Q&A With Author Of ‘The Tao Of Chip Kelly’

Mark Saltveit is the author of a new book titled, The Tao of Chip Kelly: Lessons from America’s Most Successful Coach.

He recently joined us for a phone conversation to discuss the book and the new Eagles’ head coach.

Q: You mention in the book that instead of having one or two captains at Oregon, Kelly had 16 team leaders, one for each position. And those were chosen by the players. Can you explain Kelly’s thoughts on shared leadership and how he delegates responsibility?

Saltveit: I think it’s just a pattern in everything he does, not only with the players, but with the assistant coaches. He has a little of a reputation as a control freak, unfairly I think, because of the sleep monitors and the smoothies and telling people to get enough sleep. But I think that’s all just because of the science behind it. This is how you get peak performance.

At every stage, he’s delegated authority, everything from having receivers run option routes to assistant coaches calling out signals to their position players this year. It’s all kind of a piece of that. He’s not someone in my mind who wants authority for his own sake or for his ego. He’s just trying to do the thing that’s going to get the best results on the field. So again, you pick one captain or two captains, then they’re sort of like the boss. A lot of people run into ego problems. They throw their weight around. They’re kids. It’ll be a little different with grown-ups, but these guys in college, a lot of them are 18 or 19.

So when you have all the players in a given position pick their captain of that group, then you’ve really drilled it down, and it’s a lot of people working with the guys they are closest with, the guys who watch each other the closest and know what they’re doing and who’s dogging it on a play and that sort of thing.

Q: In regards to the Eagles’ QB competition, you shared a story about last year’s Oregon team. QB Darron Thomas had accounted for 71 touchdowns in 2010 and 2011. And he had just helped lead the Ducks to a win in the Rose Bowl. Yet you argue that he decided to turn pro after his junior season because Kelly made it clear he would have to fight for his job as a senior?

Saltveit: He knew he was not guaranteed a position. …It was not only freshman Marcus Mariota. It was [redshirt sophomore] Bryan Bennett, who had played pretty well when Darron Thomas was injured.

I think he [Thomas] just knew in his heart, not only were you not guaranteed [the starting job], but that there was a good chance Mariota was going to take it.

He saw the choice as, ‘I have marginal pro prospects and they’re a lot better as a successful junior than as a senior who got benched behind a freshman or a returning junior.’ There’s just no way to spin that in a positive direction.

Q: You mentioned that Oregon led the nation in takeaways from 2009 to 2012. How would you describe Kelly’s defensive philosophy? Does he delegate a lot more on that side of the ball?

Saltveit: Yeah, he doesn’t seem threatened by other people’s authority. If things are working and he communicates the general plan, then he’s not going to micro-manage and [will] let them run it.

He doesn’t talk about defense as much. The thing that strikes me is already the Eagles are developing this kind of opaque look where you have a front that you can’t quite read what it is – somewhere between a 3-4 and a 4-3. Different people might fall back into coverage or rush.

You’re not going to know how to read it. And that’s a consistent thing certainly with his offenses. Maybe he’s pushing to implement that a little more on the defensive side since he’s in a new situation.

Q: Given all the changes that are taking place, it’s possible that the Eagles get off to a slow start. Given his success in college, how do you think Kelly would deal with that?

Saltveit: Well, you know the history with Boise State and Oregon (a 19-8 Ducks loss). He could not have had a more disastrous first game. We were all pretty excited about Chip coming in there, and there was a little bit of a collective feeling like when you’re on an airplane and it suddenly drops 300 feet. You’re like, ‘I thought this guy had it wired.’ They didn’t get a first down in the first half. We wouldn’t have been surprised if the defense had trouble. But to see the offense sputter, and against Boise State, pretty clearly the weakest team they ever lost to, that was a little bit of a gut check.

But he turned right around, he did not shy away. He had the guts to suspend LeGarrette Blount [who infamously punched an opposing player after the game]. When you’re a first-year head coach that’s never head-coached at any level in your life and you’ve just lost your first game disastrously, all your plans have gone wrong… to have the guts to suspend for the year the guy who’s by far your best player, that’s a real mark of character to me. And that shows to me he’s not going to crumble under pressure. He’s not going to wilt. He’s going to stick to his guns.

Within each individual game and over the season, Chip Kelly seems to be phenomenal at adjusting. There’s a solidity there that gives him a confidence in that even if they’re struggling, I don’t see him floundering or making rash decisions or diverting from his beliefs.

Note: Blount was allowed back for the final two games of the season.

Q: In the book, you make it clear that you are not objective when it comes to Kelly and are an “obsessive Ducks fan.” You obviously believe he’s going to succeed in the NFL. But try to look at it from the other side, and complete this sentence: Chip Kelly will fail in the NFL if…

Saltveit: I would probably finish it with… if the players just revolt and kind of have the jaded attitude of, ‘Hey college boy, this isn’t how we play in the big leagues. We’re grown men, don’t talk to us like that.’ If somehow he were to alienate them en masse, I could see that happening.

I don’t think it would because he’s a pretty well-liked guy and he’s pretty down to earth, but I would say that would probably be the most likely scenario.

