The nearest prop Jerry Azzinaro could find was a plastic bottle of Heinz relish.
Speaking to reporters at the Novacare Complex Monday afternoon, the new Eagles’ defensive line coach was asked to explain Chip Kelly’s “outside-the-box” thinking when it comes to football.
“In every situation that you go into, you’re trying to figure out ways that you can optimize your talent,” Azzinaro, who spent the past four seasons at Oregon, said. “Is that thinking out of the box? I don’t know about that. I just know that you try not to fit round pegs into a square hole. You try to investigate everything that you can from a sports science standpoint.
“Is that really good relish to be feeding our guys?” he asked, pointing to the bottle on the table. “Is that filled with sodium? Is that filled with sugar? Well, that’s the way we think. Is that out of the box? I don’t know that. Is that being detail-oriented? I don’t know that. But I know that it’s important that if my guys are going to come in here and eat here that I need to understand what’s going on in that relish bottle.”
If you haven’t noticed, Kelly has a specific way he plans on tending to every aspect of the Eagles’ football operation.
Of the 21 assistants he added, Azzinaro is the only full-timer Kelly plucked from Oregon’s staff. In addition to coaching the defensive line, Azzinaro also has the title of assistant head coach.
Much of the discussion in the coming weeks will focus on the quarterback, the playmakers and the secondary, which is in need of an overhaul. But Kelly knows the importance of winning at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. That’s where Azzinaro and offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland come in.
“I think Jeff, simply, is a creative, cutting‑edge, offensive line coach with old school toughness,” Kelly said. “I think when you meet Jeff and have a chance to visit with him, he’s extremely intelligent. He has a way of making complex things simple, but he also has an edge to him.
“I think your O‑line coach has to be a tough guy, and your D‑line coach has to be a tough guy, and we’ve hired two pretty tough guys on both sides of the football.”
Speaking to Stoutland for a few minutes, it’s easy to see that Kelly’s description rings true. In one breath, he spoke about how he used to golf with former Eagles great Chuck Bednarik at the Big 33 game in Hershey.
“He would always make my son shake his hand, and his finger would be pointed over like that,” Stoutland said. “What a good guy he is. He would always tell me stories about Philadelphia and Franklin Field. I’d spend the whole day with him listening to stories about the Philadelphia Eagles. I was thinking about that the other day. Here I am. That’s pretty neat.”
And in the next breath, Stoutland explained why he chose to leave an elite program behind at Alabama.
“I just feel like there’s something happening here right now,” Stoutland said. “First of all, I’ve watched Coach Kelly’s teams play for many years, and he said it today, the evolution of football is changing. And I’ve heard Coach [Nick] Saban say this a hundred times in meetings: You’ve got to stay up with it, or you’re going to fall behind. And I just think that Coach Kelly is that type of coach. He wants to be ahead of it always and wants to stay ahead of it always and not put his head in the sand. I’m all about that – being creative, having new ideas, new concepts, never getting stale or bored. I think that’s healthy.”
Azzinaro (54) and Stoutland (51) have coached on the same staff once before. Both were at Syracuse in 1999 – coincidentally, the last time the Eagles saw major change at the top.
Together again with Kelly, they’ll now be charged with making sure this team is tough enough up front on both sides of the ball.