One of the first things that Bill McGovern learned from Chip Kelly was the proper way to go to bed. McGovern, the Eagles' outside linebackers coach, grew up in Oradell, N.J., the son of a truck driver. His father left for work before the kids were awake and returned home after they were asleep, and he'd often wake McGovern up in the middle of the night - just like he did McGovern's five brothers and two sisters - with a kiss on the forehead, the still-drowsy child not knowing whether Dad had just finished a road trip or was on his way out the door again.
"I thought," McGovern was saying recently, "that's the way you did it."
More than two years into Kelly's tenure as the Eagles' head coach, everyone is still trying to get a handle on him. What is a Chip Kelly player? What does a Chip Kelly team look like? What does it play like? There are clues and terms and phrases that have already become clichés. Sports science. Play fast. Buy in. Culture beats scheme. He looked at the team's roster at the end of last season not in the way a sculptor looks at stone, but in the way a jackhammer operator does. He's gotten rid of and/or angered players who had been productive: DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Nick Foles - and, as of Thursday afternoon, Evan Mathis. He's brought in players with indisputable talent and spotty injury histories: Sam Bradford, Kiko Alonso, DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews. How will this strategy play out? What does Kelly see that others don't? We're all still learning.
McGovern is, too. You'd think that, if you were looking for the truest insight into Kelly's methods, you'd go right to the men who coach alongside him every day. They'd know him best. Except here's McGovern, 52 years old, with a white goatee and an accent that's part North Jersey and part New England, a coach who's seen a lot in football, and he keeps seeing new things with Kelly. He had 27 years of college coaching experience before Kelly hired him in 2013. His tie to Kelly was Jerry Azzinaro, the Eagles' defensive-line coach and assistant head coach, who had worked with McGovern at UMass and Boston College and with Kelly at Oregon. McGovern knew of Kelly, but he'd never worked with or under him before. Still, this was an NFL coaching job, and he wasn't about to say no to an NFL coaching job.
Then, not long after joining the Eagles, McGovern listened to Kelly's philosophies on sleep and rest. Don't tell me, "That's the way it's always been done. That's not the correct answer," Kelly told his coaches. "Let's find the best way to do it." And McGovern thought about how he'd always done things a certain way, and how his father had, too.
"Chip was saying, 'You've got to get your sleep at night - players, coaches, everybody,' " McGovern said. "Otherwise, you're not going to have your senses about you when you come in. You're not going to be at your best when you walk in. It was something that, when you think about it, it makes sense. If you're going to burn the candle at both ends, if you're going to be there all night, you're going to run yourself into the ground. The old way was, you've got to spend all your hours here. It was interesting just to think about it."
Sometimes, McGovern said, Kelly will distribute articles or suggest books to his coaching staff - material to be read and considered and discussed.
"Me and Azz were talking about something we read the other day," McGovern said, "something about the mind."
Over those 27 years in college ball, McGovern had never had a head coach push him intellectually like this. His fascination with what Kelly was doing began to go beyond football. He and his wife, Colleen, have three daughters, and he started asking himself whether Kelly - 51 years old, unmarried, no children - might make him a better parent.
"He talks about everything - how you teach guys, how you talk to people," McGovern said. "He kind of gets you going into reading about different things. You could kind of get real stagnant in your ways. My old man was kind of like that. He'd drive. He'd come home. He'd read his paper, have his whiskey. He'd be all set. He'd be an easy man to assassinate. You'd know exactly where he's going to be.
"With Chip, you're always trying to open your mind to something else. It makes me think about how I'm raising my kids. How do they think? How do they approach something? How do they wake up? How do they go to school? How do they go to bed at night?"
That's the funny thing about sports these days. Everyone wants answers right now. Everyone wants to know whether Bradford will be healthy enough to play Week 1 and who will replace Mathis at left guard and what kind of NFL receiver Nelson Agholor will be. Hell, around here everyone wants assurances, especially about the Eagles, because everyone cares so damn much. But here's the thing: Nothing is assured in sports, ever, and besides, as Bill McGovern will tell you, with Chip Kelly the questions are more interesting, and more important.