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Separating Fact From Fiction

Posted Mar 20, 2013

From the outset, the hiring of Chip Kelly as head coach was greeted by many with visions of a high-flying offense, the likes of which the NFL had never seen. Then came the hiring of Kelly’s coaching staff, which included the addition of Sports Science Coordinator Shaun Huls. Add to that the inescapable fact that no one really knows what Kelly’s playbook will look like, and it’s not surprising that Kelly has, through no fault of his own, taken on something of a mythical status.

Kelly spoke to reporters Wednesday at the NFL Owners Meetings in Phoenix during the NFC coaches breakfast, and was quick to dispel the notion that he’s some kind of mad scientist bent on turning the NFL on its head. For example, Kelly was asked if being new to the NFL meant it would be harder for teams to defend the plays he would call on gameday.

“We don’t run some magical offense or defense,” Kelly said. “You’re talking about the best coaches in the world at this level. I think they’ve seen everything we’ve done at the college level, and everything we’ll do in the NFL they’ve seen.”

Kelly made a name for himself by coaching an up-tempo, spread option attack while at Oregon. Over time, he gained a reputation for calling gutsy plays at critical moments, often going for it on fourth down. But just like his game plans, Kelly said his willingness to go for it on fourth-and-short was based on confidence and intuition, not some unspoken grand scheme.

“I think there's fallacy and reality,” he explained. “I don't think very often we went for it on fourth down on our own side of the field, maybe once or twice a season, depending on the situation. All those decisions are based upon the individual, what's going on exactly in that game. It's not an overarching ‘We do this.’

“I think all those decisions are based upon your team. So a lot of those decisions for me, I had total faith in our defense, so I wasn't averse to putting our defense on the field. I think a lot of that has to do with you making decisions. It's a risk-reward. What's the reward? Obviously, you get a first down. What's the risk, is that you're turning the ball over at that point in time on the field. So are you comfortable enough in your defense to put the defense on the field in that situation?”

There was also the matter of advanced number crunching. Soon after Kelly’s hiring, many in the media were quick to cast the Eagles in the same light as the “Moneyball” Oakland Athletics, who made waves in baseball using alternative scouting methods and advanced sabremetrics. So how about it? Does Kelly plan on using algorithms and analytics as part of his coaching plan?

His answer was simple: “I was told there would be no math.”

There you have it. While Kelly certainly plans on winning games, he doesn’t have any brand new, unseen master plan with which to do it. He’s going to win games the same way he did at Oregon; the same way winning franchises win in the NFL. It’ll come from hard work, chemistry and, yes, a little ingenuity.

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