By Bill Campbell
The Eagles’ signing of Oregon’s Chip Kelly as their new head coach was, indeed, a surprise – at least to me. I didn’t expect them to sign someone without previous NFL experience, especially when there were so many seasoned candidates available. But Kelly may turn out to be a solid choice and the fact that the Eagles pursuit didn’t end after the coach’s initial rejection says that the Oregonian was high on their list from the outset. That it took as long as it did – almost two weeks – to reach an agreement also was surprising. But it’s a deal now and a new Eagles era has begun.
I hope that Coach Kelly keeps the best interests of his players and staff in the forefront at all times and that he communicates from that point of view. It will help him with the team, the fans and the media.
Based on his early interviews, Kelly seems to be aware of the need for an open exchange and operating from that approach. Andy Reid seemed to have some of the same qualities, as in the case of Michael Vick – but he lost that touch over time.
Coaching at New Hampshire and Oregon doesn’t necessarily prepare a guy for the pressures that will confront him here but my hope is that Chip Kelly turns out to be a better communicator than Reid, especially with the press.
The benefits of radio and television never were more apparent than with Reid: you didn’t have to travel to personally hear his predictable comments about doing a better job. An in-person appearance at those infamous gatherings of his weren’t worth the price of the gasoline to get there since you just got the same terse answers and dismissive explanations every week.
But in Kelly’s initial press conference he was glib, humorous, informative and likeable. If he matches those qualities with his reported innovative coaching style, it could lead to a significant shift in the Eagles’ fortunes.
The fact remains, however, that this new coach is going to need the assistance of a veteran staff in all phases of the game – particularly on defense. If Kelly can put that group together it will free general manager, Howie Roseman, to focus upon the draft, trades and personnel matters. Roseman has to find the right players to fit Coach Kelly’s requirements.
I liked Chip Kelly’s description of his job as he sees it. “I just want to be a successful coach,” he explained recently. “I don’t want to be a general manager. I don’t know beans about the salary cap. I just want to win.”
So do we. Let’s hope he can do it.
“Stan the Man” left us last Sunday at the age of 92, surrounded by family in Ladue, Missouri. His is an irreplaceable loss to the National Pastime. Anyone who ever has had any connection with baseball always will regard Stan Musial as matchless in every category. It wasn’t merely his ability as a player that made him great; it was his persona, his character, in every regard.
Stan Musial was the first St. Louis Cardinal in history to have his famous number retired. He was, undoubtedly, the most popular, most revered Cardinal player of all time.
A native of Donora, Pennsylvania, Musial won 7 National League batting titles, 3 most valuable player awards, and led the Cardinals to 3 World Series titles. He made his major league debut in 1941 and played through his 43rd birthday. He held 55 records when he retired in 1963. With his last major league at-bat, Musial singled on his first swing past a Cincinnati rookie, second baseman Pete Rose, who would beat Musial’s hit record of 3,630 18 years later.
In 1941, Ted Williams batted .406 and Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 straight games. It also was the year when Musial made the first of his 24 All Star game appearances. He went on to hit .331 with 475 home runs. Stan made 1,815 hits at home, 1,815 on the road. He finished his active career with 1,951 RBI’s and scored 1,949 runs. It’s an incredible set of statistics. But the best thing about Musial to me was that he was a humble, scandal-free guy. His greatest desire was to just show up every day and play. They don’t make them like him anymore.
Cardinal’s general manager, Bill DeWiit, said, “We have lost the most beloved member of the Cardinals family. Stan Musial was the greatest player in Cardinal history and one of the best players in the history of baseball.” That he was.
Preceding Stan Musial in death by 24 hours was Earl Weaver, the successful former manager of the Baltimore Orioles, who was 82. In his 17 years with the team, Weaver led them to 4 American League pennants and to the 1970 world championship. His lifetime winning percentage of .583 ranks ninth all-time and fifth among managers in the modern era who have managed 10 years or more. Baltimore won at least 100 games for Earl Weaver five times. The present manager, Buck Showalter, said, “Every time I look at an Orioles photo now it’s going to be missing a feather without Earl.”
It was a tough week in baseball. Rest in peace, old friends.
After waiting through a 113-day lockout, the Flyers finally started a new season by losing their first two games: the first one at home to the Pittsburgh Penguins and the second to the Buffalo Sabres.
In the Flyers’ loss to Buffalo, poor penalty killing and disallowed goals ruled the day.
Defenseman Luke Schenn, who was in the penalty box for two of the Sabres’ power play goals, saw the Sabres score 3 goals in the final 5 minutes, including an empty netter. Thomas Vanek had 5 points (2 goals and 3 assists) to pace Buffalo, which failed to earn a spot in the playoffs last season.
The Flyers’ 0-2 start is their worst since 2008. New Flyers team captain, Claude Giroux, commented, “Anytime 2 goals are disallowed, it’s going to change your game. Bounces are not going our way right now. We just have to fight through it and come back.”
