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Former Oregon and NFL head coach Chip Kelly remains the hot name in Florida's ongoing coaching search.

As Chip Kelly-Florida buzz grows, a breakdown of how his defenses fared at Oregon

Ryan Young

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While there has been no authoritative, irrefutable report that Florida has definitely honed in on Chip Kelly in its coaching search, the attention of most Gators fans certainly has zeroed in on the former Oregon and NFL head coach.

Much of the dialogue in that regard concerns either Kelly’s prodigious offenses at Oregon or the red flags (NCAA sanctions, personality questions, risk to jump back to the NFL) that might give the Gators pause in choosing to hire him. (If they are indeed interested, that is. The caveats are key here.)

But football is not a one-sided game and Florida’s defensive issues this season have become almost as glaring as their offensive struggles.

That’s where the latest Gators Mailbag Question of the Day leads.

Micah C. asks … “What about (Kelly’s) defenses?”

Oregon had its defensive coordinator in place well before Kelly arrived and later took over as head coach.

Nick Aliotti lead the Ducks defense from 1999-2013, retiring from coaching after that final season. During Kelly’s four years as head coach (2009-12), the Ducks ebbed and flowed in the national defensive stats, ranking a strong 12th in scoring defense in 2010 (18.69 points allowed per game) and a decent 25th in 2012 (21.62 PPG) but finishing middle of the pack in 2009 (51st, 23.77 PPG) and 2011 (52nd, 24.64 PPG).

In terms of yards allowed, the Ducks never ranked higher than 34th (346.0 in 2010) or lower than 67th (390.07 in 2011) during those four seasons.

The reality is the pace at which Kelly’s offense operates is bound to leave the defense with shorter breaks between series. But if that offense is scoring at the rate Kelly’s teams are accustomed, the defense doesn’t have to be dominant. The formula certainly worked in Eugene.

Consider it the polar opposite of the Florida model of the last seven seasons under Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain.

How Oregon’s defenses ranked nationally with Chip Kelly as head coach

Year Yards Per Game Allowed (National Rank) Points Per Game Allowed (Rank)
2009 336.31 (35th) 23.77 (51st)
2010 346.00 (34th) 18.69 (12th)
2011 390.07 (67th) 24.64 (52nd)
2012 374.15 (44th) 21.62 (25th)

It’s worth noting that Kelly actually got his start as a defensive assistant at Columbia and later spent a season as defensive coordinator at Johns Hopkins before moving to the offensive side full time.

It’s anybody’s guess who he would hire as a defensive coordinator, regardless of where he coaches next. Aliotti retired nearly four years ago and is 63 years old. Bill Davis, who served as Kelly’s defensive coordinator for three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, is now the linebackers coach at Ohio State. And Jim O’Neil was much criticized in his one season as the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator under Kelly in 2016, when the team ranked next-to-last in the NFL in yards per game allowed (379.8). He had previously served in the same role for the Cleveland Browns from 2014-15 and does not appear to be coaching anywhere this season.

The bottom line, though, is if Kelly’s offenses live up to his reputation, the success should follow — wherever he ends up coaching.

Read more answers about the Florida Gators here.