Chip Kelly shows his human side
HALFWAY THROUGH a journey to who-knows-where, the idea that anybody has everything figured out - about the Eagles or about Chip Kelly (and especially about Chip Kelly) - is false. That is where we begin.
A lot of what we preconceived about Kelly has come through - the music at practice, the smoothies, the practicing on Tuesdays, the plays signaled in by hand and by sign, the sports-science business, the emphasis on tempo, the whole culture encapsulated in his two-word mantra: "Why not?"
So much more, though, is evolving. What began as a caricature is slowly transforming into a portrait, one with realistic details and unanticipated blemishes and with - what's the word? - humanity. This is a football coach, as it turns out, and not a robo-coach.
And when he looks at his team - 3-5 at the midway point of the season, heading for Oakland - he sees a work in progress. The way he talks about it, he sees a job that never gets done.
"Every day, we work at it," Kelly said, "and I think every day, you have to continue to look at what you do and how do we do it better and continue to work at it, and I say this all the time: 'You never arrive.'
"You never arrive as a player. You never arrive as a coach. You never arrive as an organization. Every single day, we've got to strive to do things better than we did them yesterday, and that's always been our approach.
"It's not like, 'All right, we're good, they've got it.' There's always something every day that we've got to cover this, we've got to cover that, and I think that's always been an approach, and I think it's always been a healthy approach, and I think to be successful in anything you do, you've got to be that way.
"You can never just say, 'Hey, we've got it,' " he said. "I think the time you say you've got it, you're going to get passed on by pretty quickly."
The expectation when Kelly got here was that everything he did would be data-driven. It just hasn't worked out that way. Sunday is a lot more about his feel for how things are going, and gut instincts, than strictly about numbers. Because the numbers don't tell you to try a 60-yard field goal against the Cowboys. They don't tell you to go for that onside kick against the Giants, either.
It is interesting, seeing this human element to Kelly going about his work. People forget sometimes that it is a people business, and that you cannot be a complete slave to the numbers, and that it is possible to conclude that your defense is playing well enough in a game (and your offense is struggling so badly) that taking a few wild swings might sometimes make some sense.
Kelly showed a pretty deft touch, and a strong understanding of his players, when he dealt with the Riley Cooper controversy. The job is not just football, or numerical calculations. The numbers say you don't try the field goal or the onside kick, and Kelly likely knew that, but watching him operate outside those margins was not expected. That is why this season has been fascinating.
Now we are in a position to see how he changes. How willing will he be to gamble the next time, now that a couple of the gambles have not worked? How much does he trust Matt Barkley on first-and-goal the next time? Will he ever be able to listen to Michael Vick talk about an injury the same way? You get the point. Coaching is about core principles, but it is about evolution, too. And we will see.
Kelly was not talking about himself here, but you get the sense that he might have been:
"I still think it's an everyday thing," he said. "Just because you did it right yesterday - we talk about it: Bad habits are like a bed; they're easy to get into and hard to get out of. You've got to continually, every single day, set your mindset that, 'This is what we're going to do.' And why are teams successful and then all of a sudden they make a run and then they can't make a run? Because they're late for practice."
At which point, laughing, Kelly bent over, grabbed the cap he had dropped at the base of the podium, and sprinted from the media tent next to the field out to the practice that had begun several seconds earlier. The answer, like the portrait, remained unfinished.
On Twitter: @theidlerich