January 21, 2013, 9:04 am
Q. Why are you so pessimistic about Chip Kelly? I saw you on Comcast SportsNet last week and I heard you on WIP Saturday, and you made it sound like Kelly was a terrible hire for the Eagles. Why so negative?
A. I received a number of e-mails saying the same thing – that I was writing off the Chip Kelly hire as a foolish move that is doomed to failure. Just to set the record straight, I said no such thing.
I did say I was skeptical, which only means I have some doubts. Other analysts, such as Heath Evans of NFL.com and my old friend John Clayton at ESPN were far more critical of the hire. John used the term “disaster” in projecting Kelly as an NFL coach. I did not say anything close to that.
What I said, basically, is let’s wait and see. I know that’s an unsatisfying answer in an age of media punditry where opinions are expected to be immediate and absolute, but it is best I can do. It isn’t meant to be negative.
My biggest concern with Kelly is his lack of NFL experience. It is a huge factor and it cannot be dismissed. It doesn’t mean Kelly can’t overcome it and be successful, but it is an issue. Look at the history of coaches who tried to make the same leap. See how many crashed and burned.
Marc Garber, a frequent e-mailer from Marietta, Ga., was kind enough to research all the head coaches who were hired with no pro experience since 1970. Kelly is the 15th coach to try it. Of the previous 14, only two won a Super Bowl and they are Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer, who rode Johnson’s coattails in Dallas.
The others could be divided into the following categories:
Successful – Don Coryell (St. Louis, San Diego).
Somewhat successful – John Ralston (Denver), Chuck Fairbanks (New England), John McKay (Tampa Bay, made it to an NFC title game).
Unsuccessful – Dan Devine (Green Bay), Tommy Prothro (Rams, Chargers), Bud Wilkinson (St. Louis Cardinals), Daryl Rodgers (Detroit), Dennis Erickson (Seattle, San Francisco).
Disasters – Bill Peterson (Houston, went 1-18), Lou Holtz (didn’t finish one season with the Jets), Bobby Petrino (didn’t finish one season in Atlanta).
You can toss in Steve Spurrier, who had pro playing experience but no pro coaching experience when he made the jump from the University of Florida, where he was the hottest coach in the land, to the Redskins, where he fizzled out in two seasons.
Every situation is different, and it is impossible to compare Chip Kelly to, say, Lou Holtz, but it would be naïve to pretend this history doesn’t matter.
Pro football is a different game. The athletes are older, wealthier and more independent. They are as likely to listen to their agent as their coach. In college, the coach is king. He runs everything. He calls every shot from practice times to the pre-game meal. The NFL is a billion-dollar business with more layers and more people to answer to.
Some coaches are smart enough and slick enough to adapt. Others never figure it out. Where Kelly fits, we don’t know just yet.
I have two concerns: One involves the frenetic tempo of his offense. I know that’s what has many people, including Jeff Lurie, excited. But to play at that pace on Sunday, a team must practice at that pace during the week. It isn’t that hard to do in college with more than 100 players including scout teamers who will run reps forever. But it is more of a challenge in the NFL, where you have half as many players, many of whom are older and more battered and may be unavailable for days at a time.
That is why it is critical that Kelly hire assistant coaches with pro experience, guys who understand the rhythms of an NFL season as well as the restrictions put in place by the players union regarding practices, training camp, contact drills, etc. Kelly needs time to build his team but that time will be dictated, in part, by things beyond his control. He is not in Oregon anymore.
The other concern is his level of commitment. Kelly has been a college coach. He has enjoyed enormous success and made a lot of money as a college coach. He knows he can thrive there. For him, pro football is a leap into the unknown. What happens if it doesn’t go well? How long will it be before he starts getting a wistful “take me back to campus” look in his eye?
Holtz and Petrino didn’t make it through one season before deciding pro football wasn’t for them. Spurrier gave it two years. The point is that they knew they could go back to college and pick up where they left off. The NFL would be just a footnote in their resume, a fling that didn’t work out. They landed on their feet. It was their franchises that took the fall.
In time, we’ll get a better read on Chip Kelly and we’ll have a better sense of whether this marriage will be a success. I’m not saying it can’t work. Jimmy Johnson proved it can work. Don Coryell, even though he never won a Super Bowl, proved it can work.
I’m just saying let’s wait and see.
E-mail Ray Didinger at firstname.lastname@example.org