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Building relationships, making difficult decisions key for Chip Kelly in San Francisco

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Polian: Kelly 'the right fit' for 49ers (1:31)

Bill Polian joins Russillo & Kanell to break down the 49ers hiring Chip Kelly to be their head coach and what effect Kelly will have on Colin Kaepernick. (1:31)

On New Year's Eve in 2014, about 13 hours before the clock struck midnight, the Philadelphia Eagles sent out a press release. They were parting ways with vice president of player personnel Tom Gamble.

Gamble was handpicked by Chip Kelly to be a strong voice in the team's personnel department. Oftentimes when Kelly attended pro days or other scouting events, it was Gamble by his side. But the Eagles' front office was fractured, with general manager Howie Roseman in owner Jeffrey Lurie's ear and on the opposite side of Kelly and Gamble.

After Gamble was fired, Kelly convinced Lurie to oust Roseman and let him take over personnel. Lurie agreed, and a dramatic offseason makeover that involved Sam Bradford, LeSean McCoy, DeMarco Murray and others followed.

The Eagles went 6-9, faltered down the stretch and Kelly was fired before the regular-season finale.

Now, he has another chance and will once again work with Gamble, who returned to the San Francisco 49ers as a senior personnel executive. Not surprisingly, Gamble was reportedly the one who convinced the team's key decision-makers to take a shot on Kelly.

Now the question is: Can it work?

The organizational structure will be key. In a highly-publicized series of events, the 49ers sided with general manager Trent Baalke over Jim Harbaugh, a coach who had led them to a Super Bowl. Given the history, Kelly is not going to be able to wrestle personnel control this time.

Instead, he will have to work with Baalke. That relationship, more than anything, will determine whether Kelly can be successful.

But there are other issues. The one area where Kelly is unlikely to budge is tempo and efficiency. It's an integral part of his program -- not just his offense. In Philadelphia, Kelly held his press conferences in a tent outside so that when the whistle blew to start practice, he could shuffle away without any wasted time.

In 2015, the Eagles ran an offensive play once every 22.21 seconds, the fastest in the NFL. Yet the offense ranked 26th in efficiency. There has been a narrative that Kelly was a good coach, but a bad GM. The truth is, that was not the case in 2015. The offense was a disaster. The Eagles' 67 turnovers in the past two seasons were the most in the NFL.

When the tempo works, it can be breathtaking. When it doesn't, it paralyzes other aspects of the team. The Eagles' defense was on the field for 1,148 snaps last season, tops in the league. The team that played the fewest was the Seattle Seahawks: 947. That's a difference of 201 snaps, roughly three games' worth.

Maybe that was a reason why the Eagles fell apart in 2014, going 1-3 down the stretch. They again played poorly in December this season, missing out on the playoffs for the second straight year.

Building roster depth, specifically on defense, is critical for a Kelly-coached team. Given roster limits, that shrinks the margin of error in the draft and free agency.

The 49ers' plan at quarterback is uncertain. On the surface, Colin Kaepernick appears to have an attractive skill set. But remember, Kelly acquired three quarterbacks in Philadelphia: Matt Barkley, Mark Sanchez and Bradford.

The truth is, it's unclear what exactly he's looking for in a signal-caller. Kelly has pointed to repetitive accuracy and quick decision-making. But perhaps that's because he decided finding a quarterback in the NFL who could be a factor in the run game was just too difficult?

When Lurie addressed the media following Kelly's firing, his most-telling quote came when he discussed what he was looking for in the new Eagles coach.

"You've got to open your heart to players and everybody you want to achieve peak performance," Lurie said. "I would call it -- I would call it a style of leadership that values information, all the resources that are provided, and at the same time, values emotional intelligence."

It's obvious that was a direct shot at Kelly. Days before he was fired, Kelly argued with reporters about whether he actually had personnel power, something that had to anger Lurie.

"I wanted to make Chip accountable for everything he wanted to have happen," Lurie said. "And one of the ways to make him accountable was to have him make those decisions, because that is what he insisted on decisively doing. So if you want to make those decisions, be accountable for them, and that's the direction it took."

When Lurie fired Andy Reid after 14 seasons, it was clearly time. But the decision still seemed to pain him because he was saying goodbye to a friend. When he fired Kelly, it seemed like quite the opposite.

Building personal relationships and dealing with difficult decisions will be key for Kelly. He had an open-door policy in Philadelphia, yet several players felt uncomfortable approaching him and never built a connection with him. Others, of course, didn't share the same opinion.

How will Kelly react when the first 49ers player is unhappy with his contract? What will he do if Baalke drafts a player with character concerns? Someone who doesn't fit into the precise culture that he wants to cultivate?

We won't have to wait long for answers. The 49ers were 5-11 last season and have the seventh-overall pick.

There is plenty to like about Kelly. His teams in Philadelphia went 26-21. The implementation of sports science, a big focus with him, is happening throughout the league. And he is respected from an X's and O's perspective.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick questioned the Eagles' move to fire Kelly. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has consulted with him in the past. And Nick Saban's Alabama staff hosted Kelly before the national championship game.

The NFL is more interesting with Kelly back in the fold. Whether he can succeed at his second stop is another topic entirely.