Several stories were then written about how the team might want Johnny Manziel, based on the last question of that press conference. A reporter noted that Chip recruited Johnny Football at Oregon; in fact, at one point both Manziel and Marcus Mariota had committed to the Ducks. (Let no one say Chip was bad at recruiting, he just didn't enjoy it.)
There were hot takes on Manziel and Chip everywhere from ESPN and the NFL's own website to NJ.com and right here at BGN. And -- except for the skeptical articles, like Brandon Lee Gowton's -- it was all crap. I'll tell you why.
Coach Kelly is a fanatic for watching videotape of prospects, and better yet of seeing them in person (as we've seen with Pro Days this spring.) Why not just read scouting reports, statistics and news articles? Isn't that more efficient?
No. It's faster, but the information is very limited. Direct observation gives you much more data. You can pick up things that are lost boiling it down to words and numbers. If your words (or stats) exactly capture the most important nuances, then sure, they are incredibly efficient. But good writing is a very difficult process of capturing the exact right details out of thousands of possibilities. Not surprisingly, that doesn't happen very often.
Chip Kelly's answer on the Manziel question is a perfect example. The reporter was referring to a rumor by Sports Illustrated's Peter King, that the Eagles might move up for Manziel.
Coach Kelly gave his answer, and the articles that followed made it sound like the Birds were rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of Manziel wearing green. The NFL.com article ended with this line: "Johnny Football in Philly? We all can dream about the possibility. Kelly, it seems, already has." Eliot ShorrParks at the Star Ledger wrote:
It could happen if Manziel falls, something that can't be ruled out, since it seems every year a quarterback stumbles down the board. If Manziel is sitting there at No. 22, anything could happen. Even with quarterback Nick Foles coming off of a Pro Bowl season -- and especially with a broken-hearted Kelly making the pick.
"I love the kid," Kelly said of Manziel. "I think he’s a hell of a football player."
If you were at the press conference, though, it was obvious that Chip was shooting down that rumor. Watch the video yourself, starting at 12:35 (right before the end).
Before the question is even finished, coach Kelly stares down the reporter to the point where he loses his nerve, saying "I'm just throwing it out there." Chip's initial answer is deadpan and clearly sarcastic, something he does a lot, though it's not always obvious in print. "We have an interest in anybody that’s draft eligible this year," he says, sounding like a presidential press secretary dodging a charged question, and other reporters laugh.
The questioner persists, quoting Manziel himself as saying that Chip once said he was "tailor-made" for his offense. Kelly replies, with a clear tone, "When I coached at Oregon he was tailor-made for that." The clear implication being, "not any more, idiot." Then he finished with a nice compliment for the clearly talented player. "He broke my heart. I love the kid. He's a hell of a football player."
Reporters loved the "broke my heart" line, but if you want to pursue that metaphor, Kelly was speaking as someone who got over an ex years ago, admitting that they once loved the cad but were done with their bad boy phase and had someone stable and sensible (Nick Foles) in their life now.
All of that was lost in the print articles. Whether it was poor reporting or a deliberate spin to raise an intriguing possibility, even though it was clearly not going to happen, who knows?
You would think that the TV stories on the subject would be better, since they had the actual tape to work with. Right? Not so much.
Take ESPN for example. When they wanted to hype the possibility that the Eagles would select Manziel, they just skipped the press conference video altogether. Instead, they showed a screen shot of a written transcript of the interview, over an unusually wistful photo of Chip. The only video was of their analysts standing up and talking.
Cause tape don't lie. So liars need to either edit it carefully, or avoid it altogether.