And from this point forward, the author of this humble weblog decided to give the 49ers the benefit of the doubt.
Am I a card-carrying member of the Chip Kelly Fan Club (if such a club or card existed)? Not really. That might be David Neumann, the fine football writer for Niners Nation who spelled out three “misconceptions” about Kelly. It’s worth a read if you’re looking for reasons to be excited about this hire.
I don’t know nearly enough about Kelly to bury him as an NFL head coach after what happened in Philadelphia, even if these comments from LeSean McCoy present a major red flag for a team that has oodles of cap money to spend on free agents.
“The relationship was never really great. I feel like I always respected him as a coach. I think that’s the way he runs his team. He wants the full control. You see how fast he got rid of all the good players. Especially all the good black players. He got rid of them the fastest. That’s the truth. There’s a reason. … It’s hard to explain with him. But there’s a reason he got rid of all the black players — the good ones — like that.”
Was that indicative of Kelly’s racist tendencies, or unfounded criticism from a disgruntled ex-Eagle who decided to make locker room whispers public in a Q&A? Kelly took a team that was 4-12 in 2012 to consecutive 10-6 seasons. If he can match or better that improvement with the 49ers, there will be few complaints about his personality.
That doesn’t mean the players won’t get a major shock when they meet with their new coach for the first time.
Here’s how Jim Tomsula described the team’s preparation — or lack thereof — heading into their Thursday night game against Seattle.
“We did a walk-thru on Monday and then Tuesday we did about an hour-and-a-half on the field and then on Wednesday we did about 40 minutes on the field. But the tempo was way down. We didn’t work the timing things and the high-speed things. We just walked through the assignments. I mean, you’ve got to take care of the bodies.”
On the day before each game, the Eagles would run a full-speed practice. Can you imagine Tomsula, who coddled his players, doing such a thing?
Kelly’s attention to scientific detail was well-known. They players were given personalized recovery smoothies. Everything was monitored, including heart rate, agility, acceleration, fatigue, stress, aerobic capacity, sleep and urine output. Yes, urine output. The players’ hydration levels were ranked.
Kelly is an odd duck, but if Jed York was looking for a coach to mesh with his Silicon Valley mindset, he might have found the right guy.
In two years, the 49ers have moved from a glacially-paced offense ran by Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman, to an offense as unexciting as non-alcoholic vanilla extract thanks to Geep Chryst, to Kelly’s tempo-based attack. Where Harbaugh and Roman preferred pre-snap shifts and complexity, Kelly goes for a simple injection of speed on every snap. There won’t be any delay of game calls as long as Kelly is in charge.
Give credit to the 49ers for this — they spit on the status quo with this hire, and they didn’t go cheap. Kelly may not have been as popular with teams as Hue Jackson appeared to be, but it doesn’t matter how many teams are lining up in January if he ends up being the right person for the job.
But is he? A lot rides on who runs his offense on the field. Many believe this is a unexpected reprieve for Colin Kaepernick, whom Kelly reportedly likes. But Blaine Gabbert ran a spread offense in Missouri and costs a lot less. It might make sense for the 49ers to keep both quarterbacks around and let Kelly choose, especially since there’s no guarantee they’ll get a franchise signal-caller in the draft. Trent Baalke probably wants to draft a linebacker and an offensive lineman in the first and second rounds, anyway. But Kaepernick has more than a few reasons to want a fresh start somewhere else, and the 49ers might not feel he’s worth the effort if he needs to be convinced to stick it out for one more year.
Then again, his trio of surgeries might make this a moot point. If they can’t release him before April 1 or come to some sort of settlement, the 49ers and Kelly are stuck with Kaepernick. Maybe “stuck” is the wrong word, if Kelly sees Kaepernick as the best available quarterback for his system.
Kelly also makes sense for this team, because he made his mark in college and pushes his athletes. This is a very young roster. Replacing Harbaugh with Kelly in 2012 probably wouldn’t have worked out too well. However, while the 2016 49ers aren’t loaded with experienced stars who can outwit their opponents (yet), they have fresh legs that can handle the extra conditioning Kelly will require.
