Newton was destined to become the first overall pick in the NFL draft a few months later. The Ducks' quarterback was Darron Thomas, a redshirt sophomore who had won a preseason competition after star QB Jeremiah Masoli was kicked off the team. Thomas wasn't drafted or signed by an NFL team, and currently plays in the Arena League for Portland.
Kelly had "raised eyebrows" but hadn't completely sold the rest of the Pac-12 on his genius, while going to the Rose Bowl as a first-year head coach in 2009, the way veteran Oregon football analyst Charles Fischer, of Fishduck.com, remembers it. He truly became a national phenomenon in his second season. Foes who had boasted in the offseason that they were figuring out ways to shut down his gimmicky offense found that Kelly's team played faster, smarter, and with more confidence the second time around.
So, Super Bowl berth this season for the Eagles, who report to Kelly's second NFL training camp today, and begin workouts tomorrow?
The Birds have an awful lot of questions to answer before that happens, such as whether quarterback Nick Foles is for real, how they'll make make up for giving away DeSean Jackson, and whether they've improved their last-in-the-league pass defense. But their road probably won't be any more daunting than the one traveled by the 2010 Ducks.
The Rose Bowl berth after the 2009 season was Oregon's first in 15 years, but Kelly's 10-2 team lost to Ohio State and Terrelle Pryor, much as last season's surprising 10-6 NFC East champion Eagles lost in the first round of the playoffs to New Orleans.
"That was the kind of success people were familiar with at Oregon," Saltveit recalls. People were excited, but Kelly wasn't yet seen as a transformational figure. His two predecessors, Mike Bellotti and Rich Brooks, had logged close to 2 decades apiece at the school. Kelly was still the offensive-coordinator guy from New Hampshire who'd only moved west in 2007. He didn't seem real interested in schmoozing boosters - eventually Kelly would eschew a weekly trip to Portland to meet with the Duck Club, choosing to Skype instead.
"It didn't go over well," recalled Portland Oregonian columnist John Canzano, "but he didn't care."
"He had some nimble political work he had to handle," Saltveit said.
Kelly's most immediate problem in 2010 was that almost as soon as his players got home from the Rose Bowl, they started running afoul of the law. Nine players were involved in various incidents, and Kelly initially seemed reluctant to lay down the hammer. He was widely criticized, especially when he didn't immediately take action against Masoli, the Rose Bowl QB, in January, after Masoli and a teammate were accused of breaking into a frat house and stealing two laptops.
Masoli, who had been jailed for his participation in a robbery in high school, pleaded guilty to second-degree burglary in March, and Kelly suspended him for the season. Three months later, Masoli was found driving with a suspended license, and in possession of marijuana. At that point, Kelly dismissed him from the team.
"It just seemed like every weekend there was something, and it was wild," recalled Adam Jude, who covered the 2010 Ducks for the Eugene Register-Guard. "It wasn't just little stuff, either - the star quarterback breaks into a fraternity house with one of his receivers and they steal laptops . . . at one point it's just, like, you're waiting by the police blotter on Saturday nights.
"It was Chip's first offseason. I don't know if certain things were overlooked [in terms of discipline] . . . Chip holds a press conference to say, 'This is unacceptable.' [Linebacker] Kiko Alonso goes out and gets a DUI - that same night. That was symbolic of the problem they had. [Alonso was suspended for the 2010 season.]
"That was a hell of an offseason. I was in the same Eugene courtroom, 3 hours apart, for Jeremiah Masoli and LaMichael James' separate court appearances - arguably, Oregon's two most high-profile players."
James, the star running back, and kicker Rob Beard pleaded guilty to charges that had to do with physical harassment of women. They were suspended for the season opener.
"I kept telling him, 'You're sacrificing the program for one or two guys,' " said Canzano, who memorably clashed with Kelly when the coach called in to Canzano's Portland radio show in February. (The clip is still available on the Internet.) "It really came to a head that summer, with Masoli and LaMichael James and Beard."
Canzano noted that Kelly had never been a head coach, at any level, before 2009.
"He was struggling with discipline. He was struggling with a fundamental element of being a head coach," Canzano said. "I think that summer before the 2010 season was huge for his own growth. I saw his philosophy change, where he suddenly stopped putting one player in front of the program."
It's hard not to see the echoes of 2010 in Kelly's decision 4 months ago to dismiss Jackson, the Eagles' Pro Bowl wide receiver who subsequently signed with the Redskins. Oregon observers say that when Kelly booted Masoli, then made it to the BCS title game anyway, he began to believe that it was, in Fischer's words, "easier to go out and find good people."
"You wonder how much of Chip now is a reaction to what he went through, with all of that stuff," Saltveit said.
Enduring the offseason turmoil helped make the 2010 Ducks Kelly's most successful Oregon team, Canzano said.
"Somehow, they came through that galvanized. They had this focus about them, where nothing was a big deal. They weren't celebrating, even when they were blowing people out early in the year. It was like watching the Spurs, with Tim Duncan and [Tony] Parker and [Manu] Ginobili," Canzano said. "They were focused on something bigger than just beating USC or winning a 'civil war' [against Oregon State]. This was all focused on winning it all. They believed it. They weren't just talking about it . . . You could see it coming with about 2 or 3 weeks to go in the season . . . the players were just so locked in.
"I remember people saying, 'Oh, they'll have a letdown here,' or 'They won't be focused' . . . They really did take on that personality of playing each week as though it were a Super Bowl. Teams talk about it, but somehow that group was able to capture it. They haven't had it since; they've had letdowns. That group was special."
Part of the specialness had to do with the players' relationship with Kelly, Canzano said.
"That was a group he had been heavily involved in recruiting [as an assistant to Bellotti]. They were like friends."
Jude said he came to realize something about Kelly that LeSean McCoy alluded to this spring, when discussing the Jackson situation.
"You're either with him or you're not," Jude said. "There's no in-between with him."
Oregon observers say the biggest lesson they learned about Kelly from watching the 2010 Ducks was how well he adapted to adverse situations. He showed he could improvise, either when having to replace option-threat Masoli with pocket-passer Thomas, or when down, 21-3, to Jim Harbaugh's Stanford team in the first half, before ultimately winning, 52-31. This bodes well for Eagles fans, as they fret about missing Jackson, or about tackle Lane Johnson's four-game suspension, or this season's tougher schedule.
Canzano, who once covered Indiana basketball, said: "I've never been around a coach who could adapt - was so willing to adapt. You find a lot of coaches that are stubborn and stuck in their ways. Bob Knight was a great coach; I can say a million great things about him, but he was stubborn. [Kelly] is so adaptable. It really serves him well as a coach. He went to the national title game without anybody, that next year, being drafted in the first round of the NFL draft."
Jude recalled that "it just felt like every time the Ducks came out of the locker room at halftime . . . if it was a close game, they were just going to sprint away . . . the other team had no chance of catching up."
Though Kelly ultimately went 46-7 and won the Fiesta Bowl in his final game at Oregon, Jude said that not everyone there was convinced he'd be as good in the pros.
"People wondered if professional players would follow him . . . I don't know if 'overbearing' is the right word, but he's certainly demanding of his players. If you fall in line and if you're with him, [those] players tend to love him. If you cross him, you're probably not going to be in uniform very long."
Last month, in a session with Eagles beat writers, Kelly was asked about how he relates to players.
"We're always demanding and strict," he said. "But everybody understands what the vision and culture is for the team, and everybody adheres to it. That doesn't mean you have to be impersonal and can't talk to them . . . find out a little more about them. Because you have a human side doesn't mean you can't be demanding."
On Twitter: @LesBowen