Chip Kelly and Scott Frost: Ready to Transcend Offenses and Expectations
College football and the NFL have a multitude of differences, from style of play, availability of players, complexity of schemes, enhanced overall athleticism, and much more.
But coaching, and the impact of effective scheme, management, and goal orientation, triumph at the college level. With reduced support staff, far less structure in the player evaluation and recruiting process, and the rawness of the talent coaches lead in college, a coach at the college level can make a far more substantial impact than one coaching in the NFL.
That long lead reinforcing the immense value of top college football coaches, and there are only a handful of true difference makers that transcend the resources their individual programs can offer, builds up to two coaches who, based on pre-season expectations and Vegas gambling odds, are woefully underappreciated.
Chip Kelly, now at UCLA, and Scott Frost, now at Nebraska, enter new jobs at programs expecting them to win, yet both are expected to finish just at or potentially below .500.
From Chip Kelly’s immense college reputation and winning experience, to his tutaledge of college football’s version of Sean McVay in Scott Frost, to the next future great head coach in this coaching tree, it’s time to reset expectations, look past roster talent and previous year success, and appreciate how a select few coaches can transcend immediate roster talent and expectations.
Chip Kelly: College Football’s Forgotten Top-Five Coach
Nick Saban. Urban Meyer. Dabo Swinney. Maybe David Shaw and Jimbo Fisher. That’s the entire list of the coaches in Chip Kelly’s class. Kelly returns to college football after a five-year hiatus to the NFL and the analyst chair.
And with his return, he returns to his throne as the highest active win percentage coach in college football, with a career 86.8% winning percentage. He never lost more than one conference game in a season, and was in a BCS bowl each of the four years he was the head coach at Oregon.
His scheme and offensive philosophies have since been adopted throughout college football, including by the aforementioned Scott Frost at UCF. But running similar, or even identical, offensive play designs to Chip Kelly doesn’t mean an offense can ever properly mimic, or have true adaptability, Chip Kelly’s success.
You can watch every Fast and Furious movie, take driving lessons, and go buy the exact same car, but you’ll never be as good of a driver as Dominic Toretto.
As our own Tyler Morales wrote in early August, Chip Kelly’s offense will still be centered around the Zone Read, but Kelly’s adaptations and creativity haven’t gone stagnant over the last five years. Expecting him to trot out an identical offense to his 2013 powerhouse is naïve, and under-appreciates his ingenuity.
And even though he’s been a punching bag in the media after his failed 49ers coaching stop, he’s still as respected of an offensive mind as any in the country. In a piece featured on ESPN, now Arizona head coach Kevin Sumlin got a call from Chip Kelly, out of the blue, discussing his offense.
"The phone rang one day and there was Chip on the other line," former Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said, laughing. "He was like, 'You mind if I pop in at Texas A&M to watch a little film with you guys?' It was good to see him. And once again, he was like, 'Have you ever thought about trying so-and-so?' and once again I was like, 'Hang on, man, let me write that down!'"
Talking with coaches at the college and NFL level over the last six months since Chip Kelly was announced, it’s clear his respect, their admiration, and the desire to think like Chip remains prevalent in offensive play-callers. His ability to get his best athletes in space and one-on-one opportunities has been the impetus for the college and NFL offensive renaissance the last five years, and Kelly is ready to evolve once more.
More importantly, it’s his process as a head coach that has been often tried and failed to be duplicated elsewhere. Kelly’s attention to detail, focus on what truly matters in player development, maximizing every aspect of his, his players, and his coaches’ time, and focusing on players eating and health habits didn’t quite resonate at the NFL level, but allowed Kelly to produce perpetually ready and scheme-perfect offenses.
It’s the program management, process, and unmatchable focus that he and the truly elite college coaches ever, share, and what will make UCLA quickly a powerhouse in the Pac-12.
Currently, UCLA is projected to have between 5-6 wins, a season removed from an underwhelming six-win season with Jim Mora Jr. and Josh Rosen at the helm. And while his schedule isn’t favorable to a substantial increase this year (they play at Oklahoma, Colorado, and Oregon, and face Washington, USC and Stanford this season), viewing UCLA through the lens of last year’s performance is naïve.
Chip Kelly has never won less than 10 games as the head coach of a college football team. And while that trend is likely coming to an end, you can ask any college coach in the country how Chip Kelly will fair in 2018, and it’ll be close to that 10-win expectation rather than a projected losing record.
Scott Frost: College Football’s Next Elite Coach
In 2009, Chip Kelly took over as the Oregon Ducks head coach. In 2009, Chip Kelly hired Scott Frost to be his receivers coach. The two coached together through Kelly’s entire time at Oregon and stayed on as offensive coordinator under Mark Helfrich when Kelly left for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Frost, a former dual-threat standout college quarterback, quickly proved he could capably orchestrate the Chip Kelly offense at Oregon. Frost eventually left in 2016, and quickly turned the UCF program from a trainwreck of a program into last year’s true National Champions.
Frost’s success as a coach stems from maximizing the Oregon offense and adding his own personal wrinkles. The best coaches, especially ones who work under the best offensive minds, expand and adapt rather than mimic and perfect their mentor’s scheme.
As Ted Nguyen wrote at USA Football, Frost evolved his UCF offense with added motion and overall discombobulation for opposing defenses, while still applying the same offensive scheme principles. It shares Kelly's success in play design and putting athletes in space, but with Frost's own touch.
Frost ability to manufacture isolation opportunities and quarterback efficiency is something that he, Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan and other bright young offensive minds have maximized in recent years, and Frost deserves to be their category despite being at the college level.
Chip Kelly has always and continues to speak highly of Frost’s ability as a coach, a play caller, a manager of a program, and a person. Frost got all of Chip Kelly’s ingenuity and focus without his overt quirks, and has already emerged as a top-20 college football head coach.
Like Kelly, Frost’s immense coaching talent, organization and scheme remains under appreciated in pre-season expectations. Projected to win 6 games in 2018, Frost enters the Big Ten West as the division’s second-best coach and a roster still ripe with talent. Doubting Frost and the Cornhuskers, regardless of a difficult scheme, is like doubting Chip Kelly: a misguided mistake proven by history.
Change Your Expectations
Chip Kelly’s coaching tree is only starting to blossom, with Frost and Mark Helfrich (now Bears OC) leafing the way. Scott Frost’s current receiver coach, former NFL receiver Troy Walters, will be the next standout coach from the Kelly tree.
The changing of the guard in college football coaching happens quickly, and making future predictions based upon previous performance with new variables is a recipe for projection disaster.
Chip Kelly is a coach every college mind will take a call from and, like Kevin Sumlin, will furiously scribble down insights and adaptations without question. And Scott Frost has evolved his own iteration of Kelly’s success, both schematically and organizationally.
Both enter new programs with built in tradition and recent frustrations. Pessimism in talent leads to surprising results. But I won’t be surprised at all when UCLA and Nebraska emerge as key programs in 2018 and beyond.