Chip Kelly was the candidate for Florida's coaching vacancy in late 2017 after the Gators fired Jim McElwain weeks earlier. The then-54-year-old Kelly was one year removed from a disastrous 2-14 season with the San Francisco 49ers, his first after an eventful, controversial, and downright bizarre three-year run with the Philadelphia Eagles. He was no longer the revered man who led Oregon to 46 wins in four seasons as head coach from 2009-12, nor was he still the innovator supposedly changing the landscape of American football.
Still, after one year out of football, which followed four (mostly) failure-filled years on NFL sidelines, Chip Kelly was the candidate for Florida. He was the candidate for a top-10 job with, at minimum, a $5-million annual salary and a real shot at an elusive national championship. Ultimately, talks ended, Florida hired Dan Mullen, and Kelly landed at UCLA.
After all of that, Kelly, a man with six total years of FBS coaching experience, who hadn't won an FBS game in five years, and hadn't recruited a single player in five years, still landed a top-25 job in a talent-rich region in one of the most desirable and glamorous cities on the planet. Imagine what another young and more highly regarded (albeit only slightly) coach could land after a failed NFL run. Someone like Lincoln Riley…
"He's very high on the radar of the Jones family, in the event the Cowboys miss the playoffs and Jason Garrett is on the way out," Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport reported this week.
And before insecure Oklahoma fans blow a gasket — assuming Sooners actually clicked an article asking why their coach wouldn't want to leave — let's be very clear: Oklahoma is a marquee job. It's a destination job. At worst, it's a top-10 job nationally and the second-best job in the Big 12. At best, it's a top-five job and the best job in the Big 12. It's a resource-rich program with arguably the best and most respected athletics director in the country in Joe Castiglione. So, yes, to answer my own title, that's why Riley shouldn't take an NFL shot. Risk-reward, however, says Riley should follow Kelly's lead and take a shot.
If Riley fails in Dallas (or another NFL city), what's waiting for him in five years? At best, another top-10 job. Hell, maybe Oklahoma is open again? Or Alabama, Michigan, USC or Notre Dame is open? At worst, a top-25 job opens. Maybe Auburn, Texas A&M, or Penn State. If Chip Kelly's stock was that high after four weird NFL years and one year in an ESPN studio, Lincoln Riley's stock would be just as high, if not higher.
And this assumes Lincoln Riley fails in the NFL, which in itself stretches the boundaries of imagination.