Oregon and Auburn have different approaches
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Oregon running back LaMichael James jokes that the reason Chip Kelly has closed practices is that the gruff coach with the no-nonsense exterior doesn't want the world to see what he's really like.
"He wants you guys to see the tough-guy role," James said.
Kelly has been running a tight ship in Arizona as the second-ranked Ducks prepare for the BCS title game Monday night against No. 1 Auburn. Practices are more often than not closed, and access to players is tightly controlled. The team has been rigidly scheduled.
Kelly, a New Hampshire native who has never dropped his East Coast persona in laid-back Eugene, has always been regimented about his team, but the Ducks have been even more locked down than usual.
To his credit, the coach says its all about the team: Oregon's players are currently in school. So in addition to preparations for the game, they've had to keep up with their class work from afar.
And, really, this is simply what Oregon has been like ever since Kelly took over last season: all business.
"Our whole process is, let's eliminate distractions. When you get to a game like this with a million people on the sideline clicking pictures like you are and trying to focus and concentrate on what they are trying to do, our task at hand is Monday night," he said.
That said, it hasn't been all work. Kelly provided inspirational viewing of the films "Secretariat" and "The Fighter." Running back Kenjon Barner said there have been some epic ping pong matches at the team hotel.
On Saturday, the team was loose at practice, dancing and playing air guitar.
"If you have a passion for playing football like this group of young men has and our coaching staff has, our kids love practice and playing football. So it wasn't like, 'Hey, we get to go to a bowl game, what amusement parks are we going to?' It's 'We get a chance to play Auburn in the national championship game,' and that's what our focus is on."
The Tigers, in contrast, set the tone for their trip to Arizona without a curfew for the first couple of days. Rumors swirled that some Auburn players were out clubbing until the wee hours on Monday night.
When a curfew was imposed, it was a generous 1 a.m. Oregon's curfew was 10 p.m., a time set by the players.
"I think coach Chizik and the whole coaching staff are trying to embrace the moment," said Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton. "This is a once-and-a-lifetime opportunity right now."
Late as the curfew has been, the Tigers have made it to practice the next day.
"We've shown all season we can be mature about those situations," said tackle Lee Ziemba.
Overall, it appeared that the Tigers were indeed taking the lighter approach to the week. Cornerback T'Sharvan Bell said the feeling is that the team put in its hardest work back home during the 36-day layoff between games.
Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley provided some entertainment via Twitter, developing a friendly banter with his followers in an attempt to reach 10,000. He even entertained a fan who wanted to know whether he liked Coke or Pepsi better (he's a Pepsi guy).
But shortly after media day on Friday, Fairley shut down.
"This is my last tweet until the 10th! Its been fun! WAR EAGLE!" he said.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik said that ultimately the differing approaches don't mean much.
"Oregon does what Oregon does and Auburn does what Auburn does," Chizik said. "We've got a very focused team and we are going to continue to prepare the way we think is the bast way to prepare."
The Ducks' closed practices have led some conspiracy theorists to suggest that they are developing some trick plays. Others have said that after rumors flew last season that Ohio State had intercepted some of Oregon's signs and were able to anticipate certain plays in the Rose Bowl, the Ducks were super sensitive about security leaks.
They certainly weren't saying.
"That conspiracy theory is working really well," Kelly joked.