What They’re Saying About Chip Kelly

Chip Kelly. (Jeff Fusco)

Chip Kelly. (Jeff Fusco)

San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York dropped a bombshell on the NFL early Thursday afternoon when he tweeted out the news — from his personal account — that the 49ers had hired former Eagles head coach Chip Kelly to fill San Francisco’s head coaching vacancy.

Kelly’s tenure in Philadelphia came to an ugly, disappointing end. Despite the early success he had, winning 20 games in two seasons, his third year with the Birds brought about plenty of questions about his viability in the NFL.

We’ve compiled a good collection of thoughts, comments and opinions on Kelly’s hiring for your reading pleasure.

Birds legend and ESPN superstar Sheil Kapadia writes that relationships and difficult decisions will be key for Kelly in San Francisco.

The organizational structure will be key. In a highly-publicized series of events, the 49ers sided with general manager Trent Baalke over Jim Harbaugh, a coach who had led them to a Super Bowl. Given the history, Kelly is not going to be able to wrestle personnel control this time.

Instead, he will have to work with Baalke. That relationship, more than anything, will determine whether Kelly can be successful.

But there are other issues. The one area where Kelly is unlikely to budge is tempo and efficiency. It’s an integral part of his program — not just his offense. In Philadelphia, Kelly held his press conferences in a tent outside so that when the whistle blew to start practice, he could shuffle away without any wasted time.

In 2015, the Eagles ran an offensive play once every 22.21 seconds, the fastest in the NFL. Yet the offense ranked 26th in efficiency. There has been a narrative that Kelly was a good coach, but a bad GM. The truth is, that was not the case in 2015. The offense was a disaster. The Eagles’ 67 turnovers in the past two seasons were the most in the NFL.

Jenny Vrentas of MMQB takes aim at the questions that come with San Francisco’s decision to bring Kelly in.

Practically speaking, whether this works depends on two things:

1) Can Kelly rehabilitate Colin Kaepernick?

2) Will he learn from the mistakes he made as a first-time NFL head coach, with no time in between to reflect?

There are reasons to be optimistic about the first point. Many coaches around the league harbor some annoyance about Kelly’s reputation as an innovator for elements of the game that they believe other coaches are also doing. But most will acknowledge his potential to bring out the best in Kaepernick with his quarterback-friendly system.

The sixth-year quarterback has many physical hurdles to overcome this offseason—he’s had surgeries on his (non-throwing) shoulder, thumb and knee since his season ended in November—but he has the most physical talent and versatility of any quarterback Kelly has coached in the NFL (if you’re keeping score: Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez, Sam Bradford). Hearing a plan to salvage Kaepernick, who is signed by San Francisco through 2020 (albeit on a flexible contract that gives the team off-ramps each year) was no doubt top of the conversation during the 49ers’ interviews with coaching candidates.

The second point may be more uncertain, and more important.

Kelly’s relationship with former Eagles vice president of player personnel and current 49ers executive Tom Gamble helped this hiring, writes CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco.

Gamble’s affinity for Kelly proved to be a big reason Kelly landed back in the NFL with the 49ers two weeks after being fired.

Gamble and Kelly developed a good rapport during their time together with the Philadephia Eagles before Gamble was shoved out more than a year ago. Gamble joined the Eagles in February 2013 as vice president of player personnel.

Kelly, like many before him, found himself in a power struggle with general manager Howie Roseman. There were similar battles in the past with Gamble, Andy Reid, Tom Heckert and Jason Licht. Kelly temporarily won, taking over final say on personnel during his final year, until he was fired on Dec. 30 when the Eagles dropped out of playoff contention with a 6-9 record.

Gamble, who was hired back to the 49ers last January as senior personnel executive following his ouster in Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve of 2014, spoke up for Kelly and played a pivotal role in helping Kelly get hired in his new role, sources told CSNBayArea.com on Thursday.

ESPN’s Ian O’Connor ranked all six head coaching hires from best to worst. The Eagles’ hiring of Doug Pederson ranks last. Kelly to the 49ers? Second.

2. Chip Kelly, San Francisco 49ers: Kelly’s record suggests he should be No. 1 on this list. He has three years of NFL head-coaching experience behind him, including two 10-6 seasons, and went 46-7 while tilting major college scoreboards at Oregon. But of course, Kelly treated too many of his grownup Philadelphia Eagles like they were still teenagers on scholarship, and in the end he was an unmitigated disaster as overlord of personnel.

