“The game is tomorrow night. Let’s go play.”
And with that, Oregon head coach Chip Kelly kicked off his Sunday press conference – the final official media event before Monday’s championship game – with his usual understated flourish.
Preparations for the Ducks’ contest against Auburn will be formally completed Sunday afternoon at Pinnacle High School in Scottsdale, with the team’s final practice. Following a walk-through of University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale and Monday morning preparations, Oregon can finally go and play.
If Kelly was particularly anxious, nervous or stressed, he never showed it. He reflected on the weight of the Ducks’ accomplishments briefly, comparing this year’s squad to the team that fell to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl last year.
“We’re a year older. I think our kids are a little bit more mature,” Kelly said. “There wasn’t a huge celebration at the end of (the season) – it was like, there’s still another game to play. We were happy to get there last year; I think now we want to take the next step.”
“(Our players’) mindset has been very consistent all year long, no matter who our opponent is,” he continued.
Kelly’s press conference was equally consistent from previous outings this season.
He deflected opportunities to comment on – or criticize – any aspect of college football not related to his team. “Just tell me what the rules of the game are and we play by them,” he said regarding the Bowl Championship Series format. “Put it this way: I don’t agree with the speed limit but I gotta follow it.”
Asked of any rule changes he might make, Kelly said, “I think one of the things that makes me a real good forward thinker is that I only worry about my job, so I’m not in charge of college football and I’ve got no plans on doing that for a while. I’ll just take care of my team.”
He displayed the sense of humor that has caught many of the uninitiated off guard. Asked if Nate Costa might play, even on a field goal attempt – Costa acted as the Ducks’ holder before suffering a season-ending knee injury against Washington – Kelly replied with a grin, “Nate doesn’t kick field goals.”
(Costa, for the record, has worn pads and a red no-contact jersey in practice but Kelly said there were “no plans” to play him.)
He was non-committal toward the famous incident of a fan asking for a refund on his ticket and trip expenses to Kelly’s first game as Oregon’s head coach, against Boise State in 2009. The Ducks lost 19-8, running back LeGarrette Blount punched Broncos linebacker Bryan Hout, and Kelly received the invoice shortly after. He mailed the fan a check for $439.
“That’s a good question,” Kelly said, before reasserting the “no comment” stance he has maintained since the story went public.
Kelly also called attention to the higher sense of purpose with which his team plays. Higher, even, than championship aspirations.
“There’s never, it’s a game or it’s this. It’s what it looks like. It’s what it has to be like. Our basic premise is that, if you’re going to stand for something, whether it’s in life or as a team or as an organization, someone should be able to look at you guys in five minutes and say, ‘Yeah, you do.’
“We stand for three things: Playing fast, playing hard and finishing. Our vision has nothing to do with championships, nothing to do with getting a crystal ball. Our vision has nothing to do with getting rings. It’s about playing the game, and that’s what we’ve done all along.”
The press conference concluded, to the surprise of the media, with the presentation of the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year trophy to Kelly. The trophy had not been present at the official ceremony when Kelly formally accepted the award, but he nevertheless received it with grace.
For a man who prides himself on finding teachable moments, he found yet another one: Focusing on playing fast, playing hard and finishing will bring all kinds of positive and productive accolades. Even if they come unexpectedly.