Kelly counterpoint: every championship-caliber 49ers team, from 1981 through 2013, had an above-average or great defense.
Kelly’s defenses were in the bottom five in total yards allowed all three years in Philadelphia, but that’s a little misleading considering the increased number of snaps. The Eagles were 20th in yards allowed per play in 2013, 17th in 2014, and 22nd in 2015. Not great, but not quite the disaster that’s been portrayed. By the way, the 49ers were 27th in that category in 2015 after top-10 finishes in each of the previous six seasons.
So it’s up to Baalke to fill this team with athletes (preferably players with two intact ACLs, since that generally makes it easier for players to take on extra wind-sprints).
Speaking of the all-powerful GM
There were a lot of clues on the radio over the last 24 hours when it came to this hire.
- Yesterday Matt Maiocco said on 95.7 that Tomsula’s job was safe until the last week of the season, when something happened. He alluded to the timing of Kelly’s termination (Dec. 29) possibly persuading the Yorks to fire Tomsula.
- Later that day on KNBR, Bob Fitzgerald trumpeted Kelly’s record at Oregon and Philadelphia as the reason why he was the best available candidate.
- This afternoon I heard Greg Papa discuss his own friendship with Gamble, how they hung out at Gamble’s house in Pleasanton and shared some “lemonades.” Papa described how much Gamble respected Kelly, and even brought up the possibility that one day Gamble might run the show in Santa Clara.
Kelly has shown to be a lousy NFL talent evaluator when left to his own devices, but this hire is good news for 49ers fans who are sick of Baalke. Baalke is not an upper-tier GM in my opinion, especially since I’m currently working on an updated version of my “Grading Trent Baalke” post from last year with his moves in 2015. Hint: his grade is going down from the overall B- he earned for his work in 2010-14.
If Maiocco, an excellent beat writer, is correct that the 49ers decided against keeping Tomsula after Kelly got fired, Kelly almost has to be a Jed guy … right? There’s no way firing — and paying — Tomsula was Baalke’s call.
And maybe this means absolutely nothing, but York was the one who broke the news today.
— Jed York (@JedYork) January 14, 2016
This may be the last time York tweets about football matters for quite a while.
“I try to interact with fans as much as I can on social media. I’m going to continue to do that, but I want to do that in a way that doesn’t distract from the team,” York said at his press conference. “As much as I’d like to share how I feel about the team, it’s not helpful for our club for me to talk about how I feel when we win, how I feel when we lose. It’s ultimately a distraction.”
Now that the search is over, the questions haven’t ended. They’ve only begun, including several mentioned earlier in this post (the QB situation, whether Kelly has a bad rep with players across the league, how the roster will be affected by Kelly’s unique schemes and preparation strategies).
But even more interesting than those questions, or whether Kelly’s personality (which Papa described as “prickly”) will remind his bosses a little too much of Harbaugh, will be to watch how Baalke shapes a broken, nearly star-free roster. He still has total control, as Kelly will just coach.
(Maybe this means a return for LaMichael James, a former Baalke draft pick who was probably Kelly’s most dominant player at Oregon! I jokingly tweeted that right after York announced they had hired Kelly, and LMJ retweeted it, but later unretweeted it … perhaps because the replies weren’t all that polite.)
With the Yorks deciding to put their money where Jed’s mouth was, and with a high draft pick and all those available funds at Baalke’s disposal, they will expect results. And if Baalke loses power over the coming year, to either Gamble, Kelly or both in tandem … oh man, the fireworks we’re going to see.
Then again, the interplay between 49ers executives and coaches has been fascinating for quite some time, often for the wrong reasons. If Kelly can make sure the product on the field matches the entertainment value of the 49ers’ front office shenanigans, we’ll all be better off. Because as we all learned from the 2015 season, football is no fun when it’s nothing more than nap fuel.