Oregon head coach Chip Kelly made it clear this morning that the decision to possibly reinstate Legarrette Blount has nothing to do what he can do on the football field. Instead, he is wholly concerned in the character of his senior tailback.
Kelly announced that if Blount adheres to strict behavioral and academic “ladders”, there is a possibility he will gain an opportunity return against Stanford on November 7th.
“This is not a football decision, this is a human being decision. It’s about that individual,” Kelly said Friday. “And he’s got a lot of things he’s got to do.”
Under NCAA guidelines, Blount’s punch of Boise State player Byron Hout would have warranted just a one or two game suspension. But it’s what Blount did before and after the punch that proved to Kelly that Blount needed a major character improvement.
It is no secret that Blount has had off the field issues before, as he was previously suspended over the offseason and has had troubles with his academics. Those issues, combined with Blount’s actions leaving the field at Boise State, forced Kelly to make a swift decision to suspend him for the entirety of the season.
So that raises the question, why would Kelly suspend Blount for the remainder of the season if he had plans for a possible reinstatement? Wouldn’t an indefinite suspension be more appropriate for the future credibility of Kelly and the Oregon athletic department?
Not according to Kelly.
“Legarrette needed to understand there was a finality to it. I only used strong language to show LG the importance of the situation.”
Say what you will. Kelly flip-flopped. Kelly wouldn’t be considering a reinstatement if the Ducks were out of the BCS and Pac-10 races. Kelly isn’t experienced enough to make such a difficult decision.
But from sitting in the first row at the press conference this morning, I could see the honesty, integrity, and thoroughness in which Kelly handled the situation.
After the initial suspension, Kelly had no plan to reinstate him. He even expected Blount to pack his bags and take off back home. But Blount stepped up, took responsibility and stuck around. He even reached out to Kelly on September 4th, asking for Broncos head coach Chris Peterson’s phone number so he could call and apologize.
Two weeks ago, Kelly saw a possibility for reinstatement. The fact that Blount continued practicing with the team, while working on his off the field issues proved to Kelly his desire to remain a part of the Oregon football program.
Which is why after speaking with Tony Dungy, John Gruden, Harry Edwards, and several other notable NFL authorities, Kelly decided if Blount can do what he has put in place for him, he deserves a chance to play again.
But Kelly was very sure to emphasize that this is no guarantee.
“There’s a distinct possibility he’ll never play football here again,” Kelly said. “But the ball is in LeGarrette’s court.”
Kelly justified his change of heart on the suspension by saying, “if I only suspended Blount for 4 games, I couldn’t change it to 12. But this way, if he proves he deserves it, he can be reinstated, with the approval of Larry Scott.”
Which is also no guarantee. Kelly has not talked to Scott, the Pac-10 commissioner, but feels whatever he rules will be the correct decision.
Personally, I feel Kelly handled this excellently. He sent a message to Blount, and the rest of the team, that this behavior will not be tolerated. He also has given Blount a chance to earn back his reinstatement, something I feel Kelly will judge very carefully.
And now the ball is in Blount’s court to prove that he deserves a chance to come back and represent the University of Oregon as a football player.
According to Kelly, “discipline is about behavioral improvement, not about punishment.”
I couldn’t agree more.