It's the headline du jour around the Eagles this week, the "hot" topic that so many reporters are rushing to cover: Eagles head coach Chip Kelly says that locker room culture wins out in the NFL over scheme and the crowd goes wild.
Why is this such a shock to anyone? When is the last time a disruptive locker room won in the NFL? Oh, there are fights and disagreements and spats on every team, but all-out anarchy spells failure. When is the last time a player who wasn't on board with his head coach was still with that head coach?
Kelly is absolutely correct saying what he said. The first thing a head coach does when he joins a team is to evaluate the locker room - talent, chemistry, culture. He wants his kind of players both in terms of their skill sets and their willingness to play by his rules. Kelly has moved players on and off the roster aggressively since he took over and now he has his guys.
I've seen it work well, and not so well, in many years with the Eagles. Buddy Ryan's teams had a great sense of unity and chemistry and one of the most fun-loving and hell-raising locker rooms this city has ever experienced. If you were a player who didn't completely buy into what Ryan was selling, he didn't hesitate for a moment to send you packing.
Rich Kotite's Eagles had