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December 21, 2012

Ducks' class lags amid Kelly, NCAA uncertainty


MORE: Impasse in Oregon investigation

Whether or not Chip Kelly leaves Oregon, the uncertainty is already having an impact.

It's the dominant topic on campus, and recruits are asked about it as signing day nears.

"Kelly leaving for the NFL is probably the first thing people ask me about when the subject of Oregon football comes up," Duck Sports Authority publisher A.J. Jacobson said.

"All of my friends, relatives, interviews ... everybody I meet wants to talk about that when the subject of the Ducks comes up. My take on the local opinion is they want him to stay; half the people are cautiously optimistic he will. The other half is convinced he is NFL-bound."

Rumors about a coach's departure, no matter how dependable or undependable the source, can affect a recruiting class.

And despite all their success, the Ducks have felt the impact of the scuttlebutt.

Generally, Oregon does wait a little longer to offer recruits. This staff doesn't rush things and usually closes quite strong. But the Ducks class ranks ninth in the Pac-12 and has only 12 commits.

This will probably be a smaller class anyway, but the Ducks have also made some interesting moves such as dropping five-star safety Max Redfield apparently because they were convinced he was going to Notre Dame.

Is this just Kelly's approach, unorthodox but successful? Or could Kelly, with his eye on the NFL, have taken his foot off the recruiting gas pedal?

There is also the issue of the Yahoo! Sports report that Oregon is anticipating an appearance before the NCAA's committee on infractions after its attempt to resolve the issue by summary disposition failed.

"It always hurts when there are rumors about your coach potentially taking another job, but when it's an NFL job it hurts even more because of the lag time between the college football season and the end of the NFL regular season," Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell said.

"With Oregon, it's been an up-and-down approach to recruiting, and it's been hard to wrap your head around. At times they go hard after a prospect and push and push and then suddenly they stop or back off. And at other times they push on guys, back off and then push again.

"I'm not really sure what the strategy is there because Oregon has facilities, they have the recent winning tradition and they have those uniforms every kid loves, so they could be killing it right now on the West Coast and elsewhere, but they just aren't. There has to be something behind that."

This isn't the first time Kelly has dealt with NFL rumors. After last season, Kelly was reportedly close to leaving for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers only to back out.

And Kelly isn't the only high-profile coach to deal with the NFL chatter, of course. Notably, Alabama coach Nick Saban -- who had a brief and unsuccessful run with the Miami Dolphins -- has been rumored for a possible return to the pros. He called rumors "funny," and Alabama's athletics director and others have said Saban isn't going anywhere.

According to Jacobson, Kelly said at a recent press conference he would not discuss the topic but that he has not been approached by any NFL teams yet. If his return was set in stone, a statement saying as much would be an Oregon PR dream.

But how much of the talk filters to recruits?

Modesto (Calif.) Central Catholic three-star tight end John Mundt, who's committed to Oregon, said he's heard the rumors about Kelly and said it's kind of an honor to have his future coach mentioned in such a way.

Three-star defensive end Austin Hooper from Concord (Calif.) De La Salle is planning a visit to Oregon, and the Ducks are considered a favorite. Cal commit Cameron Hunt, a four-star offensive tackle from Corona (Calif.) Centennial, is looking to visit soon.

Five-star running back Thomas Tyner, who could be the next big Ducks' star, is still committed. So are the uber-talented Robinson Bros. from San Diego (Calif.) Lincoln.

It also seems Kelly doesn't give a hoot about Rivals.com rankings, either. He goes after guys that fit his system, and it's worked so far. His personal conversations with prospects could be telling if he's returning to Oregon.

"The slow start is relative and Oregon's assessment of talent does not always match the star-ranking system," Jacobson said.

"The Ducks do not typically have their class full before the end of January, and my guess is that there are about eight or nine open spots left for them. Are some fans restless? Yes, but mostly they are the ones who feel like that every year or are new."

Kelly has all the qualifications to take an NFL job. This same rumor persisted last year at this time. Will this same story be written next year or will Kelly be gone? Surely, someone has heard a rumor about it.



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