Football School: Three Things We Learned This Week

Jimmy Johnson. Kirby Lee/USA Today

Jimmy Johnson. Kirby Lee/USA Today

Like many of you, I am a football consumer. And one reason I like this slow period from mid-June to early August is I can catch up on things I’ve been meaning to read, watch, listen to, etc. So from time to time between now and training camp, I’ll share three items I find interesting.

1. Back in March, Peter King revealed that Chip Kelly had been using Jimmy Johnson as a sounding board this offseason. Johnson said one piece of advice he gave to Kelly after Kelly was given full personnel control was to go with players who fit his personality and his system.

The 30 For 30 short on Johnson that focused on the Herschel Walker trade provided further insight into Johnson’s mindset and perhaps what he shared with Kelly.

“I considered trading every player on our roster, everybody, even a player that I loved, Michael Irvin, who played for me at Miami,” Johnson said. “…I didn’t understand the way the NFL worked. But back then, teams didn’t trade that much. I think everybody on our football team realized that anything could happen.”

Per Johnson, the Cowboys made 51 trades in five years, more than the rest of the league put together. The biggest one, of course, was the Walker trade with the Vikings. Why did Johnson make such a bold move with that deal?

“You had to have the system for Herschel Walker for him to be productive,” he said. “I was more interested in the nifty back that could get the big run rather than the power back that was a straight line runner.” Read more »

Wistar Institute Opens Robert and Penny Fox Tower


Friday night the Wistar Institute’s new, $100 million seven-story research building at 3601 Spruce Street bearing the names of two of its most committed and generous supporters, Robert and Penny Fox, opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and gala. Founded in 1892, Wistar has been dedicated to improving public health, eradicating disease, and expanding the boundaries of knowledge through biomedical research and training.

The evening began with a ribbon-cutting, then guests entered the Fox Tower to enjoy a cocktail hour and program in one of the new laboratories on the sixth floor. Former Eagles coach and master of ceremonies Dick Vermeil paid tribute to his friends, Robert and Penny Fox, for their donation which will help Wistar continue as a world leader in scientific discovery. Afterward, dinner prepared by Stephen Starr Events was served in several rooms on the fifth floor, including the atrium, which is the space that connects the new building with the older building.

Photos after the jump »

Eagles Wake-Up Call: Kelly Calls On Dick Vermeil

The leap from college to the pros is not an easy one for a football coach, especially when that coach enters the show in a crazed east-coast football town like Philly. Lots of stumbling blocks, and plenty of people to point out the instant you get tripped up on one.

Fortunately for Chip Kelly, he has a connection to a man who knows exactly what that ride is like, and how to properly maneuver.

“The only guy I’ve talked to extensively about making the jump from the college to the pros was coach [Dick] Vermeil. He’s been great,” said Kelly. “If you’re a college coach or a pro coach, the respect people have for Dick Vermeil, and he’s been great. If I’ve had questions, I’ve had the opportunity to call coach and kind of bounce some things off of him.”

Vermeil, in a phone conversation with Birds 24/7, downplayed his role in helping Kelly transition to the pros. He says that he has spoken to Kelly a couple times by phone, and joked that any face-to-face interaction has quickly been interrupted by someone else in the room seeking the new head coach’s attention.

But Kelly obviously sees value.

He sought out Vermeil before taking the Eagles job to talk about Philadelphia and ex-college coaches who have tried their hand in the league.

“First he asked about Philly. I said it is a great place to live and a great place to coach,” said Vermeil. “I said the fans are passionate and a little on the intense side and they care. Those are all good things. And I said this is a tremendous organization that has done it as well as almost anybody but no Super Bowls. Somebody’s going to do it, and I said it might as well be you.”

Asked what the biggest challenge of moving from the collegiate ranks to the NFL was, the former UCLA head man answered “practice” before the question was all the way out.

“I had scout teams in college, varsity, junior varsity. In the NFL I had 53 guys on the roster,” he  said. “It was very hard adjusting practice the way I wanted it, so I doubled it up.”

Vermeil explained that the common procedure in the NFL at the time was for practices to run about 1 1/2 hours, with teams working on offense one day, defense the next, and then finally a combo session. But the Eagles weren’t going to really improve unless they got considerably more time in, so Vermeil made the practice times twice as long after his first year.

Kelly, like Vermeil before him, has to overhaul an entire system and cultivate his own culture, but does not have the same freedoms Vermeil once enjoyed. The days of doubling down on practice time are over.

“His problem is going to be getting better within the [confines] of the new CBA,” said Vermeil.

It took Vermeil some time to get traction on this level. The Eagles went a combined 9-19 his first two seasons before posting a winning record in 1978. Patience doesn’t seem to run as deep as it once did.

He cited “support staff and willingness to listen” as the keys to making a successful transition from college to the NFL. You need the personnel, and you have to be comfortable in your own skin.

“He is obviously an outstanding coach and he isn’t going to lose that ability to coach,” said Vermeil. “I think there have been head coaches who have come in and think they have to be different; they’re intimidated by the 35-year-old offensive lineman. That won’t be Chip’s case. He has a lot of confidence. He’s not arrogant, he’s confident.

“I think people will like him.”


What will a Kelly training camp look like? We take a look.

More love for Matt Barkley.


Ashley Fox calls the Eagles the most intriguing team in the NFL.

Kelly was revolutionary at Oregon, where he led the Ducks to a 46-7 record in four seasons and introduced college football to his fast-paced, no-huddle spread offense. The Ducks redefined what it means to play fast. In 13 games last season, they ran 1,077 plays, a number that would have ranked seventh in the NFL’s 16-game schedule. Oregon averaged 82.8 plays per game, a number that would have made New England, which led the NFL last season averaging 74.4 plays per game, look slow by comparison.

Can Kelly’s up-tempo offense work in the NFL with a bunch of players who have never run it?

Tommy Lawlor believes this coaching staff can help Mychal Kendricks take the next step.

Bill McGovern is here to focus on OLBs, but he developed Luke Kuechly into one of the best MLBs in recent college history. He might have a nugget or two that could help Kendricks. And while Bill Davis track record as DC is only slightly better than Les Bowen’s as a polka dancer, Davis does know how to coach LBs. He got great results from D’Qwell Jackson last year. Karlos Dansby thrived under Davis in Arizona. Keith Brooking thrived under Davis in Atlanta. You could counter that all those guys were stars anyway, but that’s part of the point. Kendricks has that kind of talent. He needs the right coaches and system to bring it out of him. Kendricks should develop into a top shelf LB.


We’ll take a look at what the media are saying about the Eagles.