Chip Kelly didn’t say much that would indicate how he’s changed, if at all, since his time in Philadelphia. He didn’t name a starting quarterback. He said he’d call his own plays and Trent Baalke would handle personnel, but we knew those things already.
It was your standard introductory press conference. Head coach and ownership blew kisses at each other, the positives (in this case, the 49ers’ brilliant history and future draft picks) were accentuated, and the principals stood on a stage holding footballs for yet another cheesy photo op. Press conferences don’t matter when the biggest questions (who was fired, who was hired) have already been answered and subjects don’t feel the need to answer the smaller ones (who will play quarterback, which assistants will surround the new head coach).
Well, that’s not always true. Intro press conferences matter when they are abject disasters.
“So, I’m used to not normal and I’m very comfortable in not normal. I didn’t say I was not normal.”
Jim Tomsula’s first officially sanctioned Q&A mattered quite a bit, because he needed to prove himself from the moment he signed his contract. Fans and media alike wanted to get a glimpse of whatever it was the Yorks saw in this defensive line coach, and what they saw on Jan. 15, 2015 created a doubter’s paradise.
As Tomsula muttered nonsense about “Joan in Payroll” and “Vilma at the front desk” in his opening statement, then followed with impossible-to-follow gibberish about how a coach is required to “adjust your schematics to fit the players,” the dreadful 2015 season we witnessed was right there in front of us. How could a group of 53 men, most of whom had just listened to Jim Harbaugh over the past year or more, take this guy seriously? How could anyone? The 49ers became Team Bozo over a period of less than a month, and despite a brief period where Tomsula got the benefit of the doubt (those in the know call it: “Training Camp”), the season followed a similar trail of confusion and despair that we witnessed during Tomsula’s first press conference and subsequent interview with CSN Bay Area’s Jim Kozimor.
To be clear, this wasn’t Tomsula’s fault. The 49ers placed him in an impossible position that he wasn’t equipped to handle. They should’ve known better, and they were served with a valuable lesson when fans stopped coming to the games.
Former Duck fits the bill
Kelly didn’t need to prove his worth as a football coach today. He made a huge imprint at Oregon, and despite how things ended in Philadelphia, 20 wins over two seasons after the team he inherited went 4-12 was a nice accomplishment. The questions about quarterbacks, interpersonal relationships and the balance of power between Kelly and Baalke will be answered behind closed doors, and that’s completely normal.
It’s rare to see just how incompetent an entire organization has allowed itself to become during the offseason. That’s what happened a year ago, and the 49ers have steered themselves back to normalcy — in a sense — with this hire. It sounds crazy, but that’s a huge victory.
But Kelly also showed a little humor today, and seemed fairly personable … as far as football coaches go. Again, none of this matters behind closed doors when it comes to getting back to the playoffs. But the 49ers needed this, because fighting the “haters” and dispelling the rumors and defending bad decisions is exhausting. A clean slate will only help the 49ers when it comes to luring free agents (as long as LeSean McCoy didn’t sully Kelly’s reputation among his peers) and putting together their draft board.
To Kap or not to Kap … that may not be a question the 49ers get to answer
A lot of the focus after today will be on Kaepernick. As Tim Kawakami noted, every time Kaepernick’s name came up, Kelly seemed to mention Blaine Gabbert. Maybe Gabbert is a better quarterback for Kelly’s system, or the 49ers truly believe what Ted Robinson said about Gabbert possibly becoming “Alex Smith 2.0,” or the 49ers are trying to shield their cards when it comes to all Kaepernick matters. If the 49ers are trying to keep Kaepernick’s trade value above “Sourdough Sam’s socks and Tim Ryan’s foam microphone cover,” telling the world that Kelly is Kaepernick’s biggest fan makes sense.
Despite what some reports may say, I don’t think Kelly’s feelings on Kaepernick had much, if anything, to do with this hire. Kaepernick can’t feel good about the organization, and would probably prefer a fresh start elsewhere. Kelly prizes “repetitive accuracy,” something Kaepernick has never shown, not even in practice. Kaepernick would make eight figures if he stays for another year, and after the 49ers benched him, rumors about his iPad study habits hit the airwaves. But who knows. This team does bizarre things from time to time, and keeping Kaepernick against his will (if he’s really that upset) is possible, even if it isn’t all that plausible.
Baalke learning his lesson?
Today featured more 49ers news than Kelly’s press conference. They signed Eric Rogers, a 6’3″ receiver from the CFL who apparently tried out for 16 NFL teams, including the Patriots and Eagles in December. Rogers caught 87 balls for 1,448 yards and 10 touchdowns in 17 games last year for the Calgary Stampeders. Nice stats, but the key here is for the first time in recent memory, Baalke signed a guy most people hadn’t heard of who was famous for playing football.