Of all the traits Chip Kelly wants in players, character may be the one that is most surprising. I don’t mean choir boys, but rather football character. Kelly wants players that are smart, coachable, focused, driven, hard working and ultra-competitive. Kelly likes guys to be solid citizens as well, but he’s focused on football.
We first got a hint of Kelly’s beliefs when he revealed that the two most impressive players the Eagles met with at the Combine were Bennie Logan and Matt Barkley. The Eagles had both players rated in the Top 50. They drafted Logan in the 3rd round and then traded up to get Barkley in the early 4th. The team actually tried to get him at the end of the 3rd round, but couldn’t find anyone who wanted to trade back.
I think one of the reasons that Kelly values character so much is that he needs guys to fully buy into his system. You need to sleep, eat and train the way he wants. You need to prepare, practice and play the way he wants. Kelly isn’t a standard motivator. He’s not going to be yelling at his guys. He isn’t out there giving wild speeches. He finds the right players and then motivates them in a more generic fashion. He sells them on the idea of trying to be great. And he makes football fun. Hard work, but still fun.
Kelly brought in plenty of former Ducks this year. You know that part of the reason behind having these guys on the team is that they would help teach the Oregon Way, the Chip Kelly Way. They had football value as well. Dennis Dixon, Jeff Maehl, Patrick Chung, and Brandon Bair were all stars in college. Will Murphy and Isaac Remington were not standouts in college, but just finished playing for Kelly and they knew exactly what he wanted.
Many of us wondered about the wisdom of having these Oregon players on the roster. Pete Carroll didn’t load up on USC guys when he took over the Seahawks. Was Kelly being a homer? Was this the way to run an NFL team? As it turns out, the moves worked. Kelly didn’t over-use the players. Their biggest impact was in practice and off the field. They helped Kelly make the transition to the NFL. And they helped the other players learn the Kelly Way. Just as Kelly had a staff of his guys, college guys and NFL guys, the roster was the same way.
I heard members of the staff discussing the transition at last year’s Senior Bowl. They knew they would have to adjust to pro football and would also need help in getting players and coaches to adapt to their ideas.
Kelly said he knew this was going to be a special team back on April 1st, when he first met with them. He could sense how hungry they were to win. They did things his way and there wasn’t much resistance. I’m sure a few players were slow to buy in, but the vast majority didn’t hesitate.
Sheil Kapadia has a good piece that is full of quotes from the players on why they believe in Chip Kelly. He was a leader. He was a motivator. He was a good coach. You really get the sense that the players flat out liked him. Kelly coaches within his personality. That’s critical. You can’t try to be someone else. Remember when Marty Mornhinweg got mad at the Lions one day in practice and then drove off on his motorcycle. That was so staged, fake and dumb that it completely ruined his credibility. Coaches must be genuine for players to trust and believe in them.
Here’s what a couple of key players had to say.
DeMeco Ryans: “Coach Kelly, first and foremost, he knows what he wants, he knows how he wants it, and he’s a great motivator. Gets the guys going, gets the guys believing in what he wants them to do. And I feel like he’s a really, really great leader. That’s one thing I learned from Coach Kelly this year. He’s a great leader. And he’s a great football coach.”
Brandon Boykin: “I just think his approach to the game, his approach to the players. Just making it as comfortable of an environment as he possibly could for us. Listening to whatever we had to say. Anything that we felt like would be better he was always open to it. Just being a players’ coach. Everybody really responded to that positively. On gameday he made sure we were healthy. He made sure we were fresh. And we wanted to play for him.”
Kelly had a specific plan. He was able to communicate that to the players. He created a good environment and coached them up so that they could succeed.
I’m sure Kelly will still focus on character moving forward. I don’t know that there will be as many Oregon guys around this year. The Eagles now know the Kelly Way. In fact, they love it. And that’s one of the reasons the future is so bright in Philadelphia.