Chip Kelly: ‘We’re Not Revolutionizing Anything’

Chip Kelly is uncomfortable with labels.

He’s hesitant to call his defense a 3-4, a 4-3 under or anything in between. On offense, he might prefer a mobile quarterback. He might not. Kelly will concede only that he’s an equal opportunity scorer.

And even though Jeffrey Lurie called his new coach an innovator when he hired him, Kelly doesn’t seem to want any part of that title either.

“We’re not revolutionizing anything,” Kelly said. “All we’re trying to do is make sure we’re kind of crystal clear on our plan of what we’re doing, and we understand what we’re doing.”

The changes at the NovaCare Complex have been dramatic. The food in the cafeteria is different. The locker room setup has been tweaked. Practices are run at a fast pace with music blaring. And there’s a new scheme and new personnel on both sides of the ball.

But Kelly has tried to make it clear from the get-go that the last thing he’s looking to do is re-invent the game.

“If you weren’t in the room with Amos Alonzo Stagg and Knute Rockne, then you stole it from somebody,” he said shortly after he was hired back in January. “We didn’t invent this.”

One of the keys to Kelly’s approach has been a focus on explaining why he’s doing things differently. He wants to make it clear that he doesn’t believe in change for the sake of change.

“I just think no matter what you do, you need to explain the whys. No matter if you’re new or old,” he said.

“I just want to make sure our guys not only — and it’s not about trying to get them to buy in — it’s to get them to understand if we’re going to do something, there’s an importance to it. If there’s an importance to it, then we should be able to explain that to you. Not just do it ’cause we said so. What’s the benefit of it? Most of the time when they tell you to be quiet, it’s do what I say, they don’t really understand the benefit of it, either. We certainly know why we’re doing what we’re doing. And when you explain it to people, the why what you’re doing, then they understand what we’re asking them to do and [what] the benefit they’re getting out of it is.”

Of course, the explanations are not all coming from Kelly. The Eagles have the biggest coaching staff (24 people) in the NFL. If players need a question answered, they have plenty of resources at their disposal.

And then there’s the concept of players spreading Kelly’s message among themselves. At Oregon, instead of appointing one or two captains, Kelly named 16 team leaders, one for each position group.

But his current situation is a bit different. In college, Kelly had established his methods, and upper classmen could help out the younger guys. In Philadelphia, his teachings are new to everyone. So while Kelly is pleased with the way the veterans have bought in to the new program, he’s not relying on them to spread his message.

“I don’t understand that concept of communicating through this guy to that guy,” Kelly said. “If I have something to say to that guy, then I’m not going to play telephone and send it through two other people to him. I think we talk about communication with everybody, and everybody has to be able to communicate.

“They might not want to hear what they’re going to hear, but at least we’re going to be up front and honest on how we’re doing it. But I think part of it, like I said earlier, is explaining why we do things. I think some of that is overblown, in who are the leaders and they’re going to get the message across. I think everybody’s got to understand the message. We try to make sure we’re pretty thorough in how we do that. But it’s not telling somebody to tell somebody else to tell somebody that this is how this is going to work.”

Already in the spring, we saw examples of what Kelly is preaching. DeSean Jackson questioned why he was getting reps with the second- and third-teams, so he walked into Kelly’s office, and the coach explained to him how things were going to be.

Veteran Jason Avant admitted that he’s been looking for reasoning on some of Kelly’s teachings, and he’s been able to get answers directly from the head man. And after Michael Vick made public comments about wanting a starter named before training camp, he and Kelly chatted to make sure they were on the same page.

Spring is a time for hope and optimism around the NFL. In the coming weeks, the intensity will pick up as players fight for jobs and playing time. Kelly will continue to implement his changes from the previous regime. And his challenge will be to make sure everybody’s on the same page.

“I think you treat everybody differently, you just have to treat them fairly,” Kelly said. “But every human being is different. You may not have to say two words to Casey Matthews, because he may not say two words back to you. You don’t worry about Casey. There’s other guys that you need to talk to more than other people. But I’ve always been that way. I think you treat people differently, but you treat them all fairly.”

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