Football is a nearly year-round endeavor these days, for players, coaches, and (obsessive) fans. Between the Senior Bowl, the NFL Combine, free agency, the draft, and OTAs, news keeps flying year-round.
Except for right now, and the next 6 weeks. This is the dead spot, the one stretch of solid vacation that coaches and players get. In prior years, Chip Kelly has visited his family, partied with the likes of Jim Leach, Urban Meyer and Dale Earnhardt Jr., and run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. (Naturally, he and the other football coaches he invited along studied game tape of previous runnings to prepare.)
What’s he doing right now? No one knows, and that’s how Chip likes it. If you haven’t gotten the message that coach Kelly is a private guy, check out this long profile at Philadelphia Magazine, where a very aggressive reporter pursues him to the point of peeking through his window and showing up at Kelly’s dad’s house unannounced. What did that get him? A brief conversation with the coach where Chip declined to talk and said he preferred that writers talk about the team.
There’s a funny paradox. In many ways, Chip is very secretive. Fans and scribes are lucky if he gives three or four press conferences between the end of a season and draft day, and he never gives reporters direct interviews or one-on-one access for a profile. And yet, at press conferences, Chip is amazingly open. If he’s not in a bad mood from just having lost a game or something like that, he is prone to launch into deep and offbeat discussions of football strategy, goofy movies, or management strategies.
The latter are some of the most interesting. Chip Kelly emphasizes intelligence as one of the key traits he seeks in players, as well as finishing college before entering the NFL. (That is as much about finishing your tasks and organizing your time as it is about raw intelligence.)
The result is that the team is full of very bright guys (who are fun to interview, by the way), from center Jason Kelce to safety Malcolm Jenkins (being checked out by TV networks as a commentator) to backup ILB Najee Goode (who has a degree in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering).
Just as with physical skills, Kelly also believes in continuous improvement mentally. He is an omnivorous reader, looking for insights that might help his team anywhere from coaches in other sports (rugby, basketball) to business management gurus. And he often recommends books and articles to his players and assistant coaches.
Last year about this time, he answered a routine question about attendance at (optional) Organized Team Activities (OTAs) by going off on the theories of business ethicist Dov Seidman, from Seidman’s book “HOW”:
“We had full attendance last year but just depends on what model of organization you want. Do you want blind obedience or informed acquiescence or self governance. If you have self governance, I think the individuals have more invested in what’s going on because they have a say and they have a stake in it and we are moving towards that model but I don’t know if we are totally there right now.”
This year, the phrase “growth mindset” has crept into interview responses by players as well as coach Kelly. That’s a concept by Stanford professor Carol Dweck, spelled out in her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” In a way, it’s the flip side of the concept of continuous improvement.
As Dweck told the education blog OneDublin.org,
“In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb.
“In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”
Kelly has a long tradition of finding ways to help his players think better as well as play better. He has coined a number of concepts himself (which I spelled out in my book “The Tao of Chip Kelly“), and relied on everyone from business writer Jim Collins (“Good to Great”) to former Duck athlete, now motivational speaker Greg Bell (“Water the Bamboo”).
Kelly has released a number of older stars, perhaps because of their big contracts, perhaps because they don’t work hard enough, but also perhaps because they are reluctant to adjust their thinking, to adopt a growth mindset. Now young players such as WRs Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor are competing to coin their own “Chipisms.” Agholor has dropped several since being drafted less than two months ago, but Matthews — who grabbed everyone’s attention with his hustles and good attitude last year — struck back last week with a great motto.
“You can’t be whatever you want to be. You can be whatever you work to be.”
Is this a bunch of foofy New Age happy talk? Maybe? But Matthews, a second-round pick, had one of the best rookie seasons of any NFL WR ever last year. Chip is in the midst of a big experiment to see if this stuff works, but really, what’s the risk? It’s not like having a good attitude toward working hard ever hurt a player’s performance.
Top photo by Dov Seidman, courtesy of his LRN Corporation