Q: What’s the one thing Philadelphia fans should know about Kelly or one misconception that’s out there about him?

Saltveit: I think the thing that would be a big misconception is people kind of see him as flashy, or maybe they think of him as West Coast, a new-age kind of guy because of the smoothies and the wrist bracelets and all those kinds of things. But I think he’s a much better fit for Philadelphia than he was for Oregon. He’s really a blue-collar, nose to the grindstone, New Hampshire, doesn’t like to showoff much kind of guy. He has a small group of really loyal friends who he flew out for games a couple times a year. And he’s just like, ‘Work hard. Show me what you got.’ I think that’s a good match here.

He’s not a pretty boy. I think the press can get it misconstrued with the science and some of that stuff. People might think he’s a flashy boy, but that’s not him at all. He’s, ‘Hard work, hard work, hard work. We’re just going to have the best prepared, best-practiced team with the fastest, biggest guys. And we’re just going to shove it down your throat.’

The book is available on Amazon or on Saltveit’s Web site.

Saltveit is currently visiting Philadelphia and is also a stand-up comedian. He’ll be performing at Helium on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

And finally, he’ll be signing copies of his book at The Spiral Bookcase in Manayunk on Wednesday night at 6:30. He’ll also be at The Doylestown Bookshop Friday at 6.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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  • GEagle

    WOW Sheil! MUCH RESPECT!! This is probably one of the most valuable interviews you could provide for us at this dull point in the offseason.
    ..
    In the words of the scholorly Tupac Shakur “Dear Mama(Sheil lol), You are appreciated!” lol

    • BrickSquadMonopoly

      Agreed. Thanks mom.

      • Brent E. Sulecki

        shhhh… no ones talking to you

        • BrickSquadMonopoly

          You have no life buddy

    • G_WallyHunter

      Seconded… this is gold. This kind of journalism is what sets you two apart from the rest. Please never take that fancy promotion and continue doing this blog until y’all can’t type….

  • http://www.philthycanuck.com/ Adam

    Well, there goes my evening plans. This immediately goes to the top of my reading list.

    • theycallmerob

      Hmmm, big empty school, no supervisors, work that has a due date of August…..I should be done the book by thursday

  • GEagle

    The 2013 Philadelphia Eagles “We’re just going to have the best prepared, best-practiced team with the fastest, biggest guys. And we’re just going to shove it down your throat”

  • Brent E. Sulecki

    Darron Thomas sounds like a coward like Vick…
    man its so easy. it just flows…

    • BrickSquadMonopoly

      A coward? Ur delusional

      • Brent E. Sulecki

        don’t make it weird

    • theycallmerob

      Its too early to be drinking

      • cliff henny

        really, cause i had 2 miller lites w/ lunch, and the office frig is fully stocked

        • theycallmerob

          millers don’t count as beer, silly. That’s like saying the whiskey I put in my coffee constitutes a drinking problem.

          • cliff henny

            made the mistake of buying red stripe once (problem is, i drink everything like it’s ice tea). by time 5 o’clock rolled around, the office was in full friday happy hour party mode, and it was tues or weds.

          • theycallmerob

            if it turns out my suspicions are right and the good lord really does hate me, I’ll pry end up living in Myrtle Beach. In which case, I’m coming to find you and your glorious office fridge . Bourbon and data entry go together like iced tea and lemonade.

          • cliff henny

            summer friday’s are fun…break out the blender and make margaritas then hit patio sushi happy hour…crazy hot waitresses

          • GEagle

            Dude, If you lived in Philly…I would literally be begging you every day to let me work for you lol…I would gladly take a paycut for that type of work environment….All though, I get paid to play on the internet alot, so Im not sure you want me working for you lol

          • cliff henny

            shoot, can watch porn for all i care, just turn speakers off. have xbox in my office, play golf or racing games all day. longer i can keep them in office at desk, productive and loyal, more likely i’ll make money.

          • GEagle

            Uhhh…where have you been all my business life? Can you talk to my boss for me? You seem to know the managing style to handle me best lol

  • Dominik

    Great, great stuff, Sheil! Like GEagle points out, probably one of the most valuable interviews you could provide for us in the offseason.

    Then again, you could go out with Kelly, get him drunk, put truth serum in his drinks and ask him who’s REALLY the front runner at the QB battle. But I don’t want to put any criminal energy in your brain.

  • Max Lightfoot

    But can Kelly handle the pressure of Philadelphia’s media and fanbase during the first two years of rebuilding? That’s the question.

    • G_WallyHunter

      So far, it looks like the media will have absolutely no impact on him at all. He is masterful at handling the press. Now, this is easy to say before any plays have been done.
      If the team struggles horrendously, that will be the test for CK, media will eat him alive. I think he will handle it, the way he handles media now I don’t see him backing down and giving in to their crazy questions anytime soon… we’ll see.. will be interesting to see how he handles them through any adversity

      • Bdawkbdawk

        Reid never backed down either. I don’t think that’s really the problem.
        When youre winning, life is good. When youre losing the media scrutinizes every one of your in-game decisions. Andy could have defended himself – i bet he had reasons for most of his decisions. But it doesn’t make sense from a football standpoint, to let the world know (for example) that you passed on third and short because you noticed that your opponents’ safety and CB were not on the same page when your WR ran a specific route.

