Saturday, July 27, 2013

Win One For the Chipper

Like many people who have followed Oregon football for a while, I am very interested to see how Chip Kelly does in the NFL. The Philadelphia Eagles opened fall training camp this week, and Chip had his first post-practice press conference. It sounds like Chip. Still weird to see him in a different visor, though.

The biggest question is not whether Chip will succeed in the league. That would merely be a product of what is, to me, the biggest question around every coach when they first take over a team- and that's whether the players buy in to what you're selling as a coach- how you practice, how you play, what you do to succeed. That's true at every single level of every sport, whether that's Pop Warner or the NFL, little league or the Pac-12.

You know this if you've played any sort of organized sport, from little league on up. A team takes on the personality of the most dominant coach in the program. Even in little league, there are teams that play rougher, there are teams that freak out in pressure situations- and there are teams that are laughing and joking no matter the situation, the down, the distance, how much they trail, or how much they're ahead. And that, from T-ball on up to the New York Yankees, comes from the most dominant coach on the team- and that should always be the head coach.

As for what's happening in the land of cheesesteak.... although it's very early, it appears that Chip's Win the Day culture has migrated three thousand miles to the city of Brotherly Love. Already, the guys are talking like Chip, saying every day is a competition (believe me, I heard that every day covering Oregon football).

Yes, Chip will win with good players. But Chip's idea of good players and “the establishment's” idea of good players are two different things. Oregon succeeded because Chip didn't go for guys that were five-star recruits, he got guys that fit what he wanted to do. And that's where I don't understand rating recruits at all. A five-star player for one team is a zero star player for another team. If you want fast running backs, a 300-pound fullback is not a five-star player for you. But if you're running a deliberate student body left offense, a 300-pound fullback will have immense value. Let's face it, most five-star players would be rated five-star players by 85 year old Swedes, because they're the best player on the field.

Chip's idea is that all players must perform to the best of their abilities all the time- which is, admittedly, on surface a pretty normal thing to expect. But many coaches, when they use the term “all players,” don't actually mean “all players”- they mean “everybody who isn't a star.” Former Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson had the best line about this- he said to his players, “I'm going to treat everybody the same- I'm going to treat every one of you differently.” This is not talking at cross-purposes, it's actually quite plain. One third-stringer got cut for falling asleep in a film session. Michel Irvin could have driven to practice in a car made of cocaine and wouldn't have gotten cut (and that many have actually happened). Jimmy worked the star system- Chip doesn't. There are no slackers on a Chip Kelly football team, and anybody can end up number one. That's what Win the Day means.

It appears the Philly fans have taken a page from Duck fans, and bought into WTD as well. A recent poll question on PhiladelphiaEagles.com asked which non-starter had the best chance to make an impact during camp. The winner, with 43 percent of the vote, was a rookie, 7th-round draft pick Jordan Poyer, a cornerback from Oregon State. While with the Ducks, Chip always raved about JP during Civil War week. When Poyer was taken by Philly this spring, all Oregon media (myself included) and probably plenty of Philly media played up the fact that Chip liked him, and said so for the last four years. In that press conference I linked to at the beginning, Chip didn't go three minutes before he referenced JP. It's clear that he has high expectations for a seventh-round draft pick... and when was the last time you heard a head coach expect a seventh-round draft pick to compete for a starting job immediately? Even several years ago when Bill Bellichick drafted Matt Cassel in the 7th round, a quarterback who hadn't started a game since high school, everyone knew he was at least a two-year project (and also that it was a great pick- Bill got a good season out of him when he needed one, never mind that Cassel hasn't done a damn thing since.  Plenty of 7th round picks want one game). But this is Chip we're talking about. If you're on the team, even a 7th round pick, you're on the team for a reason- he thinks you can be a great player in his system. Not in two years, but today.

With that, it appears that Chip has at least won the first day. I just have to get used to him in a different visor, that's all.