After Chip Kelly took over as the Eagles’ new head coach, he decided the locker room at the NovaCare Complex needed to be rearranged.
Kelly wanted to mix everyone up. No more division between linebackers and tight ends, offensive linemen and defensive linemen, quarterbacks and specialists. It was a move to foster team chemistry, something that will be even more challenging after Riley Cooper’s racial slur at a Kenny Chesney concert was caught on camera.
“There could be a concern, yeah, there is a concern,” Kelly said, when asked if Cooper’s comments might divide the locker room. “Obviously it’s a very hot topic. That’s why I encourage our group… and our team and I talked about it last night at the team meeting… we’ve gotta have some open communication to make sure that everyone understands what went on and what Riley did to atone for it.”
Kelly, Howie Roseman and Jeffrey Lurie acted quickly Wednesday afternoon, handing Cooper a fine (undisclosed amount) after consulting with the league. But Kelly said that at no point was Cooper’s roster spot in jeopardy, and no further action is expected.
He did not consult with any of the players before deciding on a punishment. But Michael Vick and Jason Avant addressed the team after Cooper spoke.
“We believed because of the magnitude of the situation that we had to have a swift decision in terms of what was going to happen to Riley,” Kelly said. “We consulted with the league in the matter. We brought Riley back in and we disciplined him. He accepted the discipline. He understands exactly what he did wrong. We also agreed with Riley that he needs some assistance, and we’re gonna help with that. We’ll provide him the resources to certain people that he needs to talk to about the situation to try to understand why it happened and to make sure it never happens again.”
Kelly did not specify whether the additional counseling would be some kind of racism education or alcohol awareness program.
One thing the head coach is well aware of is that the issue is not going away quickly. LeSean McCoy has already said he looks at Cooper differently. And other players likely feel the same way, even if they’re not as vocal.
“I think Jason Avant said it best yesterday. This isn’t a situation that you brush under the rug,” Kelly said. “I think it’s gonna take some time. The guys that know Riley and are a little bit closer to him, I think it may be a little easier for them. But there are also some guys that have just met him and just got here, and they’re still trying to wrap their arms around it. And I don’t think this is a situation that’s gonna go away tomorrow. And we certainly understand it.
“It’s an important situation to address, and we’re not gonna stick our heads in the sand and just say, ‘Hey, we’ve gotta get ready because we have the Patriots coming in here next week.’ We encourage dialogue in our position groups, and if there are issues and players still have issues within their position meetings, we need to set up meetings with Riley and those guys. They can get to know Riley better. I know Riley made a heinous mistake. I was appalled by it. I was actually shocked by it. Since I’ve been here since April, that’s not the Riley Cooper I know. But he accepted responsibility for it and he’s gotta live with it. But I hope at some point in time [he] will get a chance to move on from it. But right now, I don’t think it’s something that’s gonna go away very quickly.”