We’ve yet to adopt the whole “different is better” mindset when it comes to the arrival of coach Chip Kelly to the NFL. To assume that Kelly’s unconventional methods instantly will be successful at a level of pro football where he has zero experience is to subtly disregard the work, the ideas, and the accomplishments of the men who have climbed to the top of the profession doing things in a more traditional way.
Regardless, Kelly has an approach that could end up being successful in its own way. But he’s learning quickly that the men he’s working with are very different, too.
College coaches have far more control over their locker room and their program. College players have no union (although they need one), and it’s extremely difficult for a player who wants to go play somewhere else to leave if the coach doesn’t agree. Likewise, the media coverage and scrutiny at the college level is a lot less intense and probing.
While Kelly can shrug and say “football is football,” Kelly now has a team full of grown men who will speak their minds both internally and externally on matters about which they feel strongly. NFL players don’t fear their coach (especially since many of them make more money than their coach), and NFL players know that they have options — even if they have contracts.
They also know that the coach of an NFL team isn’t the unofficial emperor of the land where the team is headquartered. At some schools, the practical pecking order is: (1) coach; (2) university president; and (3) athletic director. For every NFL team, the coach answers to the owner. In many cities, the coach also answers to the General Manager and possibly to others in the organization, like the team president.
So when it comes to the Riley Cooper situation, Kelly can’t simply address the team once and impose his will on them. At Oregon, that may have worked. With the Eagles, it won’t.
During a lengthy (but appropriate) grilling from the Philly media on Friday, Kelly acknowledged that this is new territory for him.
“We had issues,” Kelly said of his time at Oregon. “I don’t know. Not of this ‑‑ I don’t think anything’s been like this, you know what I mean? I think because of what he said and in the locker room itself, I think that’s a little bit different.”
It’s a lot different. And even though Kelly claims “there’s never been any question of cutting Riley [Cooper],” it’s obvious that sliding Cooper out of the locker room for now gives the team a chance to assess whether it can proceed without him. If the Eagles are satisfied with the performance of the other receivers, the question of cutting Cooper will emerge, even if it truly hasn’t already.
Though the immediate headline from Kelly’s Friday remarks was that Cooper won’t be cut, closer inspection of Kelly’s words shows that he has given himself an out, if Cooper ends up off the team.
“[W]e’re way ahead of ourselves in terms of roster spots,” Kelly said, cutting off an “if he’s cut” question. “Again, there hasn’t been one question about a roster spot. This isn’t a roster spot issue for us right now.”
It isn’t a roster spot issue “right now.” But in four weeks or less, it will be.
Until then and thereafter, it will continue to be an issue unlike anything Kelly ever encountered in college. Which makes it necessarily harder for him to import his style and approach to a football league that is far more different for him than his methods are to it.