How Will Chip Kelly Handle Losing?

Posted: July 18th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 54 Comments »

Since you guys have been so good this week, I’ve got a special treat for you. Instead of me rambling on about the Eagles, PBR and Lone Wolf McQuade, we get a guest column from a Chip Kelly expert, Oregon fan/sportswriter/author Mark Saltveit.

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Is Chip Kelly A Good Loser?

By Mark Saltveit

We know that Chip Kelly is a great winner, a  coach with an unparalleled level of success – 46-7 in his four years of head coaching at previously unheralded Oregon, a BCS Bowl game each season, and many successful years as an offensive coordinator before that.

This raises a scary question – how good of a loser will he be?  Because, let’s face it, he will lose a lot of games this year, and he hasn’t had much practice.  Let’s say the Eagles go 9-7 and make the playoffs, a result at the high end of the optimistic range and a fantastic turnaround from last year’s 4-12 quagmire.

Even if all those good things happen, Kelly will lose as many games this year as he has in his entire head coaching career.  What if the Eagles lose several games in a row, which could easily happen?  Kelly’s Ducks never lost two in a row, unless you count the combination of the 2010 National Championship Game and the first game of 2011 against #4 Louisiana State University.

If the Eagles lose a string of games, will Kelly waver in his rock-solid confidence? Lose the confidence of his players? Too-hastily abandon his innovative offensive concepts? Bring back Taco Tuesdays and tell players to stay up late?

Some coaches – often disciplinarians — are great at turning around teams in a tailspin, but can’t manage the egos of a top-level franchise. Other coaches only succeed with top-level teams.  Pat Riley won a championship in his first season with the L.A. Lakers and adapted well to the Knicks and Heat, but he always started with a playoff team.  Is Kelly one of these glass-jawed winners?

His experience at Oregon does not offer much evidence either way. There really were only two moments of adversity in 4 years, and these setbacks were ridiculously mild compared to a team that lost 11 of 12 games, such as the 2012 Eagles.  Still, I think those moments revealed things about Kelly’s character that give us a hint of how he’ll handle hard times in Philadelphia. More on that in a minute.

Before he went to Oregon, though, it was a different story.  Kelly played college ball as a QB and DB at the University of New Hampshire, and started coaching there in 1992, but they were not consistent winners until 2004.  In his 11 seasons coaching there before that breakout year, they were 61-61.   Obviously, this did not set back Kelly’s career, though he was never the head coach so he didn’t face the same pressures.  Furthermore, the Wildcats’ offense thrived after Kelly became offensive coordinator in 1999, while the defense was often poor, so Chip did not face personal criticism.  Still, he learned how to absorb losses and continue to motivate his squad nonetheless.

Oregon was a different story.  Kelly inherited an above-average, underperforming team – sound familiar? — that was already implementing a spread offense under Mike Bellotti.  The 2006 Ducks were ranked #21 before the season began, but ended 7-6 with a loss to the BYU Cougars in the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl.  It was the first time the Ducks had ended the season unranked since 2004. Kelly started as offensive coordinator the following year and Kelly transformed the Ducks’ offense into a steamroller of yards and points, making him the obvious choice to replace Bellotti.

Expectations were sky-high for his first game as head coach – in his lifetime! – against Boise State on September 3, 2009.  The #16 Ducks were on the road against the #14 Broncos (yes, Boise State was a bit of a power when Kellen Moore was their quarterback, though it’s hard to believe that now. They ended that season 14-0, ranked #4 in the nation.)

The results of Kelly’s first game could not have been more disastrous, especially for such a reputed offensive genius.  The Ducks did not get a first down in the first half, ending up with only 152 yards – their fewest in 15 years.  Star running back LeGarrette Blount, who has verified his talent in the NFL since this debacle, ended the night with minus-five yards rushing.  Actually, that’s not true – he ended the night by punching Boise State’s Byron Hout in the face and charging the taunting Bronco fans in the stands.  Police had to restrain him from further mayhem.

So here was the clear low point of Chip Kelly’s head coaching career.  Not only did he lose, with his offensive prowess specifically shut down, but the one true star of his team had attacked another player on national television.  Everything seemed to be falling apart.  How did Chip respond?

