Eagles fans are brimming with hope for the upcoming season, and that’s all because Chip Kelly has made it crystal clear just what kind of coach he is. The popular leader has proven he cares about his team, understands the fans (and feels their pain), and is ready to make changes that will help the team win games. His philosophy is to improve day by day, step by step, so tomorrow you can say you’re better than today. If you can do that, you can call yourself great. It’s a simple perspective that’s not all that easy to carry out. But he’s there to help. Because he’s there to win.

Chip Kelly is on the move. Nothing unusual there. Kelly is a ball of energy, and if you want to live in his world, you’d better appreciate the pace of life he leads.

In this instance, Kelly has held a morning press briefing at the NovaCare Complex in South Philadelphia and heads out to the practice field as his Philadelphia Eagles take another step closer to the 2014 season.

He conducts his business with some personality, as always. On this day, Kelly is asked about depth-chart decisions, and he replies that there is no depth chart this early in the process. Then there’s the blaring music that envelopes practice – “training sessions,” as they are termed in the Kelly camp – and Kelly gives the thumbs up for more volume, and everyone laughs.

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Chip Kelly and Eagles running back LeSean McCoy

It’s that kind of time for Kelly and for the Eagles, a partnership that seems to have turned a football franchise in the right direction in 2013. The Eagles improved from a 4-12 team in 2012 to a 10-6 team in 2013, winning the NFC East and reaching the playoffs for the first time since the 2010 season. Clearly, Kelly’s approach – on-the-go, pay attention to details, improve every day – resonated throughout the locker room as the Eagles won seven of their final eight games in the regular season to capture the division.

So here is Kelly, moving forward, always looking for any advantage to help his football team. He is a football lifer, attacking the game all day, every day. Kelly’s mission is to find any method, no matter how unconventional, to make the Philadelphia Eagles a better football team today. And then even better tomorrow.

“He makes it a lot of fun for everyone,” says tight end Brent Celek, who is entering his eighth NFL season. “The tempo is fast, and we’re on the go the whole time. He’s the kind of coach you want to play for. He gives you a lot of chances to prove yourself on the practice field, and he keeps it light for everyone.

“But he also has high expectations and requires you to be thorough and precise. That’s what you want. He’s a coach who makes you better every day.”

“There are a lot of nuances that you are asked on a daily basis that I’ve never experienced,” says tight ends coach Ted Williams, who began as a college coach in 1980 and has been coaching in the NFL, and with the Eagles, since 1995. “I’ve never heard people asking players, ‘How did you sleep?’ Now I understand how important it is. Chip looks at diet and nutrition, and how players can get the soreness out of their muscles. These are things that football coaches didn’t consider in the past. What Chip wants is as much information that can be provided to him, and then he works with the right people to determine how to maximize that information for the better of his players and his team.”

That very message is one of Kelly’s fundamentals: Win the day. It is a mantra he took from New Hampshire through the University of Oregon and now to Philadelphia. If you are better today than you were yesterday, you can call yourself great.

“I could never call myself a great football player before,” says linebacker Connor Barwin, who joined the Eagles in March 2013 after four seasons with the Houston Texans. “But Chip said something to us early when I got here. He said that our goal should be to do one thing to make us a better player each day. I can say now that I’ve done that, and by doing so, I’ve made myself into a great football player.

“That’s the challenge that Chip wants every player in our locker room to take. I accepted that, and it made a difference for me on the football field and in my life.”

Kelly greets a soldier prior to the start of Military Appreciation Day at Eagles Training Camp last summer

Kelly greets a soldier prior to the start of Military Appreciation Day at Eagles Training Camp last summer

The genius of Kelly circles around the concept of “why?” For any new concept, any new plan, the introspective coach has to understand the “why.” And when introducing the idea to the team, he makes sure they understand the “why” also.

“I’ve always been a ‘why’ guy,” says Kelly. “I have always tried to figure out how things happen and what they are. I’ve always been curious about it from that standpoint. And most of the time the ‘whys’ are right. We don’t change drastically. I think that’s kind of silly, if you’re changing for the sake of change. You change when change is necessary.

“I had never been a head coach before [Kelly’s first head coaching job was at Oregon in 2009], and so when I became a head coach I asked a million questions: ‘How do you do this? How does the training room operate?’ That wasn’t under my domain when I was the offensive coordinator [prior to being a head coach]. I just wanted it to be explained to me – what the protocol is for anything that can touch the football team. From there, you develop what you want and what your philosophies are going to be.”

It’s easy to see how Kelly is a hands-on head coach, typically staying on the same page with his coaching staff. His relationship with his players is one that encompasses a demanding approach and, when it’s required, a nurturing hand.

The human element is very much a part of Kelly’s program.

“I think you can be demanding and strict. I think we always are. I think the one thing is that everyone understands the vision and the culture of the team and adheres to it,” says Kelly. “That doesn’t mean you have to be impersonal and that you can’t speak to them and talk with them, find out a little bit more about them. ‘How was your weekend?’ things like that. Because you have a human side to you doesn’t mean you can’t be demanding too.”

Kelly, a man of mystery to many in the media, is an open book to his football team. He says he encourages that kind of team-first, we’re-a-family approach.

“We’re all Philadelphia Eagles, so there’s no place that’s sacred, where you’re not allowed to go [at the NovaCare Complex],” says Kelly. “ I think at certain times, that’s when problems occur in the locker room, because coaches aren’t in the locker room enough. You shouldn’t have to worry about, ‘Well, the coaches are here. We have to act differently.’ They should be able to behave the way we were all taught to behave – to be a good person, to be a good teammate, to be a good neighbor. That’s just part of the deal.

“If I had my ways – obviously, I think there are fire codes to it – there should be no doors on anything. You shouldn’t have to worry about things going on behind closed doors if you are doing things the right way.”

August 2014
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