3 things we've learned about Chip Kelly

Posted: September 03, 2014

THE EAGLES assemble today at NovaCare to get ready for Sunday's season opener against Jacksonville, kicking off Chip Kelly's second year in charge. What do we know about Kelly that we didn't know a year ago?

Here are some thoughts on three topics:

1 He knows how to get players to buy into his methods, even pro players.

This is one of the great secrets of coaching, maybe the most crucial challenge for any coach.

When Kelly came in with his new ideas about practice pace, nutrition, sleep habits and so on, I figured players would embrace the program at least for a while, mainly because he was the new guy in charge, and NFL careers are extremely finite, so why would you want to waste your time, and his, not doing what he asked? In the early days of 2013 workouts, nobody said much to the contrary. But in talking to players this summer, and reading some of the rearview-mirror rehashing of Year 1, it's apparent now that veterans did have qualms.

What I maybe didn't think hard enough about initially is that by the time you're a veteran pro, you have experienced a lot of success, at various levels, and you think you know how to maintain it. Somebody comes in and says, "that's all wrong," you're probably at least a little skeptical.

Kelly got past this for two reasons: As players often note, he has well thought-out reasons for everything he does (and apparently is willing to provide them to his players, if not to the media and the public). And he showed results. The Eagles went 7-1 the second half of the season. Vets such as Brent Celek and Todd Herremans said they'd never felt better, or even nearly as good, going down the stretch of a season. Once the season started, not one player had to go on injured reserve.

Kelly now enjoys rock-solid credibility in the locker room. (Which is helpful when, say, you decide to provide a home for anybody who might have ever worn an Oregon uniform.)

2 He has no interest in the care and feeding of "stars."

It's not uncommon for coaches to shy away from emphasizing individual achievement, but even so, Kelly ranks at the far end of the spectrum. When Nick Foles was compiling a 27-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio last season, something that had never happened in the history of the NFL, Kelly's praise was just short of grudging. We puzzled from week to week over his refusal to declare Foles his permanent starter, and his penchant to treat questions on the subject with sarcasm. ("He's the starting quarterback for the next 1,000 years," Chip declared in December.)

Kelly's mindset works well with someone like Foles, who seems abnormally unconcerned with fame or status. But it definitely is a college-coach mentality - no player is bigger than the program - and as we move along, it will be interesting to see how this goes. There are stars, with big egos and big paychecks, in the NFL. Sometimes (but not all the time) they help teams win.

Kelly has called the release of DeSean Jackson a football decision, and in a loose sense, it might have been. Jackson had a high cap number. It was going to be hard to keep him happy this season with Jeremy Maclin back, Darren Sproles and Jordan Matthews added to the passing game, and Zach Ertz continuing to emerge. Kelly prefers bigger receivers. And so on.

But talking to players, it also seems true that Kelly has no patience with anyone who isn't 100 percent on board. He would rather have players who perpetuate the culture he wants than players with more talent who don't.

In particular, we'll see how this works out going forward with LeSean McCoy. Right now, their relationship is good; McCoy, who lost weight in the offseason after setting the franchise single-season rushing record, certainly reflects and embodies a lot of what Kelly wants.

But McCoy might have been the Eagle most shocked by the Jackson decision. He publicly suggested something like what was posited above, said that Jackson's release taught him he'd better toe the line on even the little things.

Kelly responded by denying he'd sent any such message and declaring that McCoy has "a beautiful mind," which Kelly does not try to analyze.

A few weeks ago, a reporter tried to use McCoy's practicing through a toe injury as a springboard to writing about what an intense practice player McCoy is. "It's OK," Kelly said, smiling, when asked about McCoy's practice intensity. "Some days he's great out there. There's other days he's not so great."

This is not generally how coaches handle franchise icons. McCoy gets the whole "team" thing much better than Jackson did, but McCoy is a star; he cares about his status in the league. It isn't clear that Kelly cares about that at all.

Right now, the whole thing is barely a blip on the radar. It could become a bigger deal, say, in 2015, when McCoy has logged six seasons' worth of mileage and his cap number of $11,950,000 is the highest it will be during the 5-year, $45 million contract he signed in the 2012 offseason. (Long before he became the league's leading rusher, by the way.)

Does Kelly believe his system needs stars to succeed? Or does he find them an annoyance? We're still in the process of finding this out.

3 He does not make excuses.

Not ever. Blown call that wasn't reviewable? Doesn't matter. Horrible conditions? Same for both teams. Drastic change in the way games are officiated this preseason? We've got to adjust. The team that adjusts best will win.

Most coaches give lip service to such notions, but sooner or later you see their frustration - there is a refereeing decision or a key injury that they are willing to allude to, at least fleetingly, in explaining failure.

There is never a crack in the Kelly veneer. He isn't just putting up a front. This is a man focused on the things that can help him win. Excuses cannot help him win, so he doesn't make them.

Of course, so far in Kelly's tenure, there haven't been all that many failures to excuse.


On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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