Football has a lot of rhythms -- the weekly cycle, the end of half burst, the bye week reset, and timing your peak for the playoffs. One of Chip Kelly's less appreciated strengths is his understanding of those rhythms, and the way he plans to make the most of them.
You may have noticed that Chip runs the week differently, starting on Tuesday and practicing harder on Saturday than other teams. Noting that most games are at 1pm EST, he has built a weekly schedule that revolves around that. He decided not to shift it radically for their Thursday night game (which they lost), because it would be worse to disrupt the more common pace.
The emotions a team feels after big wins and losses are real. Some writers overhype trap games and letdown games, such as the Eagles' loss in 2010 after the second Miracle in the Meadowlands, and others dismiss the concept as a fake media narrative. They're both wrong.
Emotional cycles are just as real (and dangerous to a team) as the other rhythms are, if you don't respect them. Chip Kelly is very careful not to make that mistake
Kelly downplays the big emotional ups and down that the media love. They make great drama, and are awesome if you are creating a football movie. But for teams, every up has an equivalent down. The Tao Te Ching, a great work of Chinese philosophy that underlies a lot of martial arts, talks about avoiding this roller coaster if you want to master your skills. Merely by defining something as beauty, Laozi writes in chapter two, you have created an equal amount of ugliness. Better to take things as they are -- it is what it is. Zhuangzi, the other great Taoist writer, noted how master archers lose their touch when the prize money increases and they think about winning rather than shooting.
What we in the U.S. call "a professional" is someone who goes beyond drama and sticks with performance. Chip Kelly's philosophy is built on this type of professionalism. He says "Play with emotion, don't let emotion play with you." And he hates rivalry games. If you define one game as especially important, by definition you have said that every other game is less important. And that's how teams lose "trap games" and "letdown games." The coach told them that the game was less important.
In four years at Oregon, Kelly's Ducks never lost an upset. But this year after he left, the Ducks lost to Arizona after team members were quoted as saying they were disappointed about "only" playing in the Rose Bowl (instead of the NCG). Chip would never have tolerated that -- those players would have been disciplined or even benched. Now, the Ducks are playing in the Alamo Bowl, the first time since before Chip that they aren't in a BCS Bowl.
A lot of football coaches talk about "one week at a time" and not looking ahead, but not many really live that way. They still hype up rivalries, give big stirring speeches to rile players up, and buy into the Hollywood happy heroic victory narrative.
The way you live this even-keeled philosophy is to enforce it. You bench players who don't give their all in practice and in less hyped games -- as Kelly did with DeSean in training camp. Everyone wonders why Vinny Curry didn't play much at the start of the season. No one knows for sure but I'd bet folding money it had to do with not listening to the coaches, not busting ass in practice, not being a team player. Look what Chip said this week about Chris Polk -- that he he earned reps by practicing hard for weeks. He did not say -- as you might suspect -- that Polk earned playing time by running 38 yards for a touchdown in the snow.
That's a steady, professional approach. Another one of Chip's mottoes is "Every game is the Super Bowl." (Both of these are chapters in my book, "The Tao of Chip Kelly," just republished in an expanded edition.) That kind of focus is what gets you to 12-0, as Chip's Ducks were in 2010.
When he coached college, "the Super Bowl" was a metaphor. Now, it's a very real possibility, every year, if the team plays right. Can the Eagles win the Super Bowl? Not now, because they're not in it. But they can beat the Vikings, and then they can beat Chicago, and then Dallas -- if they take these one at a time. Every next game, they can win, and looking ahead any further only makes that less likely.
If Coach Kelly can sell the Eagles on this martial arts type of focus, they may look up one Sunday and find that their next game, the whole season, really is the Super Bowl. And at that point they'll have a big advantage over whoever they play -- because they'll already have 19 Super Bowls under their belt this year.
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