Some people believe Kelly will learn from his mistakes, and frankly that would be an easier claim to buy if he took a year off, found himself a mirror and did some serious self-testing before returning to the NFL sidelines in 2017. On the other hand, he is unquestionably an innovative offensive mind who finally has a quarterback with a top-tier skill set, albeit a broken one in Colin Kaepernick. If Kelly fixes Kaepernick, and adds a more human touch to his playbook when dealing with employees and employers alike, he has a real chance to restore San Francisco as a credible NFC contender.

According to FOX Sports’ Mike Garafolo, Gamble didn’t think Kelly was to blame for the way things ended in Philadelphia, writes CBS 3’s Andrew Porter.

Gamble, almost immediately upon leaving Philly, was re-hired by the San Francisco 49ers in January of 2015. And on Thursday — 16 days after the Eagles fired Kelly despite a 26-21 record, he was named head coach of the 49ers, rejoining his buddy Gamble in San Fran.

According to FOXSports’ insider Mike Garafolo, the 49ers believe the volatile power structure in Philadelphia was not Kelly’s fault.

“The situation in Philly maybe wasn’t so much his fault,” Garafolo said Thursday on The Colin Cowherd Show, speaking from the 49ers’ perspective. “And the reason that I say that is, because that’s the impression that they would have gotten from Tom Gamble who was in Philadelphia when Chip Kelly was in Philadelphia and now is in San Francisco. And I can tell you for a fact that he explained to the 49ers, ‘You guys are nuts if you don’t interview this guy. I’m not saying you gotta hire him, but we are crazy if we don’t bring this guy in here and at least listen to what he has to say, let him speak his mind about what happened in Philly, let him explain why he thinks he failed.’

Is San Francisco’s hiring of Kelly just the organization circling around to its glory days with Jim Harbaugh? ESPN’s Paul Gutierrez asks.

[49ers tackle Alex] Boone, who had been Harbaugh’s staunchest public defender during the coach’s last season with the 49ers in 2014, echoed the vibe that accompanied Kelly out of Philadelphia when the Eagles fired him with one game to go in his third season this December.

Too strict. Too demanding. Too harsh. Too controlling.

Or did you not read last summer’s Washington Post feature that painted Kelly and his coaching methods as “Orwellian,” his demand that Eagles players provide daily urine samples to check their hydration levels while keeping track of their sleep patterns and heart rates?

“There’s plenty of weirdos in the NFL,” the Post wrote, quoting a former Kelly player. “He’s just a different kind of weirdo.”

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell runs through the reasons for, and against, a successful Kelly regime with the 49ers.

I recently wrote about this argument during Kelly’s dying days in Philadelphia, but the idea that Kelly’s been found out as some sort of scam artist is absurd. The NFL is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, but we don’t have to look into ancient history to see how successful Kelly has been in his nascent professional career. At a basic level, he took over a 4-12 team and finished 26-21 with the Eagles, producing two winning seasons in three years.

The followup argument is usually that Kelly failed to win a playoff game during his time in Philadelphia, which is an absurd standard to use in determining whether a head coach is any good. Do you know who else didn’t win a playoff game during his first three seasons as a head coach? Bill Belichick, who started his head coaching career with three consecutive losing seasons in charge of the Browns. Future Super Bowl winners like Don Shula, Dick Vermeil, Chuck Noll, and Mike Shanahan also failed to win a playoff game during their first three seasons at the helm of an NFL team. It’s a meaningless indicator of whether a head coach is going to be any good, especially if that coach is winning regular-season games.

Dan Klausner of Bleeding Green Nation writes that, in the end, Kelly wasn’t who Eagles fans thought he was.

The fact of the matter is, we were fooled by a false prophet, hoodwinked by the promise of a revolution. Chip Kelly swashbuckled into town with an earned reputation for being aggressive and ballsy, for pushing the limits and demanding a breakneck, exciting brand of football. As an NFL neophyte in 2013, he delivered.

There were the abysmal hiccups against the Cowboys, Giants and Vikings along the way, but the good far outweighed bad. It was downright amazing. IT WORKED. The offense hummed, setting a league record with 99 plays of 20 yards or more, and Chip’s tempo fetish flourished. He deployed exotic formations, unleashed unprecedented “packaged” plays, went for it on fourth down with aplomb. The man was Big Balls Chip. He even went for a two-point conversion against the Chiefs in Week 3 that was designed brilliantly but not executed due to a missed block.

Unfortunately, that would be the only time Chip ever called for a two-point conversion at an unconventional time.