What I Learned About Chip Kelly

On the flight down to Mobile, Ala. last week, my choice of reading material was a PDF.

We’ve linked to it previously in this space. It’s from a presentation Chip Kelly delivered at the Nike Coaches Clinic in 2011. The Oregon football Web site FishDuck.com received permission to publish the document, which details some of Kelly’s core coaching philosophies.

Below is a rundown of what stood out for me and how it might apply to Kelly’s tenure with the Eagles.

If a coach tells me respect is an important part of his program, I should see it in practice. If I go to practice and I see a player who takes a cheap shot at another player and no one corrects him, that program has no respect in it.

My mind immediately hearkened back to the summer of 2010. Eagles linebacker Ernie Sims made a habit of cheap-shotting teammates after the whistle during training camp. Running back Eldra Buckley was often on the receiving end, but there were others too, like tight end Brent Celek, who got laid out.

When asked, Andy Reid and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said they talked to Sims about his actions, but they also seemed willing to tolerate his antics. Clearly, the message never got through to him.

It’s just one anecdote, but certainly the issue of player accountability is one worth keeping an eye on with Kelly. At the end of Reid’s tenure, there was very little of that. Reid had a good relationship with his players. That was one of his biggest strengths. But maybe they got a little bit too comfortable.

When we teach, we implement it in the classroom. We talk about what we are putting in that day. We show them what it is. After that, we go to the practice field and do it. The practice field is not where we talk. It is where we do the skills. We want to keep words on the field to a minimum. The words you use must have a meaning. When the players hear the word, you get immediate feedback.

This is, perhaps, the most fascinating aspect of Kelly’s leap to the NFL. I asked him last week how he would adjust his practice philosophy, and Kelly admitted that he would need to tweak some things, although he didn’t articulate specifics. Will he still run all up-tempo practices? Will the players buy in?

“If you have a bunch of guys who want to win,” Kelly said, when asked that question the day he was introduced. “I don’t know if guys say, ‘Coach, we don’t want to score points.’ I haven’t encountered people like that, and I don’t think there are people like that.”

We’ll get an idea of how Kelly plans on running practices during OTAs and mini-camps, although it remains to be seen how much the media will be allowed to observe. Kelly and the Eagles will also have to decide whether they’re committed to holding training camp at Lehigh.

Coaching is one thing and one thing only: it is creating an environment so the player has an opportunity to be successful. When you teach him to do that, get out of his way. The coach is not playing the game. All we can do at the end of the game is to evaluate what happened in the game. Was there a situation that we did not cover in practice? The coach needs to know if he gave the player all the tools he needed to be successful in that situation. We have to continually analyze the situation and try to make it better.

This speaks to one of the most common refrains we’ve heard from everyone in the Eagles’ organization (Jeffrey Lurie, Howie Roseman, etc.) since Kelly was hired: The plan is not to take what he did in Oregon, plant it in the NFL and expect it to work. While he has core beliefs, Kelly has stressed that every aspect of coaching a football team is personnel-driven.

That means it’s possible, maybe even likely, that the Eagles are going to look completely different than the teams Kelly coached at Oregon.

Asked last week if he was flattered to see playoff teams using his concepts, Kelly responded, “They didn’t take it from me. I didn’t invent it. We were just smart enough to use it. There’s nothing that I’ve done in football I can say, ‘Hey, I invented that.’ They’ve been doing a lot of different concepts dating way back to a long, long time ago before a lot of us were ever born.”

If you accept it, expect it. If you accept a player going eight yards, when he is supposed to go 10, it will happen Friday night. If it his third-and-10, and you get eight, whose fault is that? Did you accept the fact they went eight yards in practice instead of 10? Did you emphasize it in practice?

This one relates to the Eagles’ failures in 2012. We saw the same issues surface week after week: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie’s poor tackling; Nnamdi Asomugha and Kurt Coleman staring at each other confused after blown coverages; careless turnovers on offense; horrible special-teams play. Obviously, Reid was able to identify these issues, but he was never able to correct them. The message just stopped getting through.

The players today do not do it “because I told you so.” We do not live in that society anymore. Some of us grew up in it, but it does not work anymore. Players today want to know why. Tell them why. If you do not have a good reason why we do things, we probably should not be doing them.

Lurie actually brought this up when he introduced Kelly. He loved that the new coach was constantly asking, “Why?” It’s something that Oregon players Kyle Long and Kenjon Barner touched on last week when I talked to them. They emphasized that Kelly is a players’ coach, but he will get on his guys. You get the sense though that he’s focused on getting the message across with thorough explanations, rather than yelling and making a scene.

The point I am making is to go through every scenario that happens in a game and practice it. You should not just put the ball down and run a play. That never happens in a game. Football is a game of situations. You have to practice those situations. When the game is on the line, your players better be able to call the play before you call the play. The only play that will work is the one they have confidence in running. Everybody at the end of a game knows the play that we are going to call.

Given the issues the Eagles have had at the end of halves and at the end of games, this one really hits home. Of course, words are one thing. Execution is another. But Kelly clearly has a plan for how to be prepared for those game-deciding situations.

In our attitude, every sack is the quarterback’s fault. It is not a sack if the quarterback throws the ball away. Nobody ever lost a game on an incomplete pass. Throw the ball away, and give us another opportunity to make a first down. If you throw it away, it is second-and-10 for the first down. If you take the sack, it is second-and-16 for the down. If you can stay away from negative yardage plays, you will be successful.

In any discussion about a potential Michael Vick/Kelly union, this point must be brought up. It should also be referenced in the coming months when we look at potential quarterback fits in free agency and the draft.

Every single game on your schedule is a rivalry game. If the cross-town rival is game six on your schedule, and you circle it in red, you have told your team the first five games do not count. It will be okay to lose a couple of games during that stretch.

This one is for my fellow reporters to take note of. Stay away from the How important is this game because it’s against an NFC opponent? questions, please. You already know what the answer is going to be.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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