Chip Kelly and Jim Harbaugh split their Pac-12 games 1-1 when they were at Oregon and Stanford respectively.
Since their college days, Harbaugh has led the 49ers to a Super Bowl and Kelly has taken the league by storm leading the Eagles to an NFC East title his first season there. Sunday will be their first clash in the NFL.
“One thing about Jim, he’s won everywhere he’s been,” Kelly said. “He won when he was a player. He won when he was at the University of San Diego. He won when he was at Stanford. He’s obviously been very, very successful with the 49ers. He’s a competitor. He’s a grinder. He’s got a passion for this game, and his teams kind of reflect his personality.”
Though the two aren’t buddies, or even friends, they do keep tabs on each other.
“I got a chance to visit and watch the 49ers practice when I was at Oregon,” Kelly remembered. “So we have a relationship with all the guys. You meet them at league meetings and get a chance to spend time with them in the offseason. But I don’t call him during the season or text him or any of those things.”
The 49ers have a solid defense, but play with a certain flair, one that is reflected in Kelly’s teams ranging from Oregon to Philadelphia.
The two seem to have sort of a generational connection — both are exactly 50 years old, relatively young for an NFL head coach. And they both followed a similar path to the big stage, working their way up through college ranks and eventually the Pac 12.
“I have a great deal of respect for him,” Kelly said. He’s a hell of a football coach.”
The respect is mutual, as Harbaugh revealed in his press conference Wednesday. He and other NFL coaches always keep an eye on what Kelly is doing in Philadelphia. According to the 49ers coach, its like facing Oregon again, only a bit more advanced.
“It’s evolved,” Harbaugh said of Kelly’s offensive philosophy. “They’ve done some great things offensively. I see their fingerprints on the defense as well. You see a progression and consistently good football and great adjustments and sound schematics. Very clever, well-schemed ideas.”
One thing that scares Harbaugh is the way Kelly can adjust. And more than that, it’s the way he can make a hairpin turn and catch a defense off guard.
“They definitely have that element of surprise, of unpredictability,” Harbaugh said. “They do a great job in that regard.”