Why Chip Kelly Delegates To Assistants

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

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.’ ”

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  • ohitsdom

    Kelly’s biggest strength is his approach, culture, and leadership. Listening to coaches and players. The see-coast offense. No ego, just do what works and do the right thing.

    If I was a bigger business, I would be trying hard to get Kelly to come in and give a talk to management, and even the corporation at large.

    • Johnny Domino

      Maybe you need to bring him in so you can be a bigger business.

    • mtn_green

      Bring in Mark Saltveit the author of the book on Chip.

  • FluxCapacitor

    I wasn’t sure about Chippa before things started last year…but he could kick my dog right now and I’d go get him a cold beer. I absolutely love his approach, love how he has a reason for everything, love his love of the game.

    • OregonEagle

      And now that you’ve seen him for a year, you know that he’d never kick your dog. He would explain his vision to the dog, then do all that he could to put the dog in the best possible position to achieve it’s full potential as a dog – but he’d have to work to earn his job as dog every day.

      • paul from nc

        Between Chip and Matthews, do you think they can achieve world peace, end hunger and get the Phillies to the Series?

        • Warhound

          And develop a warp engine!

          • SteffGibbonsrae

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          • UKEagle99

            You meant Abble Laptop, right?

      • tommy_the_k

        He would position the dog right behind the mailman’s buttocks, and after checking salt levels and giving Fido his smoothie, would help launch the canine combatant to his assigned duty.

  • Michael Myers

    I think it’s great that Kelly has no problem delegating responsibility and letting his staff be autonomous to a large degree. I think ultimately people work harder when they know they are trusted. He’s the boss, the responsible party for the overall team, and letting the people you hired do what you hired them to do shows what a great boss he really is.

  • Adam

    I enjoy reading the words this man says.

  • Adam


    Pretty interesting comments here. Apparently Avant and Chip didn’t get along at times.

    • Amar

      interesting read, thanks for sharing.

    • TNA

      Key quote
      “I knew that was coming maybe four games into last season,” Avant said. “When they stop calling your number and guys start running some of the routes that you run – I knew from the beginning that I didn’t fit his style of offense, in that I’m a crafty guy that gets open in an atypical way.”

      Atypical. Hmm. Yeah that isn’t going to work in a systems based offensive approach. But really, thank you for your effort and professionalism while you were here Jason. That said, it sounds like it was time to move on.

      • southy

        hard to say that he didn’t fit his style of offense when everyone was expecting chip to put in 2TE sets and he wouldn’t because Avant’s run blocking was so good. I don’t know if I buy Avant having a different “style” of getting open. His problem has been getting open at all.

        • Yes_General

          His other problem was the lack of scoring TD’s. Yes thats up to the coaches discretion to call your number but it says a lot to me that the Eagles didnt design plays for Avant in the red zone. Avant grew on me because of his intangibles just like Desean. But both players IMO were not top 10 receivers in the league and if you have an opportunity to ‘upgrade’ any position within reason. why not!!!

          • southy

            Agree with you aside from the fact that Avant was basically the opposite of Desean.

            In the slot we’ve gone from the Preacher to the Pope. Sounds like an upgrade to me.

    • dnabrice

      I loved Jason Avant while he was an Eagle. Consummate team player, amazing catching ability. Hope things go well for him in NC.

    • JofreyRice

      wow, pretty surprising. Chip had Avant practicing at DB in training camp, right? Must have had a pretty low opinion of his ability, which seems to have offended Avant. Maybe there were some issues with Reid loyalty, along with everything else. Oh well. I liked Avant when he was here, but lets face it, he fell down as soon as he caught the ball.

      • DirtyWaters

        You never know. He was High School All American at free safety. Broke school records for receptions and interceptions. Worth taking a shot to see of he can still play D.

        A lot of us here thought Mac and Benn goin down was the only thing that kept him on the team last year.

  • JofreyRice

    I wonder how far Davis’ autonomy goes with the D? Does he have the authority to make calls on free agents and draft picks?

    Here’s my thought on the Davis/autonomy piece: Sure there is trust there, and an agreement about the overall vision…but…Chip just doesn’t care that much about the D. Everything he does, philosophically, seems to be about scoring points. As much as he loves the assistants he’s got on Offense, I have a hard time believing he’d turn the keys over the way he has to Davis.

    • Richard Colton

      Doesn’t have that “Buddy Ryan’s offense” or “Andy Reid’s defense” feel about it, does it? I’m with you on this; Davis is here to implement Chip’s vision on D, not to be autonomous.

  • GrandWazoo

    This is Billie’s last year hear regrettably. I think the defense performs fairly well this year from the start and he gets a HC job.