Despite what must have been tremendous pressure to keep Blount on the field, and very real doubts about whether his FCS football techniques could work at the top levels of FBS football, he stayed tough and stuck to his guns – both in his football strategy and in his emphasis on character.  Kelly suspended Blount for the season, which allowed him to develop a couple of younger running backs named LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner. (Blount was later reinstated for the last two games of the year, though he was not a dominant force even then.) He also stayed with his innovative coaching concepts, and by the end of the season the Ducks were in the Rose Bowl, ranked #11 in the nation.

The other revealing moment was his big losing streak – two games starting with the Ducks’ narrow loss in the 2010 championship game, and sliding into the much-hyped 2011 season opener against #4 LSU, which featured a quietly tough defensive tackle named Bennie Logan.  The game was tight until the third quarter, when true freshman De’Anthony Thomas (known to Duck fans as DAT) fumbled on consecutive Oregon plays.  LSU scored after both turnovers and won by 13.

After the game, reporters pushed Kelly hard to blame DAT for the loss, but the coach refused.  He said “Our players play from a desire to excel — not a fear of failure. I’m not yanking a kid when he puts the ball on the ground. As I learned from Paul Westhead a long time ago, you may stop the bleeding, but you may kill the patient and that’s not going to happen here.”

Again, the coach stuck to his guns, and did not blame or over-react to adversity.  Also of note — given Michael Vick’s comments about Chip teaching him how to not fumble – is that DAT has not had ball-handling issues since then.

The important point is that, in the rare moments when Chip Kelly faced a little bit of failure at Oregon, he stayed firm and grounded, stuck to his guns and bounced back to succeed. And the striking thing is not any bit of gridiron strategy, but simply his emotional maturity.  Chip Kelly is a confident and natural leader, a relatively egoless coach who is open to suggestion, is good at communicating with his team members, and readily takes responsibility for failure as the man in charge, even as he genuinely deflects praise onto the players who actually execute his plans.

That maturity, couple with his long experience with both winning and losing teams, is what makes me very confident that he will handle losing gracefully – even as he works hard and intelligently to make the losing stop.

Mark Saltveit writes a weekly column on the Eagles and Chip Kelly for FishDuck.com, a leading Oregon Ducks strategy blog.  He is the author of “The Tao of Chip Kelly: Lessons from America’s Most Successful Coach,” available at  www.chipkelly.tv and at leading bookstores around Pennsylvania. 

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  • TommyLawlor

    I love the story about DAT and fumbling. Very interesting.

    • GEagle

      Hopefully chip can work DAT magic on Bryce!

      • Weapon Y

        If he can work DAT magic on Vick, it’s time to anoint Chip as the Messiah.

  • Weapon Y

    I am confident that Chip will handle adversity well as the Eagles coach. He seems to know when to get tough with a player. LeGarrette Blount clearly crossed the line and deserved the suspension. I also liked that he recognized DAT’s fumbling problems were fixable and he had trust in him. That makes me more optimistic about Bryce Brown and maybe just a hair more optimistic about Vick. Chip knows to be the bad cop when guys have bad character, but the good cop when they’re simply making mistakes on the field. Andy had a lot of trouble figuring out when to be the bad cop in the last two years, and that allowed players like Babin, Nnamdi, DRC, DJax, and Maclin to tune him out. The egos will be bigger in the NFL and the adversity will be magnified, but I don’t see any reason yet why Chip can’t handle it.

    • msalt

      Thanks. I think the secret is, Chip is able to sell the idea that “Hey, we all want to win. Here’s what we need to do to win. Cool?” So it doesn’t get into a cop vs. criminal mentality, he’s not a father figure you be naughty against, he’s like a strategist helping you win and make more money.

  • Mac

    Tommy, thanks for sharing this with us.

    Mark, well written article. Fun to read and insightful.

  • Matt and Kari Verhoog

    Just don’t lose.

    • TommyLawlor

      That’s the other option. :)

  • Fiftyfourd

    “The #16 Ducks were on the road against the #14 Broncos (yes, Boise State was a bit of a power when Kellen Moore was their quarterback, though it’s hard to believe that now. They ended that season 14-0, ranked #4 in the nation.)”

