SANTA CLARA -- Chip Kelly has generally been regarded as the smartest football man in the room in just about every setting during his coaching career.
His intelligence has never been questioned. But the biggest issue about Kelly’s ability to sustain success as an NFL head coach centers around a term his former boss, Philadelphia Eagles CEO Jeffrey Lurie, introduced at a press conference to explain his firing.
And those words are now irreversibly attached to Kelly’s coaching resume as much as “up tempo” and “innovative.”
One of Kelly’s first acts as head coach of the 49ers was to request contact information for every player on the roster to open the lines of communication. He immediately began reaching out to players, and he’s known to have already spoken with Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert, Torrey Smith and NaVorro Bowman, among many others.
The 49ers have approximately $50 million in cap space, and the organization must figure a way to become an attractive destination for players who have choices. Kelly will have to overcome the label that appeared to be a big reason he did not make it out of his third season with the Eagles.
Lurie, in a not-so-subtle way, explained Kelly did not relate to players or people inside the Eagles organization.
"You've got to open your heart to players and everybody you want to achieve peak performance," Lurie said on Dec. 30, one day after Kelly was fired. "I would call it a style of leadership that values information and all of the resources that are provided and at the same time values emotional intelligence. I think in today's world, a combination of all those factors creates the best chance to succeed."
In Kelly’s introductory press conference Wednesday with the 49ers, it was clear he and the 49ers’ decision-makers, CEO Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke, did not agree with Lurie’s assessment.
In fact, Kelly said he has not had the time to fully analyze and understand where things went terribly wrong. Kelly posted back-to-back seasons of 10-6 before gaining complete control over the team’s personnel, while seemingly losing control of everything else, and getting fired with one game remaining in the season.
Kelly was out of a job for approximately two weeks before accepting the 49ers’ job to replace Jim Tomsula, who was fired after a 5-11 season.
“I think I was in the process of, if you’re a coach, after every game you self-scout,” Kelly said. “After every season, you self-scout. What we did well, what we did poorly, how can we improve as a team? And I was in the process of that.
“Really, I don’t think it was a self-scout to me probably, because I got fired. I looked at it more of an autopsy. So I’m in the middle of the autopsy right now. I’m still looking at it. So I sent some toxicology reports out and we’re going to see when they come back. I’ll give you a full answer in terms of what went on.”
Those answers will probably never be revealed because it’s doubtful Kelly feels inclined to change much. After all, he landed his four-year, $24 million contract from the 49ers because of what he has done in the past – not because of changes that he promised for the future.
Some former players, such as LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson, have been critical of Kelly. But Kelly cited the communication with unidentified players he coached with the Eagles after his firing.
“I think you always can apply what you learn from your experiences,” Kelly said. “But, you know, one of the things that struck me when I left Philadelphia was the text messages and calls I had from the players that we had there. It really meant a lot to me.
“And I’m not one that looks at what’s reported, what’s not reported. I’m a pretty black and white guy and when I talk about the relationships that I had with the players there and the many of them that reached out to me when this went down, I feel very, very comfortable in terms of my relationship with my players there.”
And Baalke, who led the search, apparently feels comfortable the voices of a couple disgruntled players do not paint an accurate portrayal of Kelly’s time with the Eagles. The 49ers leaned on the input from senior personnel executive Tom Gamble, who worked two seasons with Kelly in Philadelphia and offered positive feedback. The Eagles fired Gamble a year before Kelly.
“There’s perception and then there’s reality,” Baalke said. “And the one thing that I’ve learned, especially over the five years I’ve been in this position is that there’s a big separation between the two.
“The good thing, Tom Gamble has had a chance to work with both of us. Obviously, everybody here knows my relationship with Tom. And I think Chip’s gone on record many times and spoken about his relationship with Tom. That’s a nice bridge when you have a guy that you trust and he’s able to basically give you the lay of the land with respect to the relationship that he had in the building in Philly.”
Due to restrictions in the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, Kelly is not allowed to speak with players about football matters until the beginning of the offseason program, which is set to being on April 4.
And he did not even talk much about talking to his players on Wednesday. When asked what he wants his new players to know about their coach, Kelly chose to keep that private.
“That’s why I’m talking to all of them personally,” he said.