EUGENE, Ore. - Oregon athletic officials were so convinced that Chip Kelly was destined to be head coach of the Ducks they offered him the job before it came open.

Smart move.

In just his second season leading Oregon, Kelly is taking the second-ranked Ducks to the national championship game on Jan. 10 against No. 1 Auburn - and for that he was voted Associated Press Coach of the Year yesterday.

Kelly received 24 votes from the 60-member AP football poll panel to beat out his BCS title game counterpart, Gene Chizik of Auburn, who received 17 votes.

Stanford's Jim Harbaugh was third with five votes, TCU's Gary Patterson, last year's winner, and Mark Dantonio of Michigan State each received three votes. Getting one vote apiece were Nevada's Chris Ault, Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy and Miami, Ohio's Mike Haywood, who led the school to a Mid-American Conference championship before taking the top job at Pittsburgh last week.

Kelly has made a rapid rise from FCS coordinator in New England to leading the Pac-10's new powerhouse program to within a victory of its first national championship.

Mike Bellotti, Oregon's longtime head coach through the 2008 season, hired Kelly away from New Hampshire to run the Ducks offense in 2007. He installed an up-tempo, spread-option attack that has been growing more potent ever since.

It didn't take long for it to become clear that Bellotti had hired his heir apparent. When Bellotti was tapped to take over as the school's athletic director, Oregon announced in December 2008 - as the Ducks prepared for the Holiday Bowl - that Bellotti would become full-time AD at some point and Kelly was the head-coach in waiting.

That spring, Bellotti made it official and Kelly took over the Ducks.