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Friday, January 15, 2016

How Will Chip Kelly Do?

How will Chip Kelly do as the 49ers head coach? Who knows? Only time will tell. As I noted in a previous post ("What Should Chip Kelly Do?"), I thought Kelly would benefit from a few years working as an offensive coordinator for a successful coach, such as Bill Belichick. That said, I am cautiously optimistic. Although Kelly's star has faded somewhat in the last year, by all accounts he still possesses a brilliant offensive mind, something the Niners desperately need. And let's not forget that his first two years at Philly were successful. The Eagles finished 10-6 both years, they made for the playoffs in 2013, and they had a better record than the the Carolina Panthers in 2014, who qualified for the playoffs by winning their division with a 7-9 record. Problems didn't begin until 2015 when Kelly took over personnel decisions. Most people assume that he wanted this power, but reports in today's San Jose Mercury News suggest that personnel power was foisted on him and not necessarily his choice.

More interesting are some of the backstories to Kelly's hiring. One that is attracting a lot of attention is whether Kelly and Niner General Manager Trent Baalke (pictured above) will get along. Baalke's fractious relationship with Jim Harbaugh eventually led to Harbaugh's ouster, and we all know how well that worked out, and Kelly isn't known for his warm fuzzies. However, Baalke is on the hot seat and appears to have lost some favor with the York family (see below), so he may learned an important lesson in the "firing-Harbaugh and hiring-Tomsula" debacle: A key trait that NFL GMs must possess in order to be successful is the ability to get along with highly-talented coaches even if they're unlikable. We'll see if Baalke's learned that lesson. Moreover, Kelly is friends with 49ers senior personnel executive Tom Gamble, who worked in the Eagles front office from 2013-14 (and why Kelly got an interview with the Niners in the first place). Gamble's presence may help mitigate any potential friction between Baalke and Kelly.

Another is whether Kelly can gain the respect of his players. He reportedly "lost the locker room" this past year in Philadelphia, but that may have more to do with his personnel decisions than his frosty personality, and now that that personnel are no longer his to make, this may become a non-issue. Moreover, when your winning, almost everyone is happy and the media pay little attention to the those who are not. However, when you're losing, all of sudden those who are unhappy attract a disproportionate amount of media time. That is perhaps why Hall of Fame coach, Bill Parcells, recently dismissed reports about Kelly's cold relationships with players: "He's been a very successful coach, and there's been a lot of players he's coached that readily accepted him and he had a lot of success with those people." I think it's likely that there were several players on the Giants and Patriots who couldn't stand Parcells, but no one paid them any attention because the Giants and Patriots were winning. Of course, as the Niners learned with Mike Singletary and Jim Tomsula, teams with coaches who are loved by their players do not necessarily win. In fact, it has often been coaches, such as Bill Belichick, who haven't been known for their winsome ways who have done alright.

Finally, a story that isn't getting too much play, at least not yet, is the fact that Niner CEO Jed York appears to have hired Kelly over Baalke's objections. Kelly almost certainly wasn't high on Baalke's list. Baalke's a disciple of Bill Parcells and his grind-it-out running-oriented offense. It's no accident that he traveled all the way to New York to interview Tom Coughlin. Coughlin is Baalke's kind of coach. Kelly isn't. Thus, the fact that Jed chose Kelly may say a lot about Baalke's current standing in the Niners' organization.

P.S. On a somewhat different note: Don't be surprised if Kelly hires Lane Kiffin as his offensive coordinator. Kelly was in Alabama the week before the National Championship game; in fact, Kiffin incorporated some of Kelly's ideas into Alabama's offensive game plan.

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