Having thought about his next step for the past couple of years, Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said the time was right to become the university's athletics director and hand over the team to offensive coordinator Chip Kelly.
Bellotti announced Friday the move to step down after 14 years
as Oregon's head coach. The Ducks originally announced plans for
the transition in December, but set no timetable.
It was widely assumed that Bellotti would remain coach for at
least one more season.
"This was not a rushed decision. I gave it time," Bellotti
said on Saturday, making his first public comments since the
announcement. "Having said that I don't know if you ever know
until a couple years down the road if you made the right decision.
And I said that very honestly.
"I am comfortable with my decision. There's a peace and a calm
in my soul about that decision, and obviously it's because of the
people I'm involved with."
Bellotti will take over as Oregon's athletic director on July 1,
replacing Pat Kilkenny. Kelly becomes coach on March 30, the
opening day of spring practice.
Bellotti will serve in the interim as senior counselor to
Kilkenny, who will step down June 30.
Bellotti, 58, has gone 116-55 as coach of the Ducks. Last season
Oregon went 10-3 with a 42-31 win over Oklahoma State in the
Holiday Bowl. The Ducks finished the season ranked No. 10.
Kelly said in a conference call his situation is unique because
most coaches take over programs in need of a turnaround.
"He's set the bar very, very, very high for success; one of the
most successful coaches in the country," Kelly said. "The one
thing that's comforting through the whole situation is, I know I'm
going to need help through this, and he's only going to be about a
hop, skip and a jump away."
Bellotti jokingly corrected: "A short 9-iron."
Under Bellotti, the Ducks have gone to 12 bowl games. In 2001
Oregon won 11 games, including a 38-16 victory over Colorado in the
Fiesta Bowl to finish ranked No. 2.
He joined the Ducks as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks
coach under Rich Brooks in 1989.
Bellotti said he did not make a final decision until Thursday
night, after he met with Kilkenny and Oregon president Dave
Frohnmayer. He spoke to his coaches and players Friday morning -
with a bailout plan in place in case he changed his mind.
The timing was important to Oregon's players, he said.
"The last opportunity for me to get the team together was
yesterday, the last day of class. We go into finals next week. And
my plan has been to make a decision at that time to allow, if I
wasn't going to coach, Chip to get the next coach in here, the
offensive coordinator or however he wants to structure that. And
give them a chance to go through spring ball as a trial run,"
There was speculation that one of Bellotti's first major actions
as athletic director will concern the futures of men's head
basketball coach Ernie Kent, and women's basketball coach Bev
Smith. But Bellotti said he would not be involved.
"Up to this point I have been the football coach. I don't have
the experience or expertise to evaluate other programs. I will
eventually," he said. "And I don't know anything about changes, I
have not been involved in any discussions in that regard, but down
the road I'll be very willing to make changes if I deem that
Kelly, who has been at Oregon the past two seasons and designed
the team's spread-option offense, becomes the Ducks' 30th coach,
and the third in the last 33 years.
Kelly, 45, made an immediate impact when he arrived at Oregon,
helping turn quarterback Dennis Dixon into a Heisman Trophy
contender. This past season, Kelly adjusted the offense through a
series of quarterback injuries.
Kelly did not rule out the possibility that he would still
perform his duties as offensive coordinator rather than hire one.
Kilkenny was named AD in February 2007 and said at the time he
planned to serve in that position for two years. A prominent
booster, Kilkenny has spearhead plans to build a new basketball
arena to replace venerable McArthur Court.
Frohnmayer is retiring at the end of June after 15 years at
Oregon. On Friday the university announced that University of
Kansas provost Richard Lariviere will succeed him as president.