clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Cal fans dream of Chip Kelly as their new coach. Is there any hope?

Will the Bears be bold?

San Francisco 49ers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

When news came down the pipeline that Cal would be looking for a new head coach this weekend, your thoughts did not turn to a potential up-and-comer in Justin Wilcox, or to a rebranding of the way things were with a brighter younger face in Jake Spavital. They turned south toward Santa Clara, where a program more dysfunctional than Cal’s potentially provided the Bears with an early New Year’s gift.

Chip Kelly was set free after one year for the San Francisco 49ers. Given the timing of the Dykes firing, did Cal see an opportunity to nab an elite college coach at the right possible time?

Tim Kawakami is a big fan of a potential move for Cal to try and get Chip.

If Kelly wants to get back into major-college coaching, in a familiar power conference, this will likely be his only shot at it for the 2017 season.

Now I don’t know that Kelly indeed wants to jump right back into coaching–for instance, there is some thought that he should’ve taken last year off and not rushed into a 49ers job that was a set up for failure.

But I also don’t think Kelly is a sit-around-and-collect-your-checks kind of guy, and I think he will be very tempted to take the best job available as soon as he can.

As he said near the end of last season, he’s not doing this for money, necessarily. He has made plenty of it; he just likes coaching.

Cal might get help from NFL teams in terms of Chip Kelly’s contract

The common theory for Cal fans is Kelly can come at market rate, which is probably about what the Bears can afford to land him.

The good news is that some assistance may come the NFL’s way. Kelly is currently earning money from multiple NFL teams without doing anything for either of them in 2017. Kelly was in the first year of a four year contract with San Francisco when he was axed. Kelly is owed about half a million from the Philadelphia Eagles for being fired midway through their contract.

The situation is a bit complicated with whether the 49ers have to pay the full amount since the Eagles are also paying him. Pro Football Talk has more:

The 49ers likely would argue that Kelly should get whatever he was owed by the Eagles for 2017, and that any excess will be covered by his 49ers contract. The Eagles likely would argue that the 49ers contract supersedes the Eagles contract, and that as long as the 49ers are paying Kelly as much or more than he would have made with the Eagles, the Eagles owe Kelly nothing.

Ultimately, the two sides may end up submitting the issue to the league office for resolution.

Kelly’s contract totalled $4 years, $24 million, so he was earning approximately $6 million a year from the 49ers. You’d have to guess he’s owed a good chunk of that contract, so he will probably earning something in the figure of $6.5 million in 2017.

Don’t expect Cal to get Kelly on a bargain.

That being said, those who think Cal can land Kelly at some discount rate are fooling themselves. Cal is not the only program interested in Chip Kelly. There are plenty of NFL coaching and offensive coordinator vacancies. Kelly’s market value is still fairly high. Plenty of programs would be willing to .

Here is the bare minimum I think Cal could offer Kelly to bring him: 5 years, $4 to 5 million a year, with probably that number raising close to $5 million by the end of the contract. That is the BARE MINIMUM to get him into the top 25 of coaching contracts.

Chip is worth and donors/Under Armour are probably going to have pony up more on the backside and in the talent fee.

The math is also complicated. Obviously NFL teams will pay Kelly 6.5 million a year this season and the 49ers will pay six million a year the next two. So a contract with Cal could get pretty wild. The likeliest scenario is the base four to five million a year.

A creative possibility (if Kelly were to agree to that) is to backload it. The contract would have to average to around 4 to 5 million a year, maybe start at around 2 to 3 million the first few seasons while the Niners try and boost the load, then boost up to 6 to 7 million a year once the 49ers are done paying for him.

Such a creative contract would almost need to be approved by the UC Regents, and of course that’s always a speedy process.

These are wild numbers for Cal. Jeff Tedford made $2.3 million a year in his max seasons; Sonny Dykes earned $2.41 million this season.

Is Cal willing to pony up that type of money to make Kelly one of the highest paid coaches in college football? Is Cal going to invest in the millions of dollars it would take to assemble a high powered assistant and operations staff to join Chip? Does the program have enough in the bank to give Kelly what he wants to build the Bears all the way back?

What does Chip gain from coaching Cal?

That is unclear. Kelly’s legacy in college is pretty secure from what he did in Oregon. Why would he take a flier at Cal? What’s in it for him other than returning to a familiar conference and proving he’s still got the magic?

Plus there are plenty of issues that Kelly would have to be okay with accepting. Jon Wilner outlines most of the circumstances.

Would Kelly be willing to accept Berkeley admission standards that, beginning in 2017-18, will require 80 percent of recruits to have a 3.0 high school gpa or better?

Would the Cal faculty be willing to accept a coach who violated NCAA rules and had a show-cause penalty on his record as a result? (It expired two years ago but was on his record nonetheless.)

Would Kelly, who is deeply loyal to Phil Knight, agree to work for a school that just dissed Nike in order to sign with Under Armour?

Would Cal view Kelly as a coach who would provide the greatest possible all-around experience for the student-athletes. (That’s a core tenet for Williams and university officials.)

There’s more issues, but you get the idea. The biggest attraction would be what Kawakami listed before: it’d be a coaching challenge, and Kelly is a coaching nerd. He’s perhaps the best in-game coach in college football, and he doesn’t want to sit out a year waiting for an opportunity.

At 53 years old, Kelly is still in his coaching prime. Which leads us to...

Would Chip commit to Cal long-term?

And there’s the rub. Chip still probably has NFL wanderlust. He will be eyed by multiple college and professional programs if he has even a hint of success at Cal and regains his mojo. If Kelly brings Cal back to respectability, they will have to hold off on multiple lucrative offers every year. A successful Chip Kelly era at Cal probably has an average length of two years, perhaps three.

Athletic Director Mike Williams made it clear that stability and long-term commitment is a huge factor in determining who the next coach. We’ll see if that’s all bluster, because bringing Kelly to Cal will run counter to those statements.

That being said, I imagine if Kelly could get Cal a Rose Bowl or competing for conference titles in his short stint, the Bear donors will be more than happy to let him go, then find the longer-term solution to finish the job.

Do we have a confirmed report that Chip and Cal have been talking?

No. It’s mostly been wishful thinking by local Bay Area beat writers like Jon Wilner and Tim Kawakami, but there is no confirmed report of any talks happening.

That being said, if you want to read tea leaves, Bruce Feldman mentioned on his podcast last week (before Dykes was fired) that a West Coast program was considering making a move on Chip Kelly, but were skittish about paying a buyout.

We’ll see soon if Williams really swung for the fences with this hire.

Given the circumstances of the firing and the coaching search, you have to think there’s a decent chance Cal will do all they can to try and get Chip Kelly. The big issue is whether Kelly wants anything to do with Cal.