There are many different sides to Chip Kelly, none of them easily discernible to the naked eye.
Kelly is a very private man, doing only the bare essentials when it comes to dealing with the media. He rarely — if ever — grants one-on-one interviews and shouts terse answers to reporter’s questions. Not in a menacing way, in a Chip Kelly way.
Kelly has an up-tempo attitude to match an up-tempo offense. He talks fast, he walks fast and he coaches fast — and Kelly hasn’t changed since leaving the lush college campus in Eugene, Ore. behind.
“He’s still the same. To me, he’s still the same Chip,” said Casey Matthews, who played under Kelly for two seasons at Oregon. “He’ll drop jokes. He’s a good coach, he’s a good speaker and he’s getting better and better. I’m not saying he was terrible [before coming to NFL] but how he talks to the team pregame, it makes you want to go and play. It gets you fired up. He tells you a story about … I have examples, but I can’t think.”
Matthews pauses for a long second, thinking out loud, then laughs.
“He’ll tell a story that kind of relates to you, but it will be about something completely different from football,” Matthews said. “But he’ll relate it to football and how we prepare, like there’s a guy who was a kayaker — he was extreme and you talk about how he prepared and he just said, ‘No matter how you prepare, no matter what you’re doing, it’s the same preparation. You just got to put in the hours and stuff.’ He does a good job finding stories, as a head coach and even when he isn’t coaching, he’s just met quite a bit of people that he can have come in and talk to you.”
Kelly’s fan club is massive and distinguished. Patriots coach Bill Belichick has him on speed dial, as does retired boxer Micky Ward, who was famously portrayed in the movie “The Fighter.” Kelly is constantly drawing on stories from his celebrity friends, while tinkering with classic football logic. His decision to place a Sports Science Coordinator on the Eagles’ coaching staff had the NFL’s old guard scratching their heads.
“There’s a method behind everything he does,” Matthews said. “We have an up-tempo day followed by a shut-down day. It’s all mental, certain time frame, where two days before a game you rest, get your legs back up under you. He’s put a lot of research into what he does — nutrition, you know, there are guys that come in and talk to you about sleep, training and what alcohol does to you, nightlife and all that.”
While many wondered how his unconventional ways would translate at the professional level, it appears to be working. The Eagles sit atop the NFC East at 6-5, with five games left, and control their own destiny with the Arizona Cardinals coming into the Linc Sunday afternoon. Tunnel vision is required.
“Finish line means nothing if you don’t take care of it this week,” Kelly said Tuesday. “It doesn’t. I mean, I think it’s very obvious to everybody involved. I mean, we’ve already lost five games, so we can’t put ourselves in a situation. There is no leeway. I mean, we’re a one-week operation, and it’s just about the Cardinals. And that’s the way it should be.”
The entire locker room has bought into Kelly’s philosophy, no easy task considering he replaced longtime player favorite Andy Reid. And Kelly is doing it on his own terms, with smart research, creative playcalling and attention to detail.
The Eagles spend more time practicing special teams than Reid ever did. Kelly’s short sideline sound bytes are reflective of his personality, too. He’s not one to give long-winded, pom-pom waving halftime speeches.
“What you see with him in the media is kind of what how he is around us,” said wide receiver Will Murphy, who played under Kelly for five seasons at Oregon after making the team as a walk-on. “He’s very matter of fact, straight to the point, not one of those rah-rah coaches before games. He states what we need to do and that’s that.”
Once in a while, Kelly will flash a goofy grin, usually after Nick Foles executes the read-option and scrambles for four yards. He’s also thrown out a couple fist bumps and hip checks after touchdown plays. For the most part, he keeps it even keeled around his players and lets them figure things out on their own. There are no mandatory trips to the principal’s office.
“I never really sat in his office and talked with him one-on-one,” said Murphy. “He’s always out trying to help prepare the team, but I haven’t seen any difference between when he was out in Oregon from here in Philadelphia.”
Matthews agreed, adding that it’s extremely rare to see Kelly in the defensive meeting room. He watches the unit from afar, like a father calling his daughter on prom night, just to check in.
“He lets [defensive coordinator] Billy [Davis] coach,” Matthews said. “He doesn’t sit in on those meetings, but he knows what he’s doing. He’s more concerned with the offense. I’m not saying he leaves the defense alone, but he knows what he’s doing.”
While the Eagles’ high-octane offense gets most of the praise — the team ranks No. 4 in total offense, No. 9 in points, No. 1 in rushing — it has been the defense fueling the Birds’ three-game winning streak. The defense is holding opponents to 20 percent in the red zone, giving up just two touchdowns in 10 trips, over the past three weeks.
After the game — if it doesn’t interfere with a player’s diet, of course — Kelly is a guy you can sit down and have a beer with.
“He’s one of the guys,” said Matthews. “He’s different … with his mindset, his attitude, he’s a player’s coach. I’ve had coaches with no personality, that’s not Chip. He’s right in the thick of things, dropping jokes and all that.”
Follow Mike Greger on Twitter @mike_greger.