When it became clear that Andy Reid was on his way out, Chip Kelly became my #1 target to replace him. I wasn’t sure that Kelly would succeed in the NFL, but I felt he was the right guy to replace Big Red. The Eagles needed change. Hiring another NFL coach would have meant some change, but not the culture shock that Kelly has brought. I didn’t anticipate Kelly’s personalized smoothies, reorganized locker room, and things like that, but I knew that he would be distinctly different. This is like a knuckleball pitcher being replaced by a guy who throws 100 mph. The change is so dramatic that it has extra impact.
I fully acknowledged that Kelly was a risky hire. What works in college does not always work in the NFL. Steve Spurrier is the most famous college-to-NFL failure. There have been plenty of others. I felt the risk was worth it because Kelly reminded me a bit of someone that did make the transition successfully, Jimmy Johnson.
Since the hire, I’ve been mostly impressed by Kelly. My biggest concern is the hire of Bill Davis as the Defensive Coordinator. Davis doesn’t have a great track record as a DC. It is hard to get excited by him. I’m also nervous about the hybrid defense. Trying to use the 3-4 and 4-3 Under can be tricky. Hybrid defenses have failed more than they’ve succeeded in the NFL. Too often, coaches think Bill Belichick’s ideas can be copied, but don’t realize you need a brilliant coach like him to teach them, run them, and make adjustments to them.
Fast forward a bit. The last month or so has gotten me to completely buy-in on Chip Kelly. The more I see him in action…the more I hear from him at press conferences…the more I find out about him…the more I like him.
So that you know I’m not completely delusional, this week’s PE.com column is a reminder that even with Kelly doing good things, we do need to remember that the Eagles are a work in progress.
Beyond those columns, there are additional reasons for optimism and excitement.
Check out this blurb from Michael Vick in a recent interview:
Cole: You say you’re satisfied, but you sound like a guy who knows the results are still not exactly what you wanted them to be.
Vick: Right, and I won’t go into detail about it because Coach Kelly told us as a team, “Don’t talk about winning the Super Bowl, just put in the hard work to get there. You talk about if you get there.” So I don’t think about winning the Super Bowl anymore. I just think about working hard as I can and whatever’s in the future is going to come.
I love this.
We have no more dream team talk. We have no more dynasty talk. Kelly has beat it into the players heads to quit talking about how great they are and what’s going to happen down the road. Kelly has sold the players on his philosophy…”win the day”. Players are focused on the here and now. Nothing was more infuriating in recent years than hearing the players talk about how talented the team was and how great they could be…right after a bad loss.
The players seem to genuinely be enjoying Kelly’s coaching. Tim McManus covered this recently and had a good quote from Jason Kelce.
“It was always an uptight conversation whenever I had one with (Reid). Whereas Chip is a lot more — at least at this point — one of the guys. He’s still the head coach and you still have great respect for him, but he converses with everybody, he strikes up conversations. He’s much more of a loose guy to be around than Andy was, that’s for sure.”
You don’t want the coach to be buddy-buddy with the players, but you do want him to have good interaction with the players. Kelly seems to be doing a good job of walking the line right now. The players are following his lead. You don’t hear complaints about the changes he’s making. Kelly is very cognizant of the importance of leadership. He isn’t trying to be popular. That would be no good. Kelly knows how to sell his ideas so that players will embrace them.
One of the things Kelly preaches to his coaches is to always be able to explain to players why something is being done. Think about how often kids ask parents, teachers, and/or coaches why something is being done. The standard answer is either “because” or “because I said so”. Kelly tells his coaches that if they can’t explain why something is being done, then it probably shouldn’t be done.
I think too often outsiders see the unique things Kelly does and don’t understand that there is logic behind all of it. Everybody made a big deal out of the loud music at practice. Kelly mentioned at his PC that there was science behind that. The loud music may have made things fun, but Kelly had proof that it worked in a positive way.
Kelly truly sees the big picture. Remember when Reid came to Philly with the blue binder and had all his plans mapped out? Kelly goes beyond that. He has everything mapped out. He takes being a control freak to a whole new level.
Here is when we practice. Here is how we practice. Here is what we listen to at practice. Here is what you eat before practicing. Here is what you drink after practicing. And so on. This could be a major issue if Kelly was a domineering perfectionist, but that’s not the case. He tells players that he understands they will make mistakes. It is up to Kelly and the coaches to correct them. Players will be held accountable if the mistakes continue.
It is also crucial that Kelly is able to sell his ideas so well. If he came in pushing these methods on players like a dictator, there would be some sense of revolt. Les Steckel coached the Minnesota Vikings in 1984. He was a Vietnam vet who believed the team needed discipline and drew upon his Marine background for how to run the team. Steckel was 38 years old and the youngest coach in the NFL at that time. He wanted to do things his way. The Vikings went 3-13 and that doesn’t tell the whole story of how disastrous the season was.
Kelly is more salesman than bully. He understands that the ideas are worthless if players aren’t on board with them. It probably helps that Kelly had great success with these methods and ideas at Oregon. The offensive players are excited to play in Kelly’s offense. They watched Oregon move up and down the field and score points left and right. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?
Kelly’s teams were among the leaders in plays per game. They didn’t just rack up plays and yards, though. Over the last 3 years, Oregon was 2nd in the nation in Red Zone TD percentage. The Ducks led the nation in TDs scored (154). For comparison’s sake, Penn State scored 79 TDs in that same stretch.
Even defensive players can get excited. Think about the last 5 drafts. LB Dion Jordan was taken 3rd overall this year. DBs TJ Ward, Patrick Chung, and Jairus Byrd were all early 2nd round picks. MLB Kiko Alonso was a mid-2nd round pick this year. There were several other LBs drafted in the mid-rounds. Oregon’s defense also led the nation in takeaways over the last 4 years. Kelly is an offensive coach, but his defenses and defensive players have had some success.
I think one of the key’s to the success is that Kelly preaches the importance of competition. He said something great at a recent PC, “…if anybody came in here and said they were really vying for a backup job, then they would probably be on the bus down 95 pretty quick.” This might sound like B.S., but Kelly comes from the college world. We regularly see 5-star recruits that never pan out and walk-ons who become star players. Kelly will give all players a chance to show what they can do. It is up to them to win a job or playing time.
Competition will keep a sense of entitlement from setting in. DeSean Jackson got benched in 2011, but it should have happened earlier. Amazingly, DRC and Nnamdi Asomugha never got benched last year. Reid did bring them in for a talking-to. We don’t know how Kelly’s attitude in this area will translate to the NFL. There are no signing bonuses in college. In the NFL, economics do get factored into decisions. Still, I like the fact that Kelly wants his players to always feel that the guy behind them is a threat. If you don’t play up to his standards, he will give someone else a chance. No one gets a free ride.
I guess you could say that I’m a fan of Chip Kelly and what he’s done so far. I can’t wait to see the team in action. There will be ups and downs, but I really think we’ve got the right coach to get this team headed back to the top.
Don’t just sip the Chip Kelly kool-aid, chug it.
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If you’re tired of my yakking about Kelly, go check out this recent column by Derek at Iggles Blog. Derek doesn’t grace us often enough with his thoughts, but when he does…he always provides great stuff.
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There is still time to go and support the Eagles Almanac. You’ll get brilliant writing from all the usual suspects. There are rumors about a Sheil Kapadia centerfold, but I have my doubts. His agent would probably want way too much money for that.