‘I Think the Perception Was Not the Reality’
There are many sides to a locker room story.
For every sharp-tongued Lane Johnson criticism about the former head coach, there are other, more loyal players whose blood gets to boiling when such stones are cast.
Ask one Eagle about the man at the helm for the past few years, and you’ll hear that he’s impossible to talk to. Question another, and they’ll insist that the open-door policy was real and that, when used, Kelly was eager to try and troubleshoot.
“Whether he’s meeting with Mr. Lurie or he’s in an offensive meeting, if you came up there and said you wanted to talk to him, he drops everything and he says, ‘What’s the deal? What do you want to fix? What’s going on?’ And everyone knows that,” said Riley Cooper. “So in that regard, I think he was very approachable.”
“I think the perception,” added Malcolm Jenkins, “was not really the reality.”
Ultimately, that is on Chip Kelly. If there is any gray area when it comes to coach-player relationships, it’s up to the coach to offer the bridge. Asked whether he thought Kelly was approachable, DeMarco Murray noted that both he and Kelly are quiet guys and in the past was accustomed to his head coach being more outspoken. The subtext is that Murray was looking for a gesture that never came, and silence factored into the divide. Both parties can take some responsibility for that, but more falls on the senior member, the boss.
The 2015 roster was made up of Kelly supporters and detractors alike. While opinions on him differed, all seem to agree that their captain was a hard man to know — even those who have been around him for some time.
“People just don’t know Chip. I mean, I barely know Chip and I’ve been with him the past five, six years,” said Josh Huff. “But we had a special connection. He was just a mentor to me. He gave me opportunity that doesn’t come by very often where I’m from. He gave me another opportunity by drafting me here, allowing me to live out my dream.
“But as far as him not being a player’s coach or anything like that, he’s just never been that type of guy. He has some guys that he has a good connection with like myself, but as far as him just coming up to you and just having a full-on conversation with you, that’s just never been Chip. So when people say he’s not a player’s coach or any of those things, that’s just never been him…
“When people talk bad about him and things like that and just call him names it pisses me off just because they don’t know him or they don’t know his intentions. He’s a good dude, he’s a great coach and I wish him the best moving forward.”
Huff has been around Kelly long enough to understand those intentions. He remembers Kelly sitting in his living room when he was a senior in high school, telling his dad that he just wants the best for Josh both on the field and off. Kelly has tried to facilitate that for Huff in all of his years since. From that place a “special connection” was developed.
He did not have that with everyone, clearly.
The most poignant part of Kelly’s farewell statement was when he expressed that “my players mean the world to me.” Look hard enough, and you’ll find plenty of people that will tell you that’s exactly true. Kelly was unable to spread that message across the locker room while in power, though, which is a big part of why that power was taken away.