When Chip Kelly was interviewing for NFL coaching positions in the days following Oregon's Fiesta Bowl victory, he wasn't the only member of the UO staff doing his due diligence.
Athletic director Rob Mullens conducted at least one interview with a potential replacement for Kelly at that time, a UO source said. Mullens has other interviews scheduled in the coming days, in the wake of Kelly's decision Wednesday to take over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Kelly interviewed with the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills on Jan. 4, and the Eagles a day later. On Jan. 6 he told Mullens he was staying at Oregon, by which time Mullens had already interviewed at least one possible replacement, to which he referred obliquely in Wednesday's press conference to address Kelly's departure.
"We've restarted our search and we're full-speed ahead to find the right fit for Oregon football," Mullens said Wednesday. "We'll move as expeditiously as possible, but we do not have a specific time line. Obviously we're going to follow the appropriate policies and procedures relative to the university.
"We had already done a lot of ground work, had already started the process, knowing that Chip was going to be talking to the Eagles, Bills and Browns. We had geared up our process. We had obviously shut it down, but it's easy to click right back on."
State law requires that the Ducks interview at least one minority candidate for the position. Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich is thought to be a strong front-runner for the job.
Among Oregon's primary goals in replacing Kelly is to do so quickly and with minimal upheaval to the current staff and its recruiting efforts.
Mullens' jump-start on the interview process, while Kelly also did so, could help limit the Ducks' exposure without a head coach. And Oregon officials moved quickly to officially post the job opening on the school's website Wednesday, after which point they're free to make a hire.
The continuity element would be best addressed by promoting Helfrich, which the Ducks had planned to do a year ago when Kelly nearly took a job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sources have indicated that the staff is likely to remain largely intact were Helfrich promoted, though there were reports Thursday defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro has joined Kelly with the Eagles, after being hired by Kelly at Oregon in 2009.
Most UO assistants continue to oversee the program, including recruiting efforts, in the wake of Kelly's departure, a good sign that they feel secure in their futures with the Ducks. National radio host Dan Patrick mentioned on his show Thursday morning that defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti was being considered for the same position at USC, but by Thursday afternoon the Trojans had offered the position to former Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.
There were no confirmed reports of an actual offer made by the Trojans to Aliotti, and Mullens was not contacted by USC officials seeking permission to interview Aliotti, a UO official said. Any overtures Aliotti might have spurned, even indirectly, would be yet another strong indication that Oregon's staff hopes to remain intact under the next head coach.
Along with Azzinaro, graduate assistant coaches Greg Austin and Matthew Harper — a former Ducks safety — and intern Todd Lyght also reportedly will join Kelly with the Eagles. Austin and fellow graduate assistant Erik Chinander had reached the end of their two-year appointments, typically the limit for GAs; Harper and Mike Keldorf were first-year GAs in 2012 after previously serving as interns.