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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