Chip Kelly, right now, without even knowing if he is interested or at all a possibility for this, feels like a better fit for California today than Sonny Dykes did for any of the four years he actually coached the Bears.
That is my short summary of what we know and what we can guess, though it sounds like Kelly, the former coach of the San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles and Oregon Ducks, is not actually Cal’s target after the school surprisingly fired Dykes on Sunday.
College writer Jon Wilner reports that his sources say that Cal did not make this move to set up a chase for Kelly — Cal just wanted to be done with Dykes and it took them this long to figure it out.
I guess Cal was praying Dykes would take another job and maybe Dykes knew that, too (which spurred his interest in those other jobs over the last few years).
But he was not offered one. Then Cal’s administrators took several weeks to decide the $6 million buyout was a sunk cost and fired him anyway.
Jan. 8 is much too late (after every other job has been filled, presumably with some candidates Cal might have liked to consider) if you are in this kind of competitive environment, if you ask me.
But that’s slow-motion Cal and here they go again.
Back to Kelly for a bit.
Who knows if Kelly would be interested in Cal right now so soon after his one-year, two-win, get-outta-town experience with the 49ers in 2016.
Cal might have other targets and Kelly might not be enthralled with the prospect of coaching in Berkeley and hitting the recruiting trail again.
But given the unique timing of the firing, this long after the end of Cal’s season and with a huge recruiting window ready to open soon, there are several reasons many people’s first thought went to Kelly:
• Cal is not exactly swimming in cash, has to pay Dykes that $6 million, and …
Kelly is still owed $18 million (about $15 million from the 49ers, about $3 million from the Eagles) from his previous two jobs, which greatly reduces what his next employer would have to pay him to keep him at a market-level salary.
Cal — or any college — could theoretically offer Kelly a minimum salary (say, in the $500,000 range) and let the rest of any deal be paid by the 49ers and Eagles.
For instance, Cal could give Kelly four years, $24 million and scale the deal so the school would only be on the hook for three years of minimum salary and then one extra year (a total of about $7.5M), with the 49ers and the Eagles paying the rest.
What other candidate would excite the Cal alum/fan base more than Kelly? Not interim coach Jake Spavital or Wisconsin defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, at least not right away.
And if Cal could get Kelly for a minimum salary? Sounds like something to explore: big name, exciting offense, proven Pac-12 winner, very little money.
That is the equation a lot of us are seeing, but the decision is up to Cal and Kelly, not us.
• If Kelly wants to get back into major-college coaching, in a familiar power conference, this will likely be his only shot at it for the 2017 season.
Now I do not know that Kelly indeed wants to jump right back into coaching — for instance, there is some thought that he should have taken last year off and not rushed into a 49ers job that was a set up for failure.
But I also do not think Kelly is a sit-around-and-collect-your-checks kind of guy, and I think he will be very tempted to take the best job available as soon as he can.
As he said near the end of last season, he is not doing this for money, necessarily. He has made plenty of it; he just likes coaching.
• It is entirely possible that Kelly will not want much to do with recruiting and boosters and all the things he tired of at Oregon, before he bolted for the Eagles, and at Cal the recruiting would be even more difficult.
So maybe Kelly has his eyes on an offensive coordinator or consultant job somewhere in the NFL or at a top college program.
He is earning $6 million for the next three seasons no matter what he does, so there is no literal rush to find another grueling head-coaching job.
• But having gotten to know Kelly just a little bit during his time with the 49ers, I would say he is probably at a place in his career where he would love to turn around a big, underperforming program like Cal, he would really love to do it in the same conference as Oregon — and he would really love to do it in the same media market as his most recent NFL employer.
Would Kelly instantly turn Cal around? Probably not; he would need a lot of new talent, he would need a quarterback, he would need a strong defensive staff — and he would need a financial commitment from Cal other than his salary that Cal might not be ready or willing to provide, especially for the coaching and recruiting staff.
That all could take a few years. Maybe Kelly would want to be back in the NFL before then, I do not know.
But I thought Jim Harbaugh would take a few years to turn Michigan around, and that former 49ers coach vaulted to Ann Arbor right from the halls of 49ers headquarters and started winning immediately.
Yes, I believe a dysfunctional stint with the 49ers can be a very invigorating thing for great college coaches — once they are gone and no longer have to work for the team’s owner, Jed York.
— Tim Kawakami is a writer for The Mercury News.