Before succeeding Mike Bellotti last March, Kelly, 45, served for two years as Oregon's offensive coordinator. Having scavenged elements from a score of offenses earlier in his career, he melded them into his own, distinctive pyrotechnical spread system. In both his seasons as coordinator Oregon led the Pac-10 in scoring.
But how would he fare as a head coach? Kelly, a native of Manchester, N.H., has a slight edge that Oregonians attribute to his roots. He was not bashful about putting his stamp on the program. It's most evident at Oregon's practices, which start at 8:50 a.m. and are conducted, as Kelly says, "at hyperspeed."
What's the point of the haste? "When the game finally gets here, it seems to slow down for our players," says defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. And by running so many plays in practice—when everything's clicking, the Ducks will knock out 25 snaps in a 12-minute stretch—Kelly creates reps for second- and third-teamers, who are then better prepared to fill in when a starter is injured.
At the end of last Thursday's practice the Ducks took a knee around Kelly, who congratulated them on another strong performance. "But it's just the first half of the day," he added. "You've got to finish. Win the day!" Kelly leads the Pac-10 in sayings and slogans. In his program, "proper planning prevents piss-poor performance," and the importance of "winning the day" is matched only by the need to "start fast, go hard, finish strong"—but never at the expense of developing "habits, discipline, structure."
Kelly is part head coach, part headmaster. Following an interview last Thursday he headed to campus in order to, he said, "check classes." That is, he stands outside the door of a classroom to make sure his players show up. "Sometimes," says linebacker Spencer Paysinger, "he'll go to our study hall and sit at a table where we won't notice him, then pop his head out and say, 'Surprise!' It's actually pretty funny."
Less amusing is Monday Night Football, the punitive running sessions Kelly conducts for those who miss class. "Everything we ask of our players—to be on time, to take pride in their work—is meant to apply to everything they do, not just football," Kelly says. His devotion to molding well-rounded young men seems genuine and earned him the benefit of the doubt when it came to his handling of the biggest crisis of his career.
Fifteen hours after Blount went berserk, Kelly suspended him for the season, a penalty he has since considered reducing. Later that day Blount called him at home. "He asked me if we could call [Boise coach] Chris Petersen and Byron Hout 'so I can apologize to them,'" Kelly recalls. It was this display of "true remorse," he says, that first made him consider giving Blount the chance to work his way back onto the playing field.
Kelly consulted Kermit Washington, Tony Dungy and sociologist Harry Edwards, who flew to Eugene two weeks later to meet with Blount and the team. Together, Kelly and Edwards came up with a series of mandates that Blount must meet in order to be considered for reinstatement. "I said to LG, 'You will never expunge that incident from your résumé,'" Edwards told SI. "'What you can do is create alongside it a record of activities and involvements and commitments that show you are a better human being for having gone through it.'"
Thus Blount's letter of apology to Oregon's student paper, The Daily Emerald. Thus his written apologies, supplementing the phone calls, to Petersen and Hout. Thus this recent headline in Eugene's The Register-Guard: LEGARRETTE BLOUNT VISITS AT-RISK YOUTH. If Blount stays on this path of rectitude, Kelly will consider allowing him to return for the Ducks' Nov. 7 game at Stanford.
"I'm excited to see the two-headed monster come out," says Dickson. "LaMichael will come in with speed and finesse, then LeGarrette will go in and beat 'em up. [He was speaking figuratively, we trust.] Stanford, watch out."