(WTNH)–The San Francisco 49ers have hired Chip Kelly to be their next head coach.
The news came down on Thursday, and since then, most NFL fans I’ve talked to have laughed the move off, as if they hired Paul Pasqualoni or something.
Chip Kelly is a failure, they say. His ideas can’t and won’t work in the NFL. He’s a college coach with a college system, and he should go back to college, where he can control the players and fool opposing defenses with his misdirection nonsense.
Linebackers are too fast in the NFL, they say. You can’t spread them out and outrun them. They’re too smart and disciplined, too. You can’t confuse them. Look at the Wildcat. Defenses figured that out–fast. They’ve already figured Chip Kelly out. He’s done. Let him go coach at Colorado.
I have a problem with these people.
It’s the same problem I imagine Knute Rockne had when people said the forward pass would never work. “You don’t have enough time to just sit back and wait for receivers to run and get open! What is this, ultimate frisbee?!” (Not sure they had ultimate frisbee back then, but still.)
It’s the same problem Al Gore must have had when people said his “internet” invention would never take off. Or the problem we had when people told us SportzEdge wouldn’t become the greatest Connecticut sports website ever run by a Connecticut television station. (I’m talking to you, Grandma!)
Chip Kelly deserves another shot in the NFL. Not just because his system can work, but because it did work. It revolutionized the college game, and it worked in Philadelphia.
The Eagles finished 10-6 in Kelly’s first season. They racked up over 417 yards per game, which ranked second in the NFL, and put up 27.6 points per game, which also ranked second. They made the playoffs, one year after finishing 4-12.
Philly finished 10-6 in year two as well, despite losing starting quarterback Nick Foles to injury and handing the reigns of the offense over to Mark Sanchez, a man who was on his way to being laughed out of the NFL and immortalized as the guy in the “Butt Fumble” meme.
In fact, the Eagles were 5-2 when Foles, who subsequently flamed out in St. Louis, went down in Week 9 last year. They finished 5-4 with Sanchez under center, missing the playoffs by one game.
No, things didn’t work out in year three.
Kelly shouldn’t have jettisoned DeSean Jackson, his most explosive playmaker, or listened (allegedly) to rumors that Jackson was in a gang. He shouldn’t have re-signed Riley Cooper after the wide receiver’s awful, racist tirade, which, combined with the Jackson move, led McCoy to claim that Kelly himself was a racist.
Most importantly, Kelly shouldn’t have assumed he could just fill in the gaps left by talented players with new, unproven guys the way he did at Oregon. The NFL is different in that way, and you can chalk that up to Kelly’s inexperience. But new head coaches often make these kinds of mistakes. More than anything, they proved that Kelly wasn’t ready to be given complete control over personnel.
But none of that is a referrendum on his system. None of that means that the spread offense can’t work in the NFL, that this experiment has reached its conclusion, or that he won’t be successful in San Francisco.
Success in life takes time. NFL teams, increasingly, don’t want to hear that. There’s too much on the line, in ticket and merchandise sales, in TV deals and advertising partnerships. There’s too much money to be made from winning, and zero time to waste.
That’s why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired Lovie Smith after he dragged the team to a 6-10 record, which just so happened to be a 200-percent increase in wins from the year before (they were 2-14). It’s why the Bears fired him after he went 10-6, but didn’t reach the playoffs. This is a man who brought a team with Rex Grossman as its starting QB to the Super Bowl.
If the 49ers give Chip Kelly enough time, and if they can find the right players to compliment his system in the draft, he’ll succeed. His offensive system is brilliant, and given the right players, it’ll work. It already has.
If he doesn’t get enough time, and if he can’t find the right quarterback, or can’t handle not having control over every last detail, he’ll be kicked to the curb. That’s fine–that’s how this whole thing works.
Whatever happens, San Francisco was right to give the man whose offense helped revolutionize football another chance.
It’s worth a shot.
Just like that whole forward pass thing.