We’ve received some pretty damning evidence this offseason that Chip Kelly — an embattled NFL head coach who has already faced major questions regarding his demeanor as well as his prowess when it comes to personnel decisions — has been far too stubborn with regard to his offensive system.
From the moment Kelly arrived in Philadelphia three years ago, smart folks said he’d have to be schematically flexible, allowing for his offensive system to adapt to his personnel. But it was obvious as he chased talented players out the door that it was always going to be Kelly’s way or the I-95 highway.
The problem, of course, is that Kelly wound up watering down his own product while believing that he could succeed by plugging anyone into his system, which worked where players are more impressionable and flexible at the college level but does not work when you’re dealing with well-established millionaire 30-somethings.
In a recent email exchange with Mike Klis of 9News in Denver, veteran guard and former Eagles Pro Bowler Evan Mathis summed it all up perfectly.
“There were many things that Chip had done that showed me he wasn’t building a championship team,” Mathis wrote. “Two of the main issues that concerned me were: 1. A never-evolving, vanilla offense that forced our own defense to play higher than normal play counts. 2. His impatience with certain personality types even when they were blue-chip talents. The Broncos team I was on would have eaten Chip alive. I don’t think he could have handled the plethora of large personalities.”
And then, perfectly in support of that first point, former Oregon quarterback and 2016 draft prospect Vernon Adams had this to say at the NFL Scouting Combine, per NFL.com: “I watched (Kelly’s offense) in Philly last year and pretty much 80-90 percent of the plays I would see I could call out that we run at Oregon, so I think I could really come in and run that offense, too.”
That’s a plus for Adams, but what does it say about Kelly’s willingness to evolve?
History has shown that college coaches unwilling to adapt to NFL realities don’t last long. Kelly has earned another shot in San Francisco, mainly because he’s still relatively young (52) and is considered by many to be an offensive genius (although that’s starting to lose some shine).
But I promise you that if he doesn’t turn the 49ers around by adapting to his players, their personalities and their skill sets, he’ll fail again. And he won’t be back.