MOBILE, Ala. – Kyle Long remembers the teaching moment quite well.
Oregon was getting ready for its Fiesta Bowl matchup against Kansas State. During practice, the Ducks ran a screen, but execution was far from perfect. Long and his buddy, tight end Colt Lyerla, went to block the same defender.
After the play, they started arguing over who screwed up. That’s when Chip Kelly stepped in.
“Chip ran over and said, ‘Both of you shut-up. Get over here,’” Long recalls. “And he had this smirk on his face. I knew something good was coming. He always has this little paper in his back pocket. He pulls it out and draws a square.”
A pizza box, Kelly explained. Then he drew a circle. That was the pie. Kelly divided the pie into slices and wrote Long and Lyerla’s initials on them.
“He says, ‘What happens if I take your pizza, Kyle? Are you going to cry about it? Or are you going to take the other piece of pizza?’” Long said. “And that’s how he explained who to block on this one play.”
The message was simple. Things are not always going to go perfectly on the field. But don’t hesitate. Rely on your instincts and play fast.
“You move on, nothing stops,” Long said. “Go fast, don’t think too much, play football.”
Kelly’s relationship with his players was one reason he was hesitant initially to jump to the NFL. During his introductory press conference, the new Eagles head coach said multiple times that he loves football because it’s about people. Now, he’ll work on getting a new group of people to buy in.
“Coach Kelly is there for his players,” Long, who has had some off-the-field issues, said.
“I feel like a lot of coaches aren’t really present with their players and don’t know what’s going on in the locker room, don’t know what’s going on outside of football. Coach Kelly has a great understanding of what his players are all about.”
Both Long and running back Kenjon Barner described Kelly as a players’ coach. But they made it clear that he could lay down the law when necessary.
“He definitely takes care of that [discipline],” Barner said. “There’s been ample times at Oregon where guys have gotten out of line and they have to answer to him. It’s not usually good. It’s like getting called to the principal’s office when you’re in high school or junior high. You get that call, and you know it’s trouble.”
While both of Oregon’s Senior Bowl representatives are offensive players, Barner said Kelly is far from one-dimensional. The Eagles have yet to name a defensive coordinator. And while Kelly has said that he won’t be looking over the shoulder of his assistants on gamedays, expect him to be involved in all aspects of the team’s game-planning.
“There were plenty of times where he just completely disappeared from the offensive side of the ball,” Barner said. “He was down on the defensive end. We were kind of like ‘Where’s Coach Kelly?’ so he’s very involved.”
Long, meanwhile, was asked about the possibility of playing for Kelly in the NFL.
“That’d be cool,” he said. “But he might have wanted to just be done with me.”