An NFL head coach is part football coach, part personnel executive, part administrator, part motivator, part public relations, part salesman and sometimes a father figure. The only way one man can do all that at the NFL level is to have a good coaching staff. And he must trust them.
Before becoming the head coach at Oregon in 2009, Chip Kelly was an assistant for four different college teams.
And all along the way, he appreciated that his bosses allowed him to do his job without micromanaging.
“No different than in your job,” Kelly said. “If your editor takes an article that you turn in and hacks the heck out of it, I’m sure you… you know what I mean. It’s the same thing. I think you can give pointers and tips and all those things, but I think any editor will say the same thing: ‘God, this guy, I have to keep rewriting his story all the time.’ Well, that guy is probably not going to have that job for very long.
“It’s the same thing with an assistant coach. And I’m fortunate we don’t have anybody like that. I think we have a bunch of really, really good teachers that we are all on the same page with, and that’s a positive.”
Kelly lets his guys do their job. He trusts them.
“That’s why we hired them,” Kelly said. “They need to be the experts in their field in terms of, you know, whether it’s the defensive backs or the offensive line or the quarterbacks or whatever. I don’t think this organization is going to work if you have to micromanage individual position coaches.
“They are here for a reason, and that’s what we felt in the hiring process. That’s what I wanted. I didn’t want someone where I always had to constantly look over and say: ‘What drill is he doing now? Why is he doing that?’ So we have a bunch of guys who are great teachers and really add to the overall team. I think that’s the important thing in your assistant coaches in that you don’t have to worry about what to teach them when they get on the field because we have already hashed that out when we get in the meeting room.”
Assistant coaches love freedom and responsibility. They hate to be micro-managed.
Kelly did a terrific job of putting together his staff. If the Eagles continue to win as I expect them to do, the challenge could be to replace the coaches well. That’s where Andy Reid struggled.
Reid hired a great initial staff. Unfortunately they were young coaches who moved on to better roles (some as head coach, others as coordinator). Reid tried to hire a variety of replacements, but never came close to the original staff he had.
One difference is that Kelly didn’t hire as many young guys. I don’t know that Jeff Stoutland, Bob Bicknell, Jerry Azzinaro, Rick Minter, Bill McGovern or John Lovett expect to move on to bigger and better things. The Eagles did lose Bill Lazor to the Dolphins this offseason. Luckily they have Kelly and Pat Shurmur to run the offense and help with the QBs. Bill Musgrave is the new QB coach. He is a veteran coach and has strong people around him to help him adjust to how the Eagles do things.
I wondered if Kelly’s unusual style of football would bother any of his assistants, especially on the defensive side. Can you imagine Buddy Ryan dealing with Kelly’s no-huddle, hurry-up attack? Forget about a sideline punch. Buddy would put a bounty on Kelly.
Kelly was able to find coaches that could handle his style of football. To use the most over-used of phrases…everyone seems to be on the same page. Kelly got the assistants to trust his style and ideas. In return, he trusts them to coach well.
It is critical for the staff to do a good job. There are 53 players on an NFL roster. The greatest head coach in the world must have the right people around him or he’s going to have trouble delivering great results. Jimmy Johnson built a great staff and a great team in Dallas. He went to Miami after that and produced so-so results. He didn’t have the same talent, but maybe more importantly, he didn’t nearly as good a staff.
Gary Stevens – OC
George Hill – DC
Mike Westhoff – STs
Larry Beightol – OL
Kippy Brown – RB
That’s nowhere close to Norv Turner, Dave Wannstedt, Butch Davis, Joe Avezzano and Hudson Houck, the key assistants in Dallas. Interestingly, Johnson tried to hire Bill Belichick to come to Miami, but he instead went to New England. That move could have really changed the face of the NFL. Would Bill have ever gotten a chance to run the Pats if it wasn’t for his time there? Would he and Jimmy have done something impressive together with the Dolphins?
Back to the Eagles. Kelly had the right guys to turn the team around in 2013. The next order of business in pushing through that and becoming an elite team. We’ll see if Kelly has the right guys for that. One thing we do know, Kelly will give his assistants a chance to show what they can do.