PHILADELPHIA, PA (CBS) — Chip Kelly is not Bill Belichick, though as much as he tries to be Bill Belichick.
Kelly is an innovative, outside-the-box thinker, like Belichick. He’s very much an old-school coach in many other ways, like Belichick. But he hasn’t won like Belichick—at least not yet. That’s the glaring difference in the instant-success world we live in.
And what could prevent Kelly from winning may be Kelly himself.
We keep hearing from the Scripture of Chip that culture wins over scheme. That “Chipism” may not be more tested than this coming season, considering Kelly gotten rid of Pro Bowlers LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Evan Mathis and Nick Foles over the last two years, replacing them with one Pro Bowler (DeMarco Murray) and a bunch of question marks (Sam Bradford, Allen Barbre and second-year wide receiver Jordan Matthews).
McCoy, Mathis and Foles bought into what Kelly was doing. Jackson did not—and that’s why he’s gone. Foles may not have been a fit for what Kelly likes in a quarterback, though he was 14-4 in two years in Kelly’s system. McCoy had two of his best years under Kelly, and Mathis, slowed last year by injury, was still steady and anchored the left side of the Eagles’ front next to Jason Peters.
McCoy was as close to being out the door as Jackson a few years ago, so his departure was not that surprising, and Mathis wanted more money, which pretty much sealed his fate with the Eagles under Kelly.
Consequently, the Eagles, talent wise, won’t be as good on paper as they were in Kelly’s first two years, when Andy Reid’s leftovers went a combined 20-13, including a playoff loss to New Orleans.
You have the sense that Kelly believes, because of his system and his “culture,” that he can win with anyone he plugs in, like interchangeable pieces on a board.
But this is the NFL.
Various culture dynamics have succeeded, because they were talented, which sometimes trumps culture.
Take the 1980 Oakland Raiders, a difficult sticking point in this city, considering they beat Dick Vermiel’s Eagles, a culture far closer to Kelly’s than Tom Flores’ free spirits, who partied up and down Bourbon Street Super Bowl week in New Orleans.
Flores was able to work with the flamboyant personalities of John Matuszak, Ted Hendricks and Lester Hayes. It’s something Kelly has not shown an affinity for at this early stage of his professional coaching career.
Even Belichick was willing to take some chances. The most glaring was his recent roll-the-dice move grabbing eventual convicted murder Aaron Hernandez in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, knowing Hernandez’s troubled past.
Belichick signed Randy Moss, fully aware of his hefty baggage. Belichick still made it work—at least for one season—and Moss helped the Patriots back to the 2008 Super Bowl.
Even the stoic, immersed in old-school mentality Tom Landry was able to work with Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson and Duane Thomas. Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw had a very contentious relationship—but the two were able to make it work, and because of it won four Super Bowls and their busts are in Canton.
Hall of Famer Frank Gifford liked to tell a story of the great Vince Lombardi when he first came to the New York Giants in 1954 as the offensive coordinator. Lombardi’s rigid ways, coming from high school and then Army, where he coached under the legendary Red Blaik, didn’t work with the pros.
“Vince treated us like we were in high school and that didn’t go over too well,” Gifford recalled. “As a pro, you don’t want anyone barking at you and giving you a lap. It got to a point where (Lombardi) was laughable. He could tell he wasn’t getting through, when he sought advice from (veteran Giants quarterback) Charlie Conerly. He just told Vince to treat us like men. That changed his way of thinking and the football knowledge just poured out of him.”
Adaptability made Lombardi, Landry and Noll Hall of Fame coaches. It’s made Belichick a future Hall of Famer. Maybe it’s a thought for Kelly.
Joseph Santoliquito can be followed on twitter @JSantoliquito.