Before becoming the head coach at Oregon in 2009, Chip Kelly was an assistant for four different college teams.
And all along the way, he appreciated that his bosses allowed him to do his job without micromanaging.
“No different than in your job,” Kelly said. “If your editor takes an article that you turn in and hacks the heck out of it, I’m sure you… you know what I mean. It’s the same thing. I think you can give pointers and tips and all those things, but I think any editor will say the same thing: ‘God, this guy, I have to keep rewriting his story all the time.’ Well, that guy is probably not going to have that job for very long.
“It’s the same thing with an assistant coach. And I’m fortunate we don’t have anybody like that. I think we have a bunch of really, really good teachers that we are all on the same page with, and that’s a positive.”
NFL head coaches are by their very nature control freaks. And there’s no question Kelly’s fingerprints are all over the organization – from the way the NovaCare Complex is set up to the food in the cafeteria to the major personnel decisions.
But when it comes to actual coaching, Kelly believes in providing his assistants with a degree of autonomy that allows them to do their jobs without looking over their shoulders. It’s visible during every practice, and it was demonstrated further last season when assistants were in charge of rotating players in-game.
“That’s why we hired them,” Kelly said. “They need to be the experts in their field in terms of, you know, whether it’s the defensive backs or the offensive line or the quarterbacks or whatever. I don’t think this organization is going to work if you have to micromanage individual position coaches.
“They are here for a reason, and that’s what we felt in the hiring process. That’s what I wanted. I didn’t want someone where I always had to constantly look over and say: ‘What drill is he doing now? Why is he doing that?’ So we have a bunch of guys who are great teachers and really add to the overall team. I think that’s the important thing in your assistant coaches in that you don’t have to worry about what to teach them when they get on the field because we have already hashed that out when we get in the meeting room.”
Perhaps nowhere is the dynamic more relevant than on the defensive side of the ball with Billy Davis. When Kelly was interviewing coordinator candidates, he relayed his philosophy to them. And while he’s still involved with that part of the operation, he’s more or less handed the keys to Davis.
“We talk every day,” Davis said. “The structure of the defense, the beginning part of the process was probably the most important. The vision of what the defense he kind of wanted and the reason I was hired and what his vision of it was, got on the same page pretty quick. And from there, the details of it, he’s not gonna question all the time. He’s got so much work to do on the offensive side of the ball. He trusts us to put it together and pull it together. I give him an overview of everything. He understands the defense thoroughly. So there’s no communication barrier and he’s easy to work with. He really is.”
Davis has been an assistant for 12 different teams (including two in college). And this his third stint as a defensive coordinator. After Year One in Philadelphia, he’s loving the control he has in shaping the defense.
“It’s great,” he said. “It really is. It’s a big help to know that he’s always supporting you. If he asks you a question, he’s not questioning you. He’s asking you a question for his own knowledge or wanting to know, but it’s not in that tone of, ‘Are you sure?’ It’s, ‘Go for it. Just go. Let it rip and let’s be sound and play together and let’s go beat those guys.’ ”