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Spreading the news: Rich Rodriguez gave Chip Kelly his start in read-option football

Chip Kelly

Chip Kelly is 37-6 as the head coach at Oregon. Photo by Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE

Blame Rich Rodriguez.

The Oregon Ducks have won three consecutive conference championships, have averaged 489 yards in the past 69 games and haven’t finished worse than 12th nationally in scoring in the past five seasons.

And all dominance has origins to sometime after the 1999 season when a largely unknown offensive coordinator from New Hampshire met with a rising offensive coordinator from Clemson to learn more about this exciting, new, fast-paced offense the Tigers were running.

That is how Chip Kelly began to master the read-option offense that Rodriguez pioneered 20 years ago at Glenville State.

“We have always kind of kept in touch,” Rodriguez told TucsonCitizen.com this summer at Pac-12 Media Day.

“I think we traded a lot of ideas. He got our film and we got his film. We do some similar things, and then we do some things differently. Chip obviously has done a great job with it.

“I think philosophically, Chip is probably the closest to what we believe in offensively and how to go about it than anyone else out there.”

Rodriguez and Kelly will meet as head coaches for the first time Saturday night, when 22nd-ranked Arizona takes on No. 3 Oregon in what could very well be the most entertaining game of the day. The Wildcats are averaging 604.7 yards through three games. The Ducks are at 596.3.

Back in 1999, Kelly was looking for a way to implement a one-back scheme that better fit New Hampshire’s personnel at the time. Rodriguez had just wrapped up his first season at Clemson, running the no-huddle, shotgun spread whose core play is the zone read from the quarterback.

Kelly found something he really liked.

Kelly’s success with the offense at New Hampshire launched him to becoming the offensive coordinator at Oregon in 2007 under head coach Mike Bellotti. The Ducks had been running a spread offense, but Bellotti entrusted Kelly to turn that attack into the running spread that more resembled what Rodriguez was doing at the time as the head coach of West Virginia.

Thus began an unprecedented run of success for Oregon, with Kelly becoming head coach in 2009.

Each coach constantly tweaks the offense as defenses adjust year-to-year, but the heart of the matter is the same, Rodriguez said — spread out the defense with the offensive formation and recruit lots of speed.

“The main philosophy is us getting fast guys the ball in space,” Rodriguez said. “Whether you’re throwing it to them or handing off to them, you’re trying to get the guys the ball in space. The single hardest thing to do on defense is tackle in the open field.”

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