Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Three thoughts on Ohio State football hiring Chip Kelly as offensive coordinator

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Ohio State named Chip Kelly as its offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach on Friday, a replacement for Bill O’Brien after O’Brien took the head coaching job at Boston College. Here are three thoughts on the splashy hire:

There could be a shift in scheme

Kelly and O’Brien have similar backgrounds.

Both are experienced play-callers who have been head coaches at the professional and college levels over the past decade.

But their philosophies differ.

Kelly has long been run-heavy. UCLA ran the ball 56% of the time in his six years leading the Bruins, and it was an even higher percentage at Oregon. Over his six years as the Ducks’ coach and offensive coordinator, their rushing frequency was 62%.

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When O’Brien was the offensive coordinator at Alabama in 2022 and 2021, the Crimson Tide’s run-pass split was 50-50 as he tailored to the strengths of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young.

There is a case to be made that Kelly could be an upgrade for the Buckeyes, bringing a dynamic running game to pair with Ryan Day’s passing attack.

It is a needed area for improvement as Ohio State’s rushing offense has sagged. The Buckeyes were No. 88 in the Football Bowl Subdivision in rushing last fall and finished with their fewest net rushing yards since 2004.

Kelly gave UCLA a shot in the arm.

In the season before his arrival in Westwood, the Bruins averaged 3.72 yards per carry, ranking No. 105 in the FBS. Their average rose to 6 yards by 2022, a mark that led the subdivision.

The pieces are in place for Kelly to reestablish the Buckeyes’ ground game after they bolstered their backfield with high-profile transfers last month. They brought in Will Howard, a quarterback from Kansas State who provides mobility from the pocket, and Quinshon Judkins, an All-Southeastern Conference running back from Mississippi. The addition of Judkins means the Buckeyes have two 1,000-yard rushers on the roster between him and TreVeyon Henderson.

That’s a lot for Kelly to work with.

Ryan Day should really settle into a CEO role

Day planned to hand over play-calling duties to O’Brien.

It was to be a significant step for a coach who has continued calling the offense since his promotion to replace Urban Meyer. But the departure of O’Brien and another search for an offensive coordinator invited a potential snag: Would Day find someone with a similarly lofty stature to O’Brien’s, giving him enough security to surrender the call sheet?  

It took only a matter of hours for a clear answer.

There is little doubt about Kelly’s standing. He mentored Day as a quarterback at New Hampshire more than two decades ago, then hired him for his job and again as an assistant with the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers.

Few, if any, in coaching have had more of an influence on Day.

That background points to Day following through with his plans to relinquish play-calling after he came close to turning it over last offseason to Brian Hartline, who was promoted to offensive coordinator.

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In Day’s ideal world, he would remain the play-caller. But the demands on head coaches have grown in this era of college football, from managing a roster with few transfer restrictions to fundraising for name, image and likeness opportunities for players. The scope of responsibilities continues to expand, increasing the need for a CEO-style approach, as Day acknowledged last week.

“I know that is an ideal situation moving forward,” he said.

Recruiting concerns are less pressing

No one has ever mistaken Kelly for an ace recruiter, and trouble with talent acquisition contributed to UCLA’s continued underachievement in his tenure.

The Bruins were unable to sign a top-25 class under Kelly. The highest-ranked haul came in the 2021 cycle when they finished with the No. 32 class in the nation, according to the composite rankings compiled by 247Sports. Their most recent class was No. 87, a result of signing only 10 players out of high school.

But Kelly will largely be recruiting quarterbacks for Ohio State, a position he has managed with better success.

He signed two blue-chip quarterback recruits over the last three years, including flipping Dante Moore from Oregon in the 2023 class. Though Moore transferred to the Ducks after his freshman season, he surpassed Josh Rosen as the highest-ranked passer to sign with UCLA in the modern recruiting rankings era. Moore was ranked as a five-star and the fifth-best quarterback in the class.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson, a top-50 quarterback in the 2018 class, had already verbally committed to UCLA when the school hired Kelly, but he signed and would start for the Bruins for four seasons.

As long as Day is at the helm, Ohio State also figures to have no shortage of talent in its quarterback room for Kelly to tutor.

Joey Kaufman covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch and can be reached at jkaufman@dispatch.com.

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