thing."

Wilson initially said that he would stay committed to Oregon no matter what but has since changed his stance.

According to his head coach Claude Mathis, the four-star back will take visits to other programs while remaining a soft commitment to the Ducks.

Mathis told Rivals.com that he expected Wilson to visit Ohio State this coming weekend and may also be considering Notre Dame and Clemson for future visits.

Four-star OT Nico Falah, a current USC commit from Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco, was taken aback by the news saying on his Twitter account,"Chip Kelly left?!?! [sic] He was at my house 2 days ago."

An opportunity may also be lost with Spokane (Wash.) Mead linebacker and tight end Danny Mattingly, who was originally committed to Notre Dame before flipping to Oregon. He also hosted Kelly in his home recently and has been rumored to be considering looking around with Oklahoma as a potential desitination.

Rivals.com West Region recruiting analyst Adam Gorney said he believes the Robinson twins are the most likely to follow Kelly out of Oregon.

"I think it is pretty clear that those two were going to Oregon to play under Chip Kelly," Gorney said. "I think they will look around if they weren't already."

Tyree Robinson said at the Semper Fi All-American Bowl that he and his brother will most certainly look around with Kelly out of the picture. The four-star confirmed that was the plan via his Twitter account saying that Notre Dame and USC would immediately be in the mix.

Farrell said he believes recruits have been hesitant to commit to Oregon this cycle as the rumors have been swirling around Kelly since last year, when he nearly accepted a position with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His decision to go to the Eagles just puts an end to any negative recruiting that can be used against the program.

"For the class to be where it is right now, it has to be that kids were simply not trusting of the situation there or were slow-playing the whole thing," Farrell said. "I am sure they would not admit it, but I would bet that the coaching staff hasn't been hitting it as hard because the writing was on the wall that there would be a change and they didn't have the answers.

"The way they backed off of Max Redfield was odd, and the shape that the class has taken on is something that just looks off."

The promotion of Helfrich could keep the class together and the program pushing forward.

The 39-year-old Oregon native has been on the Ducks staff for three years. He started his coaching career as a graduate assistant for Oregon before going to Boise State, Arizona State and Colorado. He returned to Oregon in 2009.

Gorney said it would be the logical move.

"Promoting Helfrich makes a lot of sense," he said. "That should keep the kids interested because he won't make many changes.

"It [would be] smart to do it right away and let people know he is your guy and that things are going to be as seamless as possible."

With the success the program has had, a simple passing of the baton may prove to be the best possible outcome.

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