With roughly a minute left in the game, Wayne Simmonds scored on a scramble but the goal was erased because the referee had lost sight of the puck and blew the whistle. Simmonds said the referee had lost sight of it because it was already in the net but the officials weren’t buying that explanation.
Flyers’ winger, Zac Rinaldo, was accidentally cut by the skate of Buffalo’s Robyn Regehr in a first period collision and had 20 stitches taken above his right knee. His only comment, “That’s hockey, it happens, we just collided funny,” was an understatement. In 2 games, Rinaldo has 9 hits in just 11 minutes of action.
Conversely, the Pittsburgh Penguins who beat the Flyers 3-1 in the opener, beat the Rangers in the New York opener the next night, 6-3, chasing Vezina Trophy winner, Henrik Lundqvist, from the net in the second period.
Anyone thinking that most hockey fans would be turned off by the lockout was wrong. Across the country, teams were greeted by sell-out crowds, including those that turned out to see the Flyers play. Also, the regional television coverage of the Chicago-Los Angeles and Philadelphia-Pittsburgh games averaged a 2-0 overnight. Ratings were up 67 percent from the average for regular season games last year. These overnight ratings measure the country’s largest markets. So hockey is back and so are its fans both in the house and in their homes.
The Super Bowl will be played on February third in New Orleans, and it will pit brother against brother. Baltimore Ravens’ coach, John Harbaugh, a former Eagles’ assistant, will be facing his brother, Jim, who coaches the San Francisco 49ers. This is a first and will add a layer of even greater interest to the game.
Early betting favors the 49ers by 4.5 points but the Ravens have had a storied year.
Lately, the City by the Bay has been establishing itself as some kind of title town following the World Series triumph by the Giants in October. Maybe it’s a good sign for them. Plus, the 49ers have the makings of a new star quarterback in Colin Kaepernick who, even though he wasn’t as dazzling in Sunday’s game against the Falcons as he had been the previous week, was good enough to justify Coach Jim Harbaugh’s decision to bench Alex Smith earlier this season for him. So far, it’s been a good choice.
The 49ers trailed the Atlanta Falcons 24-14 at half-time on Sunday. They came back to score 14 points in the second half while holding the Falcons scoreless. The Niners also overcame a couple of other deficiencies—a fumble by Michael Crabtree just short of the goal line and a missed 38-yard field goal by former Eagle David Akers, who has struggled out west this season. But their defense did its job, shutting out Atlanta and making several big stops in the final two minutes to win, 28-24. San Francisco is now 13-4-1 and will try to join Pittsburgh as one of two teams with six Super Bowl titles.
In last Sunday’s other game, New England Patriots’ quarterback, Tom Brady, threw for 320 yards but was derailed by a couple of interceptions. Baltimore Ravens’ QB, Joe Flacco, who is in the final season of his rookie contract, was 21 for 36 for 240 yards. The Ravens’ leading rusher was rookie Bernard Pierce from Temple, who had 52 yards in 9 carries. The Ravens prevailed, 28-13. It all resulted in pairing the Harbaughs for the Super Bowl, which will add a unique element to what should be a really competitive, enjoyable game.
And Other Things …
The 76ers’ coach, Doug Collins, has told his struggling players they must begin to win more than their share of games. At a recent team meeting, he said, “Tomorrow is the mid-point of the season. This first half has blown by and, if we are going to be a play-off team, we’ve got to string some wins together.”
The Sixers are 17-23 and have not won 2 games in a row since winning 3 straight in November. They are getting to spend some quality time on their home court now but the opposition, beginning with the tough San Antonio Spurs (32-11), gets tougher. The Sixers are in a slump and Andrew Bynum still hasn’t suited up.
The Phoenix Suns have a new interim coach: Lindsey Hunter, a former player development director who played for 17 years but never has coached. The Suns have the worst record in the history of the franchise so he will have his work cut out for him.
I haven’t said much lately about Elena Della Donna, the University of Delaware star basketball player who lost much playing time this season to Lyme’s Disease. Now I can, since she exploded the other night for 38 points as the Blue Hens (13-3) cruised to their 8th straight win, 76-44, over Towson at the Bob Carpenter Center in Delaware. It’s good to have her back.
At nine different games this past Monday, pro teams paid homage to Dr. Martin Luther King. This led me to do a little research. I found that, of the four major sports leagues in the country, the NBA has the highest percentage of minority players, 83 %, which surprises no-one. With Commissioner David Stern as the driving force, the NBA also places more women and more people of color in front office positions as well. All of this reflects back to the work of Dr. King.
However, the number of African-Americans playing baseball continues a troublesome decline. This past season just 8% of professional baseball players were African-Americans, though more minorities now occupy managerial positions. The decline is surprising to me since it was in baseball that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier when Branch Rickey signed him to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. That changed the sport for the better, forever. I don’t know how to interpret this recent statistic—but it’s one to be studied as we move forward.
See you next week as we count down to the Super Bowl.