New 49ers coach Chip Kelly and former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh were rivals while they coached in the Pac-12, but they made concerted efforts to assist each other after Harbaugh left Stanford to the NFL and Kelly remained two more seasons at Oregon.
When the 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles met early in the 2014 season, Kelly and Harbaugh were opponents once again. They both talked about the interaction between their staffs in the recent past.
Then-49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman met with Kelly in Eugene, Oregon, to exchange notes about the zone-read option. And Kelly visited the 49ers in Santa Clara, too.
“Obviously when they were at Stanford and I was at Oregon, we didn’t share any notes on anything,” Kelly said on a conference call with Bay Area reporters in September 2014, four days before a 49ers-Eagles game at Levi’s Stadium. “When they got to the (NFL), Greg came up once and visited with us and we shared ideas.
“I had an opportunity during an open date at Oregon to go down and visit with those two guys. Two guys I’ve got great respect for, two really good coaches.”
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In preparing for the 49ers in 2014, Kelly said he saw some of the elements he spoke about with Roman when he watched quarterback Colin Kaepernick on film.
“Yeah, they’ve run some zone-read stuff with Kap, and they do a really good job with it,” Kelly said. “They’ve added their own wrinkles to it. I don’t think when anybody visits anybody they say, ‘I’m going to take this exactly from them.’”
And Harbaugh said he noticed that Kelly expanded on his Oregon scheme when he went to the NFL to coach the Eagles.
“Very much so, and much, much more,” Harbaugh said. “It’s evolved. They’ve done some great things offensively. I see their fingerprints on the defense as well. You see a progression and consistently good football and great adjustments and sound schematics. Very clever, well-schemed ideas.”
Kelly and Harbaugh split their two games in college. Stanford won 51-42 in 2009, and Oregon won, 52-31, the next season. In 2014, Harbaugh came out on top of their only NFL matchup, as the 49ers beat the Eagles, 26-21.
Kelly was named as the 49ers’ new head coach on Thursday. He was at the team’s facility in Santa Clara working on putting together his coaching staff. Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke have travel conflicts over the weekend, so Kelly’s introductory press conference might not happen until next Wednesday or Thursday.
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During the only other time Kelly faced questions from reporters who cover the 49ers, he was asked about his reputation as an innovator and his outside-the-box thinking.
“I’ve always been a person who questioned, ‘Why?' ” Kelly said. “And if something’s been done in the past, I guess speaking toward the tradition part of it, I’d ask, ‘Why?’ There are a lot of times when ‘why’ is explained to me, and it makes great sense. We’ll continue to do it that way. The one thing I never accepted was, ‘That’s the way it’s always been done.’ Give me a better reason than that.
“You go back 50 years ago, you weren’t allowed to have water at practice. If you had water, you were soft. People smartened up and learned the science behind hydration and things like that. I don’t think we’re on the cutting edge of that. We emphasize what we believe is going to put our players in the best position to be successful on Sunday.”