Chip Kelly doesn’t have anything but work plans in Eugene this weekend.
“I’m going to go to Autzen Stadium, that’s about the only place we’ve got time to go,” Kelly said Monday as he prepared to coach at Autzen for the first time since his Ducks lost 17-14 against Stanford on Nov. 17, 2012. “Dinner after the game? No, we leave right after the game. This isn't vacation. We’ve got to go and play a really good football team in a really tough environment."
If he looks high and to the west of the stadium, Kelly will see the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex that was built for him, but completed after he left to coach the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013. He may run into his old boss, Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens, and many of the longtime boosters while walking through the stadium during pregame warmups.
No full-time assistants remain at Oregon from his time, but equipment administrator Kenny Farr and video coordinator Steve Pohl worked at Oregon under Kelly. UO defensive analyst Kwame Agyeman was a senior linebacker for the Ducks when Kelly arrived as offensive coordinator in 2007.
“We’ve got to focus on the team across the sideline or we will get beat,” Kelly said during a conference call Tuesday. “We better have our focus and concentration on the 2018 Ducks rather than what happened from 2009-12.”
Kelly went 46-7 in four years as coach of the Ducks, including two Rose Bowl trips, a loss to Auburn in the BCS national title game, and a Fiesta Bowl win over Kansas State in his finale.
Kelly was 26-2 at Autzen, including 18 straight wins to begin his tenure.
“They've got probably the best home-field advantage just because of the crowd and the setting and the stadium and how loud they can make it,” Kelly said. “Very educated crowd, knows when to cheer and when not to cheer. It makes it difficult. They've always had a really good record at home and that's part of it. That crowd's unbelievable up there. But if you're a competitor you're excited about it because it's an awesome environment to be a part of. It's one of those special things that these guys will remember for a long time, getting to play a game at Autzen Stadium."
The Bruins will have to take his word for it because UCLA has not played in Eugene since a 42-14 loss to the Ducks and first-year coach Mark Helfrich on Oct. 26, 2013.
“Beautiful country, I love the place,” Kelly said. “We had a great run there for the six years I was there. Awesome people at the university and in the community. I'm excited to go back."
Helfrich retained many of Kelly’s assistants when he was promoted to replace Kelly, but they were all dismissed when Willie Taggart was hired in December 2016. Don Pellum, who coached 24 years at Oregon as linebackers coach and worked as defensive coordinator in 2014-15, is coaching inside linebackers for the Bruins.
“Great men, great teachers and great role models,” Kelly said of his former assistants at Oregon. “Helf went 37-16 and took the team to a national-title game. I was extremely close with all those guys. A couple of them retired and a few are on my staff. We all know going into this process that sometimes things don’t work out, but they have all done fairly well since then.”
While Kelly became the third coach at Oregon in 32 years when he was hired to replace Mike Bellotti, Mario Cristobal is the third coach at Oregon in six seasons since Kelly’s departure.
“I think you have to recognize great things that were done by him and all former coaches here,” Cristobal said Monday. “How much of a dive do I really take into that? I don't have much time to do that. … I think you have to give it it's due respect, and we do."
After losing the first five games of the season, Kelly’s Bruins are 2-6, putting him one loss away from matching his total number of defeats in four seasons at Oregon.
“They're doing a real good job every single week just getting better and better,” Cristobal said. “They've got a lot of talent on that team. They've got a lot of talent on both sides of the ball and they've shown in spurts.”
When Kelly was named head coach at Oregon, the Ducks were coming off a 10-win season. UCLA was 10-15 in the final two seasons under Jim Mora before Kelly was hired after not coaching last season.
“I love coaching football, being around the staff and players,” Kelly said. “You can’t always be caught up in the results, it is about the process. The kids here are awesome and work their tails off.”