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Kelly’s been on money

Chip Kelly’s offense hasn’t let up this season at Oregon. Chip Kelly’s offense hasn’t let up this season at Oregon. (Rick Bowmer/Associated Press)
By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / January 7, 2011

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Tony Seminary never cashed the check. But in the year since it was written, it has increased in value, worth far more in memories than the $439 that Oregon coach Chip Kelly offered as payback to a disgruntled football fan who complained about consumer fraud following Kelly’s first game as Ducks coach in September 2009.

Seminary remembers the game against Boise State with a laugh and a smile now. No first downs in the first half, a couple of turnovers, and an embarrassing 19-8 loss that ended with running back LeGarrette Blount taking a swing in frustration at a Boise State player.

It was not what he expected from an Oregon team with big-time aspirations. He told the rookie coach as much, and demanded his money back for the trip to Boise.

Surprisingly, Kelly sent the check.

And on Monday night, Seminary will be in the stands at University of Phoenix Stadium to see unbeaten and second-ranked Oregon face unbeaten and top-ranked Auburn play for the BCS title.

“What a year,’’ said Seminary by phone from Portland, Ore., yesterday. “It just hit me in the last few days that we’re actually going after the national championship.’’

Seminary graduated from Oregon in 1996 and is such an avid fan that he attended 67 games — home and away — from 2000-05. He still recalls the feeling of frustration after the loss to Boise State.

“I remember a friend who was with me at the time and she said, ‘I just feel like crying,’ ’’ said Seminary. “It wasn’t just that we lost, it was the way we played. So I sent Coach Kelly an e-mail and voiced my opinion.’’

When Kelly responded with the reimbursement check, Seminary was stunned.

“I was shocked,’’ he said. “To think that he would repay me was surreal. I wouldn’t believe it could happen.’’

Since then, Oregon has gone on a two-year run that has produced a Rose Bowl appearance last January and an unbeaten season this year.

“It’s been a great time to be a Duck fan,’’ said Seminary, who has attended each of Oregon’s 12 games this season.

Can-do attitude Dana Bible remembers when he first saw Chip Kelly, who was an assistant coach on Sean McDonnell’s University of New Hampshire staff.

“It was in the summer of 1999,’’ said Bible, who was then, as he is now, Tom O’Brien’s offensive coordinator.

In 1999, Bible was part of O’Brien’s staff at Boston College and was running a summer camp for high school prospects at which young assistants from other schools served as part of a volunteer staff.

“We were working with the quarterbacks in camp,’’ said Bible by phone from Raleigh, N.C., where he is O’Brien’s coordinator at North Carolina State. “When you work at camps like that with younger coaches, personalities come through, and there was plenty of evidence of his style of coaching.

“When you see Chip at work, you saw a constant. His approach to football is that he is a guy that sees possibilities. He approaches a game with a can-do attitude. He sees the game as one about possibilities. That’s the way he is wired.’’

Kelly reminds Bible of former NFL coach Sam Wyche.

“Sam was always reaching out, asking what we can do, what we might do,’’ said Bible. “When you meet Sam and when you meet Chip, you know you are dealing with a football coach. There are no hidden agendas.

“What didn’t take long to see with Chip was he’s a talented individual. He has a fearless approach that just jumps out at you. It’s an attacking style. He has one of those minds that doesn’t stay quiet, it’s always looking.’’

Bible has caught glimpses of Oregon as it made its run toward the BCS title game.

“The thing that is amazing to me is the pace is breakneck, but what is even more amazing is the execution,’’ he said. “Those are big bodies. The execution level is at a high standard and so is the pace.’’

One speed: Fast Kelly came out of UNH as a New England kid who always focused on what could be done rather than what couldn’t be done. He cut his teeth as a coach at UNH, including an eight-year stint as offensive coordinator from 1999-2006 during which his offense averaged more than 400 yards and 30 points per game.

“With Chip, what you see is what you get,’’ said McDonnell, who will be in Arizona to see his former assistant’s latest efforts. “He’s made it fun and exciting.

“He’s basically the same coach now that he was at New Hampshire. He is as demanding on himself as he is on his players. He coached at a fast pace then but now he is on warp speed.’’

McDonnell said Kelly’s aggressive approach has not changed with his elevation in status.

“He never met a fourth down he didn’t like,’’ said McDonnell with a laugh. “If we had a fourth and 7 and were trying to kick a field goal or send the punt team out, he would say, ‘Sean, come on, I know we can make this.’ ’’

At Oregon, Kelly’s team plays at such a fast pace that opponents —such as California and Stanford this season — have been known to fake injuries to get a breather.

“I think playing fast is a fundamental,’’ said Kelly, “and if you don’t practice it every day and you don’t continue to pay attention to it every day, you can kind of lose that edge.’’

And even with a built-in layoff of more than a month before the Auburn game, Kelly said, everything has remained the same in terms of preparation.

“We’d be crazy to go away from a formula that got us 12 straight wins,’’ he said, “and hopefully we’ll be able to do it one more time.’’

Early signs Kelly said he recognized very early that this version of the Ducks might be better than most expected.

“I knew we had something special during spring practice,’’ he said. “We had 15 practices in the spring and we didn’t have a bad one.

“I could tell the players’ mind-set was they understood what our vision is for this football program, and the way we were going to get there was through hard work. When I watched them practice in the spring, I think they understood that we were going to be in this situation at the end of the year.’’

Oregon has won by simply wearing out opponents with its no-huddle, quicker-than-you-even-simulate football.

“It makes it where teams can’t sub,’’ said running back LaMichael James. “That really is a big key for us. When they can’t sub, most guys get tired. They have the wrong personnel group in. And we really excel at that.’’

James has been integral to an offense that scored a school-record 592 points, and he has seen opponents simply fade away.

“It’s really fun,’’ he said. “When that happens, it can make the score go up. We want to play faster and keep going and step on the gas even more.’’

Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich takes care of the details, although the offense is clearly Kelly’s scheme. When asked about his role, Helfrich laughed and said, “I can get coffee, I can do dishes.

“It’s like John Wooden said: It’s amazing what you can accomplish when nobody cares who gets the credit.’’

If Oregon wins Monday, Kelly no doubt will get the credit, and Tony Seminary is ready to give it to him — and to his alma mater, which has come so far since that day in Boise last September.

As it turned out, Seminary returned the check to Kelly after making a copy of it.

“Maybe I should frame it or something,’’ said Kelly. “This thing is so cool. I have to pinch myself.

“A couple of nights ago, I was just thinking about it and I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve. I haven’t been able to sleep. To think, we’re playing Auburn for the national championship.’’

And Tony Seminary will be watching.

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at blaudschun@globe.com.