News of the surprise hire of Chip Kelly as the 21st head coach in Philadelphia Eagles history dominated Twitter timelines early this afternoon. From fans to analysts and former players, it seems everyone has a strong opinion on the new man in charge.
But what factors will ultimately determine Coach Kelly’s success or failure in Philadelphia? Joel H. Fish, Ph.D., director of The Center for Sport Psychology and Sports Doc panelist, shares his thoughts on what the new hire means for the Eagles. From a sports psychology perspective, Dr. Fish predicts an active and interesting start to the Chip Kelly era.
“I think [Kelly] will be given a longer honeymoon than most coaches,” he offers. “After 14 years, the fans are ready for a change. His track record is such that there’s a strong basis to believe that over time, his system can work.”
Of course, the coach’s first orders of business will be personnel-based: assessing the current roster and working with general manager Howie Roseman to prepare for free agency and the April draft. What will it mean for the current players on a team coming off of consecutive disappointing seasons?
“Whether you’re a rookie or a veteran, everybody wants to make a good impression on the new boss,” says Dr. Fish. “That’s true in football or anywhere else. That desire can produce better focus, preparation and energy.”
At the same time, the onus is on Coach Kelly to give every player his fair chance. “Reputation at the pro level can either be your best friend, or it can be a ball and chain,” says Dr. Fish. “The best thing I think the new coach can do is make it clear that ‘I’m wiping the slate clean, and everyone has a fair chance to show me what you can do.’”
Yet it can’t be ignored that Chip Kelly’s brand of football demands a certain type of athlete. In four years at the University of Oregon, Kelly compiled a 46-7 record thanks in large part to an innovative offense that put up video game-type numbers en route to three Pac-12 championships.
Dr. Fish agrees that some degree of turnover—both on the active roster and amongst the assistant coaches—is to be expected. He says that familiarity and loyalty are of utmost importance to a new coach.
“It’s not necessarily that the new people are more talented than the new regime,” he explains. “It’s more a matter of the coach surrounding himself with those people who he can trust.”
The lack of guaranteed contracts in the NFL—as opposed to many other professional sports—is a huge factor in guarding against complacency among NFL players. This factor is multiplied with the presence of a coach who is not only new to Philadelphia, but new to the NFL as a whole.
“The lack of guaranteed contracts takes away that feeling of security,” says Dr. Fish. “So the idea of everyone trying to make that first impression, being on their best behavior—that can give you a short-term jolt as an organization. Will that become a long-term, lasting turnaround? Well, that’s what determines which coaches make it, and which coaches don’t last.”
That brings us to the Philadelphia fans. Coach Kelly has a well-earned reputation for innovation and an unconventional, statistically-based approach to coaching—traits that likely endeared him to Jeffrey Lurie and other members of the organization involved in the coaching decision. But what will happen the first time one of Kelly’s risks backfires? How will the Lincoln Financial Field faithful react?
“People come to Philly because they’re competitors,” summarizes Dr. Fish. “They have a ‘bring-it-on’ attitude, they want to be evaluated. In this city, win or lose he will hear it from the fans.”
“So yes, you’ll have some fans doing the Monday-morning quarterbacking. But overall, I think people are excited and looking forward to seeing what Kelly will do.”