I have written about the Eagles in one form or another since 2003. That is 10 seasons of Andy Reid and one of Chip Kelly. Oddly, it feels like I have written as many stories about Kelly as I ever did about Reid. Big Red was a terrific coach, but Chip is something completely different. Is visionary too strong a word?
Kelly has impacted the game of football at the high school, college and pro levels. I’m not saying he belongs in the same breath as Paul Brown, Bill Walsh or Clark Shaughnessy. They became legends because their ideas have stood the test of time. We’re still living in the moment with Kelly and his impact on the game.
One of the things that makes Kelly unique is that he’s not just X’s and O’s. He is a big picture guy. Kelly goes beyond scheme and talent. You can win titles at USC and Texas by recruiting great players and then keeping them organized and motivated. That might be oversimplifying things a bit, but the point is that talent is the key at schools like that. Bill Snyder built Kansas State into a power by getting some talented players to come there, but also by getting other players to overachieve. Kelly did a similar thing at Oregon. He had good talent to work with, but far more 3-star recruits than 5-star recruits. Kelly coached up his players so that they could compete with and beat teams that were loaded with the 5-star players.
A slew of articles came out on Sunday about Kelly and some of his ideas about how to coach players and develop a team. First up, Jeff McLane.
As much as Chip Kelly requires his players to run on the practice fields behind the NovaCare Complex, the Eagles coach demands they keep off the front lawn.
The grass that greets visitors to the team’s practice facility – finely manicured every Monday – is lined with walkways. But the shortest path between the Eagles’ indoor bubble and the nearest entrance to the locker room is not.
When Andy Reid was coach, the players simply went from A to B, trudging atop the lawn in the interest of time. Kelly may do nearly everything at supersonic speed, but he doesn’t believe in cutting corners.
So when the leftovers from the Reid regime did what they had always done – and, frankly, some of the new players took the shortcut as well – Kelly would bark his order to stay off the grass.
It took some repeating in his first year, but now the Eagles march in order along the pathways. Kelly’s rule might be the most minor of changes he made in Year 1, but sometimes the smallest detail can paint the entire picture.
“It goes back to, he cares about the whole thing,” Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin said. “I love it because [you should] show respect, walk on the sidewalks. Don’t walk all over the grass.
“You would never think a head football coach wastes his time spending that moment to discipline. But he does.”
Kelly’s schemes may have received the bulk of credit for the Eagles’ turnaround in 2013, but greater attention should be focused on an ongoing culture shift that starts with – simplistic as it sounds – finding good people who do the right things.
I’m sure more than a few people will find this completely ridiculous. Who cares if players walk on the sidewalk or the grass? Kelly does. Walking on grass isn’t going to win/lose games, but finding players who will buy in to the coach’s ideas absolutely makes a difference. Get enough players to do the right thing and to pay attention to simple details and you can build the right kind of team.
Kelly’s keep-off-the-grass rule dates back to Oregon. The “why,” according to Eagles rookie and former Ducks receiver Josh Huff, is “don’t take any shortcuts in life, and always do the right thing even though the wrong thing might get you to the door quicker.”
“What you try to get across to guys is you have to think about things,” said Eagles defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro, who also worked with Kelly at Oregon. “Maybe you’re not going to think about it as deeply and say somebody mowed that lawn, somebody spent hours preparing that thing, but I think as you’re around really good people, good people don’t do that.
“They clean up after themselves. They just try to do the right thing as much as they can. And no one needs to be looking. You just try to do the right thing.”
There is a great scene in “The Paper” where Marisa Tomei confronts Michael Keaton about what kind of a husband/father he is. She asks him if he would run into a burning building for his family. He answers that of course he would. She then points out that life doesn’t present tests like that. You prove what kind of a person you are by all the little tests you face. Like not walking on the grass.
The players seem to get this.
“He is a demanding coach,” center Jason Kelce said. “He’s likable from the player’s perspective, but at the same time, you know what’s expected of you. If you don’t do what’s expected of you, then you’re going to be on your way out. He’s made it very clear that he’s not going to tolerate certain things.”
Uniforms should be worn uniformly to reflect a team-as-one mentality. So when a player wears black socks rather than the white ones the rest of the team wears, it suggests to Kelly that player wishes to stand apart.
“I just think it has to do with the entire culture,” Kelce said. “Everyone is expected to buy in and follow the team’s culture and expectations. I really don’t think he cares at all about what color socks guys are wearing. He probably just wants us to be in uniform and look like a team.”
Be a team. Be 53 players working in the same direction, with the same goal.
“The more people get along and share the same vision and aspirations, the more you’re going to get to where you want to get to,” Kelly said. “If you have people who have different agendas in terms of what they’re trying to get accomplished, that’s not going to help the cause.”
Great piece by McLane. Go read the whole thing.
* * * * *
With Year 2 on the horizon, Kelly met with a roomful of reporters at the end of June’s’ minicamp and expanded on many of his philosophies. One topic that came up was his presence, which is felt throughout the NovaCare Complex. While some coaches believe in allowing the locker room to be a players-only sanctuary, Kelly prefers a different approach.
