Friday, April 18, 2014
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McCoy incident shows how Kelly is winning over Eagles locker room

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

Chip Kelly wanted LeSean McCoy to hit the hole. He told the Eagles running back that as he ran off the field. McCoy didn't like what he heard, yelled back, and said there was no hole to hit.

The conversation resumed a moment later, when Kelly walked over to McCoy near the bench late in the Eagles' 31-20 win over the Buccaneers. Television cameras caught the exchange, and McCoy appeared slightly agitated as his coach spoke.

Asked about the encounter Thursday, Kelly joked that the chat was about "just life in general."

After the game, Kelly watched the coaches' film. Apparently he realized, after seeing the end-zone view, that McCoy was right - there was no hole. Kelly then apologized to McCoy in front of the team, according to Eagles sources.

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    McCoy didn't think it was necessary, a source close to the player said. It was in the heat of the moment. Sideline spats happen all the time. Player and coach, after nine months, have already developed a deep bond. McCoy didn't respond to a request to comment Friday.

    But two days earlier he was asked about the on-camera exchange during his news conference. While McCoy didn't offer specifics, he did hint to the above story in which Kelly snapped at him.

    "He has that player mentality, attitude, where he's fired up," McCoy said. "Sometimes he's talking to me like he's out there running. We talk, and he challenged me to do different things. I like a [coach] that challenges some of his top players, where most coaches might let their guys go."

    McCoy had a father-son relationship with Andy Reid. He so respected his former coach that even up until the week before Reid was fired, McCoy thought he would return in 2013. Most of the other players felt the same way about Reid, but conceded that a change was in order.

    It took blind faith for some Eagles to immediately accept Kelly, who had never coached in the NFL. Still, it didn't take long for the players to buy in.

    That phrase - "to buy in" - is a nebulous one. But after five years in the locker room, when certain veterans, away from cameras and with microphones off, tell you they've bought in, you can tell what seems genuine and what seems fake.

    Three victories in six games - one fewer win than the Eagles had all of last season - have helped. So has Kelly's explosive offense, which appears legit enough to keep opposing defensive coordinators obsessed with stopping it. There will be trials, like last month's three-game skid, but Kelly has passed the sniff test and has the trust of the players as much as one can gather.

    That is why whichever way he goes at quarterback - with Michael Vick or Nick Foles - Kelly should have the support of the locker room. There is a controversy, or a "conversation," to use offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur's word, because Kelly has refused to declare Vick his starter no matter what.

    Kelly is obviously slow-playing a decision. If Foles regresses against the Cowboys on Sunday, it'll be easier to go back to Vick should he return from a hamstring injury next week. Kelly has a more difficult choice to make if Foles plays anywhere from good to a repeat of the Buccaneers game.

    Staying with Vick would be easy because it's the status quo. He won the competition in the preseason and remains a quarterback many of his teammates continue to admire and instinctively follow. Vick has also played well enough to keep the job.

    Replacing him with Foles, though, would be a monumental shift in the direction of the team. While it wouldn't mean Kelly was giving up on the playoffs, it would suggest he's peeking at the future.

    When Reid benched Kevin Kolb in favor of Vick in 2010, it was in many ways the opposite scenario. Kolb was the future, Vick the present. But Reid read his locker room correctly, and his players were on board.

    Coaches can get it wrong. There have been reports that Greg Schiano didn't have backing from a significant portion of the Tampa Bay locker room before he benched and released Josh Freeman. McCoy, it would seem, would be difficult to convince if Kelly went with Foles. He has a close relationship with Vick, and his running lanes have certainly looked larger when Vick has been at quarterback.

    But the McCoy-Kelly relationship has come a long way in a short time. In April, Kelly wouldn't allow the running back to make up a missed workout that cost him $100,000.

    "He gives me a different approach than other coaches because he wants me to be great," McCoy said. "There's times he'll ask me, 'How great do you want to be?' "

    It wasn't like Reid was soft on McCoy. He once threatened the Osi Umenyiora-hating running back with a benching if he ever publicly said another negative thing about the former New York Giants defensive end.

    Kelly has a more playful relationship with McCoy, although moments like Sunday's sideline spat are inevitable.

    "We talk all the time. It's never a negative thing," McCoy said. "We never have a problem with each other. I love Coach Kelly, and I'm so happy he's here."

     


    jmclane@phillynews.com

    @Jeff_McLane

     

    Jeff McLane Inquirer Staff Writer
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