Chip Kelly was and will continue the rest of this off-season to be the hot coaching hire, pundits will debate for the next year whether his season will translate to the NFL. People are already comparing him to past college to pro failures like Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban, and most media types seem to be cautious to downright hostile in their predictions for him on the next level. So the question is, will he be successful?
The answer to that question won't be answered here but we can look at clues to get a sense for whether the odds are high. We can all agree that football is football, the rules generally remain the same. However what typically separates success from one level to another are secondary, or what I call soft, skills. For example in college being a rah rah, strong recruiter type is critical to success. That's your lifeline to talent. In the NFL that ability to recruit is relatively meaningless, yes free agency can help but the majority of your roster is built through the draft and developed beyond the typical four year cycle of a college matriculation. Another important distinction is in college the coach can be an authoritarian because once a kid commits, they hold the scholarship in the balance and given its still amateur level, the players are doing it strictly for the love of the game. Contrast that with the NFL where everybody is a professional and connecting with your players requires a more delicate, nuanced approach. In short being a leader is important at both levels but how you lead (and get your players to buy in) requires softer, socially aware skills for professionals to continue to buy-in. Another important area of difference is in preparation, college coaches must dedicate large sums of time to recruiting (travel), philanthrophy (boosters) but in general they can live fairly normal lives, sleeping in their own beds with their families on a significant number of nights a year. In the NFL coaches spend a significant amount of time in detailed preparation nearly year round, in the off-season its personnel evaluation, during spring and summer camps its installing new wrinkles to your three units and in-season its a grind that typically results in most coaches sleeping in the offense for a majority of the season.
Which brings me to the differences that separate college and pro coaches, they are detailed, manic preparation year round, a relentless focus on getting minute advantages and a work ethic that is in the top tenth of one percent. Nearly every college to pro coach that has failed fell into the trap of not being detailed enough with their preparation (Spurrier is the classic example of this), unable to connect with professionals and/or unwilling to commit the time necessary to gain the necessary advantage.
Back to Chip Kelly, who has been known to sleep, eat, drink and breath football X's & O's, from what I've read and heard, he's a workaholic who is driven to win. Plus the man is unmarried with no children, thus he literally has no other life. Furthermore he's proven he can and will adapt to situations to gain advantages on the field, unlike others who want to instill a specific way of doing something to their personnel. Kelly's "system" so to speak is taking the NFL by storm but I've watched enough of Oregon football to see that its versatile and can't easily be categorized. Do I think he'll install a pure west coast, timing style, primarily throwing offense (aka Andy Reid), No, but he also won't run a read option only system either.
Don't forget that Kelly is inheriting a team with a lot of individual offensive talent, they have DeSean Jackson & Jeremy Maclin at receiver (with some solid role players such as Jason Avant), LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis & Bryce Brown at RB and Michael Vick as their quarterback. Vick's best days are behind him but barring a major injury, he could have a career year in '13 under Kelly. The Eagles need to upgrade their offensive line (though better health will by itself upgrade the unit) and invest heavily in their defense. But let's not forget this roster was thought to be one of the best in the NFL heading into the '11 season, it's still young and has several play makers on both sides of the ball.
If I was a betting man, I'd place better than average odds on Chip Kelly being a successful NFL head coach, and having some immediate success with the Philadelphia Eagles. Will he be Jim Harbaugh? Of course not, few coaches are, but he's in a better situation than people give him credit and he's shown the key traits that historically are good predictors of success.