Friday, January 3, 2014
Chip Kelly in a hurry for first playoff win
By Phil Sheridan
Chip Kelly's fast-paced offense makes its playoff debut Saturday against the Saints.
PHILADELPHIA -- When the call came for Winston Wolf, he was 30 minutes away.
“I'll be there in 10,” Wolf, the fixer played by Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction, said.
If there's a movie character reminiscent of Eagles coach Chip Kelly, it is the man known as The Wolf. Summoned to clean up a huge mess, and he got it done the Kelly way -- “fast, fast, fast.”
“If I'm curt with you, it's because time is a factor,” The Wolf told Jules and Vincent, the messy hit men played by Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta. “I think fast, I talk fast and I need you guys to act fast.”
That's not from the transcript of a Kelly press conference, or even a team meeting, but it could be. The official transcripts often include the word “so” at the end of an answer, a tic of Kelly's that suggests he's not going to waste words explaining what you should already know.
Kelly hasn't mentioned Tarantino films in his first season in the NFL, but he has dropped references to Anchorman, Curious George, Kent Tekulve and Winston Churchill.
“When he speaks, you want to listen,” cornerback Cary Williams said. “He always finds a way to grab your attention. That's what great coaches do. He's done a pretty good job here. We're winning. We're in the playoffs, after a 4-12 season (in 2012). He's a difference maker in this organization.”
He's a coach who has a chance to be a difference maker for an entire city. Philadelphia is an Eagles town, first and foremost, even though the team's last championship came in 1960. That's before Kelly and many Eagles fans were born.
It was also before the Super Bowl era. There was the regular season and then a single postseason game for the title. The Eagles beat the Green Bay Packers at Franklin Field and went home. There was no parade, no highlight video, no visit to the White House.
Some great and not so great coaches have tried to bring a championship home to this football-crazed city. Dick Vermeil took over a dreadful team and reached the Super Bowl after the 1980 season. His Eagles beat the despised Dallas Cowboys in the NFC title game -- which remains the post-1960 high-water mark for this franchise -- but lost to the Oakland Raiders in the Super Bowl.
Buddy Ryan: five years, zero playoff wins. Ray Rhodes: a playoff win in his first season and then a total collapse by Year 4.
Next came Andy Reid, who delivered a decade of winning, exciting and memorable football. But he was 1-4 in NFC title games and lost his only Super Bowl appearance. His 14 seasons as coach of the Eagles represent 30 percent of the Super Bowl era. Reid came close, painfully close, but could not deliver.
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It is Kelly's turn to try. He will coach his first NFL playoff game on Saturday night. He has prepared for big postseason games at the college level, of course. But that often meant four or five weeks of preparation. This week, with a Sunday night game in Dallas and a Saturday wild-card game, Kelly and his team had five days.
But you get the feeling that suits the think-fast, talk-fast coach just fine. A month of down time seems contrary to everything you know about Kelly -- which is precisely all that Kelly wants anyone to know.
Kelly's opponent, Saints coach Sean Payton, is an NFL veteran with a Super Bowl ring. Is that an advantage? Kelly's answer was vintage Wolf.
“Depends on who wins, right?” he said. “If we lose, we were inexperienced. If we win, then there will be another story. We are concerned with how do we prepare to play a really good Saints team and that's all we can really be concerned with.”
His approach has worked for a few identifiable reasons. The first is that it is a good, sound approach based on solid football principles. Professional athletes are equipped to smell a phony before he walks into the room. These Eagles, many of whom played for and respected Reid, were eager to embrace the new guy's philosophies.
They did, and the second reason this thing has worked is that they stuck with Kelly when the team lost two miserable games to drop to 3-5.
“There's times when you are 3-5 and you can start to question the plan and these guys didn't question the plan,” Kelly said. “You know, I think when we made mistakes, we all made mistakes but we owned our mistakes. And I think when you own up to your mistakes, then you can correct them. But if you never make them and you constantly make excuses, then you're never going to fix it. I think these guys owned up to it and did that, and I think each week, I saw us improve because of that.”
Kelly was right there with them, acknowledging his own mistakes and growing pains in a way few coaches ever do. He acknowledged not knowing that he could call a timeout to keep quarterback Michael Vick in an early-season game after he was injured. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that he reamed out running back LeSean McCoy during a game for missing a blocking assignment, then apologized to McCoy in front of the entire team when he realized from the game film that he was incorrect.
When the coach is accountable, the players find it much easier to be accountable, too.
“He's a player's coach,” Williams said. “He understands each and every individual in here. He wants the best for each and every individual in here. He can be tough, but it's a good toughness. He never gets down on a guy, and I've made some mistakes in my year here. He's a great coach. He's a guy after a player's heart.”
Kelly can win the fans' hearts with a playoff run in his first season. It may be that he already has.
“Just the memories that you kind of think back,” Kelly said. “The ‘We want Dallas' chants in the Chicago game or just how loud they were in the Detroit game in the snow. And there were a couple times that I don't think we could see the crowd because of how hard it was snowing down there. They have been unbelievable and I think the fact that we got a chance to win the division and get to come and play a game back at home is huge for us, and we are excited about playing at the Linc. We know it's going to be rocking on Saturday.”
The Eagles sold out their playoff tickets in under five minutes, the only team in the wild-card round to do so. The fans here are eager to see what Kelly's team does next. And they are hungry for that long-delayed Super Bowl title. Hungry like The Wolf.