Monday, June 29, 2015

Chip Kelly, Meet Chan Gailey.

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly reaches for his whistle during NFL football minicamp, Tuesday, June 16, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly reaches for his whistle during NFL football minicamp, Tuesday, June 16, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
You know, there is nothing on the web that is more under-represented than Chip Kelly conversations.  Let's fix that.  I kid.  If I see one more think-piece on Kelly, I might begin a protest.  Nevertheless, he continues to control the NFL news cycle and as we wrap up June, I thought I might take a morning to answer an email that I received last week on this very topic.  Here it is:
Dear Bob-
I have been meaning to write you about this for some time because, while I do enjoy your work for the most part, I do find your feelings about Chip Kelly to be ridiculous.

All the guy has done is reinvigorate the football world at both the college and pro level in the last decade (from out of nowhere) and in doing so has seen the game from a different perspective and has made many teams change how they approach every last detail of how the NFL does business.

Then, he has won 10 games in his first 2 years and has turned around an organization that Andy Reid ran into the ground. And yet, you, with all of your coaching wins, sits here and takes shots at Chip Kelly every chance you get as over-rated and a short-timer in the NFL.

You realize he will be running the NFC East (and threatening for Super Bowls) for the next decade, right? I would love for you to offer real reasons why you are so strongly in the Anti-Kelly camp.

