New Ohio State Offensive Coordinator Chip Kelly Has History of Leading Elite Offenses, Especially in the Run Game

By Dan Hope on February 11, 2024 at 8:35 am
Chip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks after the Pac-12 Championship Game
Mark J. Rebilas – USA TODAY Sports

Replacing Bill O’Brien with another offensive coordinator with comparable qualifications should have been a difficult task, but Ryan Day made it look easy.

Just hours after O’Brien became the new head coach at Boston College, Ohio State struck a deal with UCLA coach Chip Kelly to become its new offensive coordinator, giving the Buckeyes an experienced offensive play caller with a history of leading elite offenses.

Like O’Brien, Kelly is experienced as both a head coach and offensive play caller in both the NFL and college football. He’s been the head coach for two of the Big Ten’s newest teams, Oregon and UCLA, while calling offensive plays at both schools. In between those two gigs, Kelly was the head coach of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers.

Kelly handled offensive play-calling duties in all of his head coaching jobs, just as Day did at Ohio State for the past five years, but Kelly will now take those responsibilities off of Day’s plate as Kelly gets to focus on building offensive game plans rather than all of the other duties that come with being a head coach.

Given that Kelly and Day have already worked together on multiple occasions and Day modeled his offensive philosophy off of Kelly’s, the transition to Kelly as offensive play caller shouldn’t be a massive adjustment for Day or Ohio State. And based on the history of the offenses he’s coached, there’s reason to believe he can be the coach the Buckeyes need to get their offense back to where it should be. Over the past 17 years, Kelly has overseen nine offenses that have ranked in the top 10 in scoring and/or total offense in the FBS or NFL.

Kelly’s history suggests he could particularly help the Buckeyes improve their rushing attack, where Ohio State is looking to make a big jump after ranking just 79th in rushing yards per attempt (4.2) last season. Kelly has overseen five offenses that led either the FBS or NFL in rushing yards per attempt among 10 total offenses at those levels that have ranked in the top 10 in that category.

Kelly’s Oregon offenses were elite

Kelly built his reputation for being one of college football’s top offensive minds during his six years at Oregon, where he was offensive coordinator for two seasons (2007-08) before a four-year reign as the Ducks’ head coach.

Oregon finished in the top 12 nationally in scoring offense in all six of those seasons while it finished in the top 12 nationally in total offense in five of those six seasons. 

Chip Kelly’s Oregon Offenses
Year Scoring Total
2007 12th (38.2) 10th (467.5)
2008 7th (41.9) 7th (484.8)
2009 8th (36.1) 33rd (412)
2010 1st (47) 1st (530.7)
2011 3rd (46.1) 4th (522.8)
2012 2nd (49.6) 5th (537.4)

The Ducks won Pac-12 titles in all of Kelly’s first three seasons as head coach from 2009-11, while they finished the year ranked among the top four teams nationally in each of his final three seasons as Oregon’s head coach from 2010-12.

Kelly’s Oregon offenses were particularly outstanding in the run game, ranking in the top six nationally in rushing yards per game and the top seven nationally in rushing yards per attempt in all six of those seasons, including three seasons in which the Ducks led the entire nation in rushing average.

Oregon’s Rushing Numbers Under Chip Kelly
2007 6th (251.7) 7th (5.3)
2008 2nd (280.1) 1st (6.2)
2009 6th (231.7) 4th (5.5)
2010 4th (286.2) 4th (5.9)
2011 5th (299.2) 1st (6.7)
2012 3rd (315.2) 1st (6.0)

Kelly’s track record of coordinating elite rushing offenses should pair nicely with Day’s track record of coordinating elite passing offenses.

Two top-five NFL offenses in Philadelphia

It didn’t take long for Kelly’s offensive system to translate to the NFL. Both of his first two offenses in Philadelphia ranked in the top five in the league in both points and yards per game; his first Eagles team led the NFL in rushing with 160.4 yards per game on 5.1 yards per attempt.

Kelly’s offenses in 2015 and 2016 – the two years that Day worked as his quarterbacks coach – weren’t as successful. The Eagles’ offense was still above league average in 2015, but Kelly was fired before the final game of the regular season after a 6-9 start to the year. The 49ers’ offense was one of the worst in the NFL in his lone season in San Francisco; they ranked fourth in the league in rushing yards per game but dead last in passing yards per game.

Chip Kelly’s NFL Offenses
Year Team Scoring Total Rush YPG Rush YPC
2013 Eagles 4th (27.6) 2nd (417.3) 1st (160.4) 1st (5.1)
2014 Eagles 3rd (29.6) 5th (396.8) 9th (124.5) 15th (4.2)
2015 Eagles 13th (23.6) 12th (364.4) 14th (108.9) 21st (3.9)
2016 49ers 27th (19.3) 31st (308.1) 4th (126.2) 11th (4.4)

Day indicated after initially hiring O’Brien that he was looking for an offensive coordinator with an NFL background, so Kelly’s success at the start of his tenure with the Eagles likely played a part in Day turning to Kelly to replace O’Brien. It may be slightly concerning that two of Kelly’s worst offenses as a head coach came with Day as his quarterbacks coach, but that’s a different dynamic than Kelly working as Day’s offensive coordinator for a college team.

UCLA offenses got better with time

Kelly never had as much talent to work with at UCLA as he did at Oregon – which was partially due to Kelly’s mediocre recruiting as the head coach – but most of his offenses in his six years as the Bruins’ head coach still performed well.

While UCLA finished outside the FBS top 50 in both points and yards per game in Kelly’s first two seasons at the helm, the Bruins ranked in the top 20 in scoring offense and the top 25 in total offense in each of the next three years, highlighted by an excellent 2022 season in which the Bruins were fourth in the nation in yards per game and eighth in the country in points per game.

Chip Kelly’s UCLA Offenses
Year Scoring Total
2018 98th (24.6) 74th (393)
2019 52nd (26.7) 65th (405.7)
2020 20th (35.4) 21st (455.7)
2021 13th (36.5) 23rd (446.3)
2022 8th (39.2) 4th (503.6)
2023 70th (26.5) 32nd (427.1)

Much like at Oregon, Kelly’s best offenses at UCLA were driven by strong rushing attacks. The Bruins ranked in the top 20 nationally in rushing yards per game for each of the past four years, leading the nation with six yards per carry in 2022. Even as the Bruins’ offense took a step back as a whole this past season as they had three different starting quarterbacks, their ground game was still effective, leading the way to an 8-5 season for UCLA.

UCLA’s Rushing Numbers Under Chip Kelly
2018 86th (155.3) 83rd (4.1)
2019 81st (150.2) 107th (3.7)
2020 12th (231.3) 25th (5.1)
2021 14th (215.1) 32nd (5.0)
2022 6th (237.2) 1st (6.0)
2023 17th (197.9) 26th (4.9)

Kelly will be expected to get back to producing top-10 offenses on an annual basis at Ohio State, where he’ll have far more talent to work with than he ever did in Westwood.

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