    As a BSU fan, this is one of my favorite games of the last 5 years. The energy at the bar for that game was so intense and everyone was so amped! We really though they would get a shot at the Championship :(

    • James

      Go Utes.

  • Jason

    Maybe my favorite Chip Kelly article yet

  • Daniel Norman Richwine

    If he realizes that the NFL is different than college, he will be fine. Given his workaholic ways so far, I don’t see him pulling a Spurrier.

  • D3FB

    Excellent piece

  • slackerjoe

    Good article! But I hope we never have to find out what kind of a loser he is.

  • ACViking

    Re: DAT’s fumbles & the “Run and Gun” Paul Westhead

    Ironic that Kelly cited Paul Westhead (coached LaSalle before going to LA in ’79) as one of his favored coaching philosophers — and also that the author referenced Pat Riley.

    Westhead, by the way, became the Oregon Lady Ducks B-ball coach in 9/09 — just when Kelly became HC of the Ducks’ football team.

    Back in the early part of the Lackers’ 1979-80 season, Westhead — an asst coach — assumed the HC job after HC Jack McKinney (former St. Joe’s coach) was seriously injured in a bicycle-riding accident. Westhead then led the Lakers, behind rookie Magic Johnson, to an NBA title.

    But just 16 months later — 11 game into the ’81-’82 season — Magic Johnson (so the story goes) complained to the Lakers’ owner, Jerry Buss, that Westhead was too rigid and a control monger who’s offensive system was stifling the Magic man.

    So Buss fired Westhead and hired Riley, who’d become Westhead assistant before the season. Riley then led the Lakers to the title in June ’82.

    (Westhead and Riley’ Lakers both beat the ’76ers in 6 games in their first seasons as HCs.)

    In 1985, Westhead landed at Loyala Marymount — not too far from Latigo Beach — in Los Angeles. He convinced Philly HS roundball greats and teammates Bo Kimble and Hank Gathers from Dobbins Tech to transfer from USC.

    Westhead perfected a maximum up-tempo, run-and-gun offense at Loyola Marymount.

    Westhead’s philosophy was that he wanted to get a shot up in less than 7 seconds — SEVEN SECONDS!!!

    His Loyola-M teams hold the NCAA record for the 5 highest scores in a regulation 40-minute game, topping out at 181 points against US International University.
    _________________

    Kelly’s offensive philosophy seems to mirror Paul Westhead’s basketball approach: up-tempo, fast-break football.

    Wonder what those two talked about when Westhead landed at Oregon?

    • TommyLawlor

      I loved watching LMU when I was a kid. That was even pre-Bo Kimble and Hank Geathers.

    • msalt

      Hopefully, Westhead had learned a tough lesson about being a controlling, negative coach and passed on the warning to Chip. That’s how I interpret that story, anyway.

  • Anders

    One thing I really like is that Kelly seems opposite than a guy like Coughlin when it comes to fumbles.

    I mean you could see David Wilson was about to shit his pants after he fumbled last season and then also never really saw any meaningful snaps for quite a few games.

    • GEagle

      David Wilson scares me. have a feeling he will be a beast

  • A Roy

    The greatest football coach ever (no, not Rich Kotite) said; “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.” I WANT CK to hate losing and overcome it.

    • CampDracula

      To play devil’s advocate, isn’t the love of winning more important than a hatred for losing? One thing I know is mental health, and it’s always easier to try and do something than it is to try not to do something. For example, it’s easier to build joy than it is to decrease depression. It’s easier to be kind than it is to not be a jerk. Both mindsets have the same goal, one just gets you there faster. Not 100% positive that the same logic applies to football, but it makes intuitive sense. Protecting the football seems like a better goal than trying not to fumble.

      • A Roy

        For my part, the bad feelings after a loss are significantly farther from the norm than the good feelings after a win.

        • msalt

          One of Chip’s big things is not getting too emotional, plus or minus, as I discuss in the book “The Tao of Chip Kelly.” Think of those calm, intense martial arts guys in Shaolin movies.