“I’ve never agreed with that,” he said. “We’re all Philadelphia Eagles, so there’s no place that’s [sacred or] not sacred or you’re not allowed to go. And I think sometimes in certain times, that’s where problems occur in the locker room, because coaches aren’t in the locker room enough. I think you shouldn’t have to worry about, ‘Well the coaches are here, we have to act any differently in the locker room.’ They should be able to behave the way we were all taught to behave: to be a good person, to be a good teammate, to be a good neighbor. That’s just part of the deal. Just like if I had my way – there’s obviously I think fire codes to it – there should be no doors on anything because you shouldn’t have to worry about what’s going on behind closed doors if you’re doing things the right way.”
Asked about whether he’s made any changes in the aftermath of the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin situation in Miami, Kelly added: “No. We did that before. We were always in the locker room as coaches since I got here. As I said earlier, I don’t believe you need to have any doors on anything. We eliminated the door in the back room [from the locker room to the lounge]. There should be no closed doors in terms of how you do it. We’re just continuing to emphasize what we emphasized a year ago. We don’t have any rookie shows, never have done that stuff. We just try to be a good person. That’s what we’re trying to get, a bunch of guys who are good people.”
A lot of teams break down into cliques. The defense hangs out together. The offense too. Within those groups, positions become a sub-group. Sometimes this leads to good-natured fun. Maybe the OL pick on the WRs for dropping passes. But this kind of fragmenting can be problematic when things go bad. Suddenly the blame game begins and the laughing stops. Buddy Ryan loved his defensive players and treated them better than their offensive counterparts. As much as I love Buddy, that was just plain dumb. You don’t build a team like that.
Kelly rearranged the locker room upon arrival in Philly. He didn’t want a bunch of cliques. He wanted players to mix with other positions and groups. Kelly wanted a team. This also extended to rookies. Kelly didn’t want any hazing. He mentioned in the quote not even doing rookie shows. This is when rookies get up and perform skits or entertaining acts for the whole team. They often make fun of veteran players and coaches. It may seem harmless, but still makes the rookies feel very different.
Kelly wants one group.
* * * * *
Kelly isn’t just drawing ideas from the sports world far and wide, but from the military, too. Particularly the Navy SEALS.
He mentioned that one of his three brothers served in the military, about visiting troops in Kuwait, Iraq and Bahrain on a sort of USO type of trip.
“I had a chance to sit with a guy in the military when I was coming back from a recruiting trip (while at Oregon), and he was actually going to see a young man who had lost his life in Afghanistan,” Kelly said. “He was going to the funeral that I had actually gotten invited to but had said I couldn’t go because I was going to be away recruiting. And then I went to the funeral, so I kind of changed our plans to make sure I could go to it. And it just kind of hit home.
“I think sometimes we all get wrapped up in our own individual lives and kind of forget what’s going on because it happens away from you. Obviously everybody was kind of in tune to it during 9/11, but when it doesn’t happen in your own backyard, you kind of forget what’s going on in the foreign countries.”
What he has drawn from spending time with the military, as well as watching them train at Coronado and in Virginia, has more to do with the mental side of the game of football than the physical or conditioning side. And he incorporates that into the way he coaches the Eagles.
“A lot of mental toughness you learn from them, and how they foster that,” he said. “A lot of leadership qualities that they look for. A lot of cooperation within the group. How does the group react in certain situations? Are they always looking for one guy to lead them or are there multiple guys at certain times? When that situation is presented to them, how do they do it?
“You’d be amazed at how many times they train certain individual things before they go off and perform them. They’re pretty meticulous in how they do it. I think how they debrief after missions is an intriguing aspect of what they did right, what they did wrong and how do they improve that the next time they go out?”
I love the fact that Kelly focuses on the mental toughness of the military people/units that he studies. To me, that’s where they are special. Obviously you need to be in good physical shape to be a soldier, but there are plenty of civilians in great shape as well. The military is special when it comes to building/teaching mental and emotional toughness. That is something that can definitely carry over to football.
You need players who can stay focused, even when things are not going well. You need players who are disciplined and will train the right way to be prepared for tough situations. You need players who are confident and fearless, but who also will listen to orders and can function as a unit.
* * * * *
The biggest difference from last year is attitude. Kelly, at this early juncture, has his players believing they have each other’s backs. There are plenty of players to do the dirty work in this quest to leap from just OK to great.
“You’ve got to make sure that they’re not content being where they are,” Kelly said. “I think if you’re content with 10 wins and winning the division you’re probably shortchanging yourself and the team. We did that. What’s the next step? How can we improve upon that? We’re trying to get a bunch of guys that are never complacent in terms of, ‘All right, we’ve arrived.’ We haven’t arrived. We’re looking to work and strive to get better and better and better. That’s part of the deal. So I think that’s the thing we’re always trying to emphasize with these guys.”
I think one of the things that hurt the Skins was the way they celebrated after winning the division in 2012. They didn’t have a parade, but did just about everything else. Kelly is keeping his players hungry for more. Be proud of the success…for 24 hours. Then move on to the next thing.
Kelly didn’t come here for division titles. He wants to build a great team and win a championship. Last year was a step in the right direction, but nothing more.
* * * * *
I wonder if non-Eagles fans hate the attention that Chip gets. Chip Kelly this, Chip Kelly that.
I love it. Talking about coaches is one of my favorite parts of football.