With all the controversy over his team releasing DeSean Jackson, a friend asked me a very good question. What has Chip said about all this?
The answer: next to nothing. Kelly has almost completely avoided talking to the press since the season ended in January. He has spoken publicly only three times during a period of constant media scrutiny, free agent acquisitions and draft planning. And even then, it was because he was required to.
Kelly has never been very forthcoming with the press; he avoids reporting injuries or details of them, and basically never gives print interviews unless he is required to do so by his contract or by league rules. Reporters rarely get anything more than press conferences after games, though he’ll do some (easily controlled) TV and radio appearances.
Last year he made a quick media tour when he was hired, then gave a single roundtable interview with a handful of the biggest newspaper reporters in April, and even then he embargoed it until July.
But even by his standards, Coach Kelly’s silence during this off-season has been remarkable. Those three on-camera cameos mentioned included a) when he was given the Maxwell Club Award as best NFL coach, b) when he made a Navy player who died during a workout, an honorary Eagle and c) his required one-hour interview at the NFL Owner’s Meeting.
Not surprisingly, this reticence has made fans and reporters all the more eager to hear what he thinks. Why did the team release DeSean? Who do they want to draft? How will the team change? Is he obsessed with getting big players, because — as he famously said last year — “Big players beat up little players”?
Chip’s not talking. And even though I would love to hear his thoughts, just like every other writer, I kind of sympathize with him. Beyond the trick of making people more curious to hear what he has to say, I look at it this way: would talking with the press help the Eagles win, or not?
The answer, I think clearly, is no. Fans are eager, yet bored during the long off-season – made even longer by delaying the draft all the way into May. But fan anxiousness — and the difficulty of writers in finding topics to explore — do not hurt Philadelphia’s competitiveness in any way.
But revealing the thought processes behind team decisions might hurt that competitiveness a lot. In the last two drafts, the Eagles have done a great job of identifying unheralded talent, such as Nose Tackle Bennie Logan (a third-round pick last year) and Safety Earl Wolff (a fifth-round pick). Logan started by mid-season, and Wolff did as well until an injury knocked him out.
Other teams noticed, and might poach the little-known gems that the Eagles have identified. That’s why every team tries to obscure the players they want, or send smokescreens about different players at the same position they might prefer. Some even fly in players they’re not interested in for official visits, to distract opposing teams.
With DeSean, the Eagles were desperately trying to trade him, both last year and this year, before they finally gave up hope and released him. The article on NJ.com alleging gang ties was almost certainly not the reason the team ditched the star WR, but it may have convinced them that they were wasting time trying to peddle him. If more than a year of efforts failed before the allegations were made public, they may have (and should have) concluded that a trade was doomed after that article appeared.
Two days before the team released DeSean, Chip had a mandatory hour long interview at the NFL’s annual meeting with any credentialed press who showed up. His table was packed, more so than any other coach’s (including Pete Carroll, who had just won a Super Bowl in dominant fashion).
He was asked repeatedly about DJax and fended off the questions with non-committal answers. He confirmed reports that he had spoken to DeSean personally, by phone. What did they say?
“We’ve had a good conversation, and we’re always going to do what’s best for the football team. But I think he knows where we are, and I know where he is. I feel very comfortable about it. My conversations with him aren’t things I think I need to have a conversation with anyone else about.” Asked again, he was more blunt: “My conversations with DeSean are between me and DeSean.”
That clears it up, right? A reporter persisted: Did he want DeSean on the team? “I like DeSean. DeSean did a really nice job for us [last season]. But we’re always going to do what’s best for the organization.”
Reporters kept pressing him, as reporters do. Kelly’s veneer of positivity started to wear a little thin. This bit of faint praise struck me, even at the time; a reporter asked how DeSean fit into the culture, and if he bought in. “DeSean did a good job. I mean, he played 16 games for us, he practiced every day. I had no issues with him.”
Wow, he showed up every day he was supposed to! That’s the way to win a coaches heart, I’ll tell you what. You don’t want those guys who skip class and go play video games and smoke cigarettes.
My point is, it didn’t help Chip or the team – or DeSean — to hash their problems out in public. And even if you force Kelly to spar with reporters for a full hour of fast-talking banter, it’s not difficult for him to reveal just as little while talking as he does not giving interviews at all.
My book, “The Tao of Chip Kelly,” has an entire chapter full of Chip tweaking reporters, mocking their stupid questions, and saying as much or as little as he wants.
Now, as a writer, I love it when Chip gives long interviews. He has a quick mind and usually says something worth discussing on a different subject than he is asked about. For example, at those NFL Annual Meetings, he gave an interesting explanation of how he tries to set a framework in which team leaders organically emerge among the players. It’s a lot harder to write about a guy who maintains radio silence; all we can do is speculate.
But in the end, it’s more useful to watch people’s actions, not hear their words. The Eagles spoke clearly two days later, by releasing Jackson. DeSean signed quickly with Washington for a 25% pay cut, which confirmed speculation that no one wanted to trade (because they would have been stuck with his full $10-million-a-year original contract).
Chip hasn’t been talking, but he has set a record for college Pro Days attended by an NFL head coach — at least 12 by last count, travelling by commercial airliner around the country to see the new talent up close.
And Jackson’s actions are also speaking louder than his politically correct interview comments about maturing, learning and wanting to be a good team player in Washington. Djax has had plenty of media appearances in celebrity gossip rags, photos included.
TMZ.com reported on DeSean’s “crazy Miami rager,” where he dropped $7,000 on expensive “bottles and models,” and MSTARS NEWS had him hitting on movie star/singer Rihanna at the LA nightclub where he was partying with rapper The Game.
Meanwhile, Jackson skipped the first week of Redskins’ workouts, rather than reschedule his previously booked vacation, and while his teammates sweated he was posting photos on Instagram of his tropical #privateisland paradise.
Given that contrast, do we really need Chip to tell us in words what the problem was?