          • CampDracula

            I dig it. Thanks for the great article!

  • DJH

    Chip’s philosophy – so we’re told – is win the day. There is an emphasis on one day/game at a time. A win one week doesn’t mean a win the next, and a loss one week doesn’t mean a loss the next.

    I have no reason to believe that Chip doesn’t actually live this philosophy, and thus I don’t see him dwelling on loses and becoming discouraged. He will simply strive to win the next day/game.

    (Personally, I was shocked that he didn’t stay with Oregon to win a National Championship. Perhaps counter intuitively, this tells me Chip is not obsessed with winning per se; he’s obsessed with football. He’s not going to get hung up on Championships, rivalry games, or perhaps losing; he’s focused on winning games week after week.)

    • CampDracula

      You may be overlooking money as an influential factor here. CK made $2.8m in 2012 at Oregon. He will now make $6.5m per year for five years with the Eagles. That’s a lot of Funyons.

      • eagleyankfan

        Or — he knew he would have been suspended this year if he stayed in Oregon…

        • msalt

          Not true though. As JasonB said “An actual slap on the wrist would have been a tougher punishment.”

  • Alex Karklins

    Needs more PBR and Lone Wolf McQuade, but the analysis more than makes up for it. Thanks for the insight, Mark!

    • msalt

      At the risk of alienating Tommy, I hate PBR. Yeungling’s decent though.

      • Alex Karklins

        Ha! I’m a massive beer snob, but I respect Tommy’s dedication to his brand. At the risk of alienating all of Pennsylvania, I really don’t care for Yuengling. At all. Love the tradition behind the brewery, but the product leaves a lot to be desired, IMO. That statement would probably get me lynched in State College. I’d love to see the Eagles and Downingtown’s Victory Brewing partner up. I think they make the best beer in PA, by a mile.

        • Sb2bowl

          Alex-
          Beer snob here also; Victory (to me) is second to Weyerbacher as my favorite PA breweries. Golden Monkey is a great twist on my favorite style.

          I’m up in Northeast PA so we have a few upstarts up here. Three guys And a beard, Susquhanna Brewing Co, and etc to name a few. While I respect the tradition of “lager”- its down on my list of actual being selected if we are out and about.

          Maybe we can meet up and watch a Birds game some time with a tasty choice of beverages.

          Sorry Tommy- no PBR for this guy. Just can’t do it!

          • Alex Karklins

            Ah, I should have qualified my statement. I have tried a few Weyerbachers and liked them, but I don’t have as much access to their beer out here in Denver. And I’m sure there are lots of awesome new breweries opening in PA that I haven’t heard of yet. While I don’t have any immediate plans to visit Northeast PA, I’ll be sure to toast the next Eagles victory with a tasty craft beer in solidarity with a fellow beer snob!

          • msalt

            What do you like in CO? I’m hoping to make it out for the Broncos game.

          • Alex Karklins

            There’s a lot to love in CO! I like Odell’s beer a lot, along with Avery and Great Divide. Crooked Stave is kind of the new kid on the block, but they make excellent barrel-aged Belgian sours. I’m definitely going to the Broncos game. Should be a great time even if the Eagles get creamed.

      • A_T_G

        Well, this is probably the last we hear from you on this site, but I agree. Only an Eagles fan, rooting for a team that has never earned 1st place in the current system, could be proud of a beer named after an award it won when horseback was the favored form of travel.

        • msalt

          What bugs me most about PBR is that here in Portland – a place often called Beervana – they conned hipsters into adopting PBR as a pose. So triple hate trifecta right there – corporate mediocrity, hipsters and weak suds.
          I’m an IPA guy myself. Ninkasi is made in Eugene, too. Go Ducks!

          • Alex Karklins

            I love Ninkasi (whenever I can get it)! Tricerahops is awesome.

  • http://www.insidetheiggles.com/ CalSFro

    Does anyone else see a little Andy Reid in Chip’s philosophy of sticking to his guns and letting DAT keep playing even after fumbling? Not saying they’re necessarily rooted in the exact same ideology, but they seem to amount to pretty much the same thing.