        • G_WallyHunter

          I like that, ya. Good point. I just think the way CK has handled himself so far, the demeanor and confidence, he won’t flop to the media when/if things start going poorly

      • Max Lightfoot

        Sure, CK is masterful now when everyone loves him, but he hasn’t called one play or done his eight rounds with Phil Sheridan yet … then we’ll see.

        • G_WallyHunter

          Agreed, like I was saying, right now he looks great. But when eagles are 0-4? or 1-5? or 0-8? or 0-12? lol then that’s obviously the real test. I just think judging by how he handles them now, it seems as though he has a pretty tough shell to crack there

    • theycallmerob

      If Lurie caved to the fanbase and media, Reid would have been gone after 2011. Nothing about him during his ownership tenure suggests Kelly is one-and-done, barring some major disaster (as the book author notes, a case of the players not buying in en masse).

      Those fans who don’t see this as any sort of rebuild process, or believe keeping Vick around for a year or two is the best bet for a super bowl are not part of the equation (rabble rabble)

      • Max Lightfoot

        I think that Lurie’s life is so insulated, he actually believes he is admired by the fans. Or he doesn’t give a rat’s. I don’t suggest Chip is one-and-done – I just believe he has not encountered anything before like the Philly press and fanbase, if he has a really rocky start. And I agree, it’s a total rebuild – there’s no other way to look at it realistically. It doesn’t matter if it’s Vick or Foles or Barkley this season. That question is not the real issue – it’s the lack of NFL-caliber defensive personnel. They were 4-12 last year for a reason, and injuries weren’t the sole reason for that. But they’ll get better! :•)

        • theycallmerob

          Actually, of all the owners in the NFL, I feel that Lurie has his finger on the pulse of the fans better than most. At least to me, it seems that he has two terrific traits for an owner: the ability to be patient, and the ability to stay hands-off (here’s looking at you, Jerrah). Plus, it’s fun to already see some media getting peeved when Kelly starts acting coy. Not sure who died and made Sheridan and Cataldi king.

          • cliff henny

            missing 3rd point, he cuts checks too. paying kelly like he did reid, along with getting top flight assistants and staff size (think kelly have largest coaching staff in league). i liked lurie, as much as one can like a billionaire owner who hasnt won. he 1, shuts up, 2, stays out of the way and 3, writes checks.

          • GEagle

            well said…also we have made some big free agent signings over the years that Im sure Lurie has to OK…so basically you said it best, you can like him as much as you like a billionair who hasnt yet delivered a parade..If Lurie brings us that Parade, he will become a Demi GOD!

          • Max Lightfoot

            I can’t listen to Cataldi (a foul-mouthed fool, IMO) but I like Sheridan. Fans hate Phil but that’s because he speaks his mind – don’t know about his ego. I think fans expect beat writers to be homers, and they expect columnists (who are paid to render their own opinions and nothing but) should get aboard the bandwagon, but it’s not what they are paid to do. Sportswriters are a strange breed to begin with – they usually have a significant personality defect of some sort or other, as do journalists in general – that’s been my experience but I was always on the news side. I am kidding, of course, but only to a degree.

            It’s a warped trade and you need a rhino skin to deal with readership. I’ve been physically threatened over the phone, in person and spat upon just outside District Court, but that goes with the job. Plus you also need a healthy sense of the absurd, what with the puny pay scale of most newspapers – although these guys at the Inky and Daily News make a decent buck. My own theory about newspapers, after 20 years in the trade, is that they serve society as powerful freak magnets, pulling in every defective person in a 100-mile radius, all wanting stories about their bizarro lives. But mostly it was a privilege to write for a living, and I wouldn’t have any other career.

  • eaglepete

    It actually took zero guts to suspend Blount. That punch was all over TV every 10 seconds, no way he could NOT have suspended him. That being said, great article for the off season, couldnt agree more with other comments. This said more about his willingness to go with who he thinks is the best player for the job, gotta love that in a coach esp with this team needing to find a franchise QB in next few yrs. I get the feeling that he will start off slow at times esp on offense, fans will be screaming when he calls a running play on 3rd and 5 and fails. Sometimes you get what you ask for even if it doesnt always work, esp in football.

  • PsychoPathetic1

    Vick is now demanding to know whether he is the QB captain at least.

  • Ian Monaghan

    The Eagles fan base just grew by a few million fans from Oregon. I can say this, every Duck fan I know is hoping the best for Chip and the Eagles. Deep down there are a few of us that kind of hope the NFL isn’t for him and he comes back to Oregon. But don’t let the critics fool you, Kelly isn’t going to bring the Oregon offense to the Eagles, he’s going to find what works best with the Eagles, and exploit that. Kelly’s coaching style isn’t based on any specific gimmick, rather it’s based on tailoring what works best for the players given. The proof will be in the pudding, we’re all eagerly awaiting to see how it works out. I applaud skepticism, but at the same time, Eagles fans should be nothing less than excited!