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Title game coaches skyrocket to success Auburn's Chizik, Oregon's Kelly in rare position

Gene Chizik won five games in two seasons at Iowa State before becoming Auburn's head coach in 2009.

Oregon's Chip Kelly can top that. He had never even been more than an offensive coordinator -- and had only been working in major college football for two seasons -- when he was promoted to top Duck, also in 2009.

Now Chizik and Kelly each are a win away from a national championship, with only the other in the way. Whichever coach leads his team to victory in the BCS title game on Monday night will join an elite club.

Only eight active FBS coaches have won national championships. The group includes Alabama's Nick Saban, LSU's Les Miles, Texas' Mack Brown, Ohio State's Jim Tressel, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, Penn State Hall of Famer Joe Paterno and Florida Atlantic's Howard Schnellenberger.

Compared to those guys, Chizik and Kelly are practically unknowns to the casual sports fan.

The 49-year-old Chizik's return to Auburn, where he had been defensive coordinator for the undefeated 2004 Tigers, was not -- at first -- triumphant.

He had spent 19 years as an assistant, the final two at Texas where he helped the Longhorns win a national championship in 2005 and became rising star within college coaching.

Iowa State, with a history off little success, gave Chizik his first head coaching job in 2007. He won three games that season and two the next, and it seemed as if his star had dimmed.

"Iowa State was a rebuilding situation for myself and our assistants," he said. "I had a great two years there, learned a lot, did a lot, made a lot of strides."

When he was hired to replace his former Auburn boss, Tommy Tuberville, who was ousted with a 85-40 record, many Tigers fans and alum were outraged. A YouTube video of athletic director Jay Jacobs being heckled by an upset fan exemplified the anger. To compete against Saban, Auburn had hired a coach who was 5-19 at Iowa State.

Of course, not all the Auburn fans wanted to run Chizik off before he even moved into his office.

"When I came to Auburn, I got off the plane, there was about 800 people waiting for me and it was an awesome reception, and it has never changed," said Chizik, a native of Clearwater, Fla.

With quarterback Cam Newton leading the way, Auburn went from 8-5 last season to 13-0 and in position to win the school's first national title since 1957 this season.

Kelly's arrival at Oregon was not nearly as volatile.

Then-Ducks coach Mike Bellotti, on the recommendation of former Oregon offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, hired Kelly in 2007 away from New Hampshire, an FCS program where he had been running the offense.

Kelly's lightning-tempo spread was an immediate hit, setting Oregon records for points and total yards.

After the 2008 season, Bellotti stepped aside to become full-time athletic director at Oregon and Kelly was promoted. He inherited a staff with five coaches who had been at Oregon for more than 20 years, including strength coach Jim Radcliffe.

Radcliffe said when Kelly first arrived in Eugene he was "hard to read."

After becoming head coach, Kelly won over his staff by asking questions and listening to the answers.

"He's kind of an outside-the-box thinker," Radcliffe said.

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>Pitt gets redemption

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Pittsburgh players dumped the cooler full of sports drink on Phil Bennett.

They hoped Dave Wannstedt, watching on TV in Naples, Fla., also felt an affectionate chill.

Pittsburgh scored touchdowns off two mistakes by Kentucky's punting team and the Panthers (8-5), playing for their former coach, beat the Wildcats (6-7), 27-10, in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Saturday.

Andrew Taglianetti blocked a punt to set up Pittsburgh's first touchdown late in the first half. An incomplete pass on Kentucky's fake punt early in the second half set up Tino Sunseri's 13-yard touchdown pass to Brock DeCicco. Sunseri also ran for a score.

Pittsburgh players dedicated the win to Wannstedt, who was forced to resign following a disappointing regular season.

"We knew coach Wannstedt was watching," safety Dom DeCicco said. "It was special to come out here and play the way we did and get this win after all the adversity we've been through."

Bennett, the defensive coordinator, was the acting head coach in his final game with Pittsburgh. Bennett was hired Friday as Baylor's defensive coordinator.

Pitt hired Miami of Ohio coach Mike Haywood to replace Wannstedt, but Haywood was fired less than three weeks later after he was jailed in Indiana on a domestic violence charge. The school has yet to hire another head coach.

In the final bowl game before Monday's national title game, Boston College (7-5) faces Nevada (12-1) tonight in the Fight Hunger Bowl at AT&T Park in San Francisco (9 p.m., ESPN).

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