    • msalt

      The difference is, not stubbornness but knowing what gets you to having a better team. I don’t know if you’re familiar with De’Anthony Thomas, but he had a monster year in 2011 as Oregon won the Rose Bowl and finished top 5. (4th, as I recall). He’s also the guy who ran back the opening kickoff in last year’s Fiesta Bowl.

      • http://www.insidetheiggles.com/ CalSFro

        I’m somewhat familiar with Black Mamba. Though certainly not to the extent that you are, I’m sure. I know he’s extremely talented, and the guy people think (incorrectly, I feel) will provide the blueprint for how Chip is going to deploy Desean.

        But, I’m not saying by any means that what Chip did was wrong. Or that Andy’s way of thinking, which I think you’re 100% correct in referring to as “stubbornness”, was wrong either.

        I just don’t see how you can equate one with “stubbornness” and the other with “knowing what gets you to having a better team”. That seems entirely subjective to me. And rooted solely in a perception based on Kelly’s recent successes and newness and Reid’s much less sterling record and/or reputation of the last few seasons and thus, staleness, here in Philly.

        • msalt

          Subjective, sure, but you can look at the situation (DAT’s first game as a true frosh, 80,000 fans on the road, National TV coverage and massive hype) and the results ( fumbles fixed, I don’t have stats but a massive year, team won BCS Bowl).
          I don’t know Andy Reid’s tenure that well, you’d probably need a more specific comparison. He did keep Vick on the bench – cause of fumbles? I don’t know.
          One difference might be, here’s how to hold the ball vs. you suck! Sit on the bench.

  • A_T_G

    If Chip leads us to 9-7, playoffs, and ends the season tying his Oregon 7- loss total, he will be a hero.

  • Mark Sitko

    Awesome writing Mark – and thanks Tommy for bringing us this perspective…very cool – love that fishduck.com, have learned so much about our new coach from that site…kudos all around

  • Insomniac

    Interesting point about the running backs in Oregon. This reminds that they didn’t develop any first round running backs since Jonathan Stewart in 2008. Chip was the OC back then for a few years (I think). Here’s some stats from when they had Stewart dominating in 2007.

    Rushing yards in 2007
    http://www.sports-reference.com/cfb/schools/oregon/2007.html

    Jonathan Stewart’s stats in 07
    http://www.sports-reference.com/cfb/players/jonathan-stewart-1.html

    Rushing yard comparison in 2008.without Stewart
    http://trojanfootballanalysis.com/?p=255

    This makes me more excited to see how he handles Bryce Brown, who I think has a higher ceiling than Stewart.

    • msalt

      The Ducks’ RBs have all been undersized for the NFL since LeGarrette Blount. That may change with recent 5-star signee Royce Freeman. I think part of that is the cloud of possible NCAA bowl ban being lifted, the best didn’t want to commit and get shut out of bowls.

  • Iamallthatisman

    Mike,

    Love your work on fishduck.com. You bring an enthusiasm to strategy that I think makes it much easier for casual football fans to see what is really happening on the field.

    I agree with all of your points and honestly can’t see a way Chip fails to turn Philly back into an annual playoff team shortly. I don’t think it is the koolaid, but genuinely that he is a marvelous motivator of men, a specimen of scientific study, and the perfect person for the city.

    This koolaide is delicious though. Glad you’re chugging with us.

  • Tyler Phillips

    For anyone interested, jimmy bama just unleashed an epic troll. http://www.bloggingtheboys.com/2013/7/18/4536202/anthony-spencer-the-next-lawrence-taylor

    • James

      haha niiice

  • Ark87

    Excellent insight on Chip. One thing I always liked about Andy Reid was that he never got too high after a win or too low after a loss. It seems Chip has a similar outlook, at least when losses are small in quantity.

    Of course in college I had that friend I routinely demolished in Madden….and pretty much all video games, so it was easy enough to handle the few flukish losses with grace. He had a thing for Mortal Kombat though….so when that dynamic was reversed I would say I handled losing near as well.

  • T_S_O_P

    Excellent piece, I’m surprised Tommy doesn’t have Fishduck.com on his blog roll instead of that disreputable Blogging the Beast site.

    • msalt

      We can be hack too!

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