Otherwise, keep up the good work,

In fairness to Tim, I receive this email (or one sort of like it) about twice a week during the season.  And, in fairness to Chip Kelly, I feel as I do about the future of the Eagles for a number of reasons (which I will attempt to detail this morning).  But, my overall view on the current state of the Eagles franchise is admittedly more of an overall view of the media and how we cover the NFL in this current form.  It seems like most of the media, especially those that present themselves as coming from a deeper intellectual view of the sport than the old guard, like to prop Kelly and everything he does as basically this decade's version of Billy Beane and the Oakland A's after Michael Lewis' game-changing book Moneyball was released.
Back then, a Billy Beane essay was penned weekly, generally comparing how smart he is to how dumb your general manager is in their views of baseball.  Yes, he was taking a different route than "the establishment", and while that is very thought-provoking, it doesn't change what his ultimate objectives were and more importantly, it doesn't change the idea that everyone is trying to figure out a way to solve the unsolvable riddles that sports present.  Innovators are everywhere in professional sports and they are mostly all brilliant minds trying to spend every waking hour looking for that edge.   He is just the one we have propped up in our prose and the one who is willing to participate with the media so that they might write something that champions this cause.  By the way, there is nothing wrong with that - but let's not act like it isn't self-serving to get the media to eat out of your hand.
Beane is great at what he does and so is Kelly.  It has never been my view to say otherwise.  But, I think that they are presented as the opposite of what sits in the similar offices at other organizations and that the public generally fully buys this premise.  We have found the one "innovator" who is on this lonely fight against conventional thinking!  In reality, for reasons that are both true and myth, they are propped up in conversations to a point that in some public circles these feature stories filled with innovating anecdotes are actually placed on par with those who have dominated the sport for over a decade.  And that is generally absurd.
My view has been that Chip Kelly is that he is a bright mind and a coach you would like to have.  And that makes him comparable to several other coaches who are also trying to climb that mountain of success in the NFL for the first time in their lives.  Guys like Bruce Arians in Arizona, Mike Zimmer in Minnesota, Miami's Joe Philbin, and Houston's Bill O'Brien.  Maybe even Gus Bradley in Jacksonville and Mike McCoy in San Diego.  These are all first time head coaches at the NFL level who are all trying to get to the big room.
Instead, Kelly has been separated from this herd, and is not compared to his peer group, but instead, you find him presented as a "Top 5" NFL coach in a group with Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll, and Sean Payton - and ahead of guys like Andy Reid, Jason Garrett, Tom Coughlin, Mike McCarthy and Mike Tomlin.  You may see that aside from Garrett, all of those guys have coached Super Bowls, and 3 of them have won Super Bowls, and one of them has won multiple Super Bowls.  Now, I don't really care that he is spit out when you ask a media guy for the Top 5 coaches in the NFL, but you have to admit it is a little much for a guy who is basically (for now) at roughly the same level as Mike McCoy and Bruce Arians.  I am sure they think so.
What is the difference?  Well, I am guessing it is that he does do things differently (haven't you heard?) from sleep monitors to smoothies to tempo to trying to make QB a lesser-leveraged spot in the sport.  Some of these things are successful ventures, some are placebos to promote achievements, but all of it makes for cool features in magazines and blog-space.  Also, and far more attractive to any of us who work covering sports because at one point we all wanted to work IN sports, is the idea that unlike the guys listed above who have all been in the NFL in some capacity for a long, long time, Kelly had never been in the NFL before 2013.  He comes from college football and is certainly not a descendant of Jimmy Johnson or Chuck Noll or Bill Walsh.  He is his own animal who broke into the old boy's network and that is pretty attractive to media guys.
He doesn't need star players to win and he might not need a QB.  He certainly doesn't need a general manager and or your tired football cliches.  Oh, and he is trying to fix Tim Tebow's arm and Sam Bradford's knees.  Ah, yes, the legend of Chip Kelly!
But, there will come a time (sooner than later) when all of the cool anecdotes, color commentator praises, and feature stories in Grantland will no longer be enough.  He will need to separate himself from the competitors in this tough business to show that all that glitters is not just a shiny rock.  And that comes from accomplishment.  Now, when debating a Chip-enthusiast, be prepared for them to already assure you that he has done great things in Philadelphia.  I don't know if you have heard, but he won 10 games in his first two seasons which, they will promise you, is amazing and unheard of.
The following is a list graphic showing a few different coaches in their first 2 years in the NFL - with their names removed for fun:
Coach A21-110-15-8
Coach B18-141-17-5
Coach C20-120-14-7
Coach D18-140-25-4
So, the categories are for overall record in 2 seasons, playoff record for those 2 years, and then the overall record in those 2 years versus playoff teams in the regular season.
Not all things are created equal, but this is the actual production for each of these guys and perhaps shows you that there are several guys with rather similar credentials of success through the first 24 months.  You will be interested to know that when it comes to injuries and strength of schedule, there are comparable situations for sure.
Ok, let's reveal who these 4 coaches are...
Arians, Arizona,  '13-'1421-110-15-8
McCoy, San Diego, '13-1418-141-17-5
Kelly, Philly,  '13-1420-120-14-7
Gailey, Dallas,  '98-9918-140-25-4
If the point is that something awesome is being built in a different way in Philadelphia, then that is a fun conversation that has an answer similar to the question of whether you have a favorite flavor of ice cream.  You may like strawberry more than vanilla, and that is cool and nothing I can say will change your mind.
But, if the discussion is based on accomplishments and cold, hard facts, well, then we can see that Bruce Arians in Arizona has a real argument for lack of press (it is not sexy to write a feature on an old coach who has been in the NFL forever) and has done so with massive QB injury chaos where Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley started 10 games for him last year in a very difficult division.
If the accomplishment you seek is a playoff win, then look at Mike McCoy, who is still a very young NFL head coach who receives little attention in San Diego.  If you want the only guy on that list who made the playoffs in each of his first 2 years at the helm, then perhaps I can interest you in Chan Gailey, who the Cowboys then fired immediately.
Are you honestly trying to compare Chan Gailey to Chip Kelly???  It really is pretty amazing what having the media do your public relations can do for a guy, right?
In some respects, Chip Kelly is kind of like these other guys, but with a cool grasp of sleep monitors and free agency.
Does that mean I am anti-Kelly?  Not at all.  I would just like us to continue to put the cart behind the horse and wait to see how this all plays out.  Personally, I think his grabbing of the personnel wheel in Philadelphia will be his ultimate undoing, as almost no coach in the modern game can run his own personnel, call his own plays, and be the head coach.  It is a trio of responsibilities that no one man can accomplish.
By the way,  I think Andy Reid was a fantastic coach in Philadelphia, and with 10 playoff wins there, he doesn't need me to defend him.  He has those.  Is Kelly the best coach that the NFL has hired out of the college ranks since Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson?  Maybe.  And that makes for great copy.  But, you could argue that while NFL-lifers Mike Zimmer and Bruce Arians are hard to write 2,500-word think-pieces on, they may be just as good at coaching football as Kelly.  Which, of course, is the actual goal for those men.
One of them might be coaching in the Pac-12 or commentating on television by the year 2018.  It will be interesting to find out which one of these coaches are the latest fad and who will be running the league like Pete Carroll in 3 more seasons.
As Blackie Sherrod would say, "Clip and Save" this blog entry.

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