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Originally published Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 5:07 PM

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With Chip Kelly leaving to coach the Eagles, will Huskies be able to close the gap on Oregon?

Oregon coach Chip Kelly will leave to coach the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Ducks won't be the same without him.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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I love how Oregon media and fans are just brushing this off like it will not effect... MORE
Kelly has only been Oregon's coach since 2009. UW hasn't beaten the Ducks since 2003. ... MORE
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Turns out, it's not just Chip Kelly's offense that's deceptive.

Ten days after it was announced he was staying at Oregon for at least one more season, Kelly bolted for the NFL challenge of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Recruiting for Oregon on Tuesday, he was gone from the program by Wednesday afternoon, a getaway as quick as one of Oregon's scoring drives the past four years, when Kelly led the Ducks to a 46-7 record, a run of success that rivals any in Pac-12 history.

Details were still emerging Wednesday as to the contract Kelly will receive from the Eagles, as well as the control he will have running the organization.

Both items are probably more in his favor than they would have been had he agreed to the job when he reportedly held initial interviews with the Eagles the day after the Jan. 3 Fiesta Bowl. Especially control, which was thought to be the deal-breaker when Kelly turned down an offer from Tampa Bay last winter.

The ominous specter of potential NCAA penalties for Oregon related to a still ongoing investigation might also have played a role in his decision to accept the Eagles' job the second time around.

With Kelly, however, things often aren't as they appear.

While he was public enemy No. 1 of Washington fans throughout his four years with the Ducks — true, just about any Oregon coach would be — he'd also become one of Steve Sarkisian's closest coaching friends.

"I think the world of Chip," Sarkisian said in 2011. "I probably communicate with Chip as much as any other coach in our conference, in season or out of season."

Kelly, though, was also Sarkisian's biggest obstacle to returning Washington to the glory days of the Don James era, a shadow that still looms over the Husky program 20 years after James' retirement. Before UW can even think of a Pac-12 title, it has to get past Oregon and out of the Pac-12 North.

Sure, fellow Pac-12 North member Stanford won the Pac-12 title this year and, with a hot young coach in David Shaw apparently committed to staying on The Farm, isn't going away anytime soon.

But Stanford's success doesn't elicit the same kind of emotion in UW fans as does that of the Ducks.

For decades, the Ducks were the proverbial kid brother to UW until Kenny Wheaton's interception in 1994 began to tilt things in Oregon's favor. As kid brothers tend to do, the Ducks have been more than happy to remind their elders of their success — Oregon has won nine in a row against the Huskies, all by 17 or more points. And it's now the Huskies who won't be able to say they have truly returned to the national college football stage until they have again plucked the Ducks. Regardless of whatever else he achieves, Sarkisian knows his tenure at UW won't be a success until he beats Oregon.

That task should be easier now that Kelly is gone.

Kelly undoubtedly walked into an already-thriving program, built over several decades by Rich Brooks and then Mike Bellotti.

But the Ducks truly took flight once Kelly brought his new-age offense to Eugene in 2007, when he was hired as offensive coordinator. So, too, did their dominance over UW strengthen when he arrived — the Ducks have scored 43 or more points against UW in five of six games since then, gaining at least 496 yards in all but one game, as well.

All Oregon's coaches were, of course, buoyed greatly by the open and fat wallet of Nike founder Phil Knight.

That Knight's largesse remains will lead many to conclude the Ducks won't miss a beat, especially if they hire offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich as his replacement, as has been widely reported.

Promoting Helfrich would allow the most successful aspect of Kelly's Oregon teams — the quick-tempo spread option offense — to remain. It also would follow the time-honored Oregon tradition of promoting an up-and-coming offensive coordinator to replace a departing head coach — Bellotti replacing Brooks in 1995, and Kelly taking over for Bellotti in 2009.

Early word is also that many of Kelly's assistants — a few of whom have been at Oregon since the Brooks era — will stay in Eugene, a continuity the Ducks will count on to keep the good times rolling.

Still, while Oregon has had success promoting assistants, college football's history is littered with programs that have found the going difficult when a star head coach departs (you don't have to strain too hard to see parallels in the challenge Jim Lambright faced at UW in 1993 and what Kelly's successor has now).

Simply put, it was Kelly who made the Ducks truly one-of-a-kind, from their ever-changing uniforms to their now-you-see-it, now-you-don't sleight-of-hand offense.

Only time will tell what the Ducks become. What we know for sure is that they'll never be quite the same.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @bcondotta

Good run
How the Ducks fared the last four seasons under Chip Kelly:
No. Category
4 BCS bowl appearances
46-7 Overall record
33-3 Conference record
44.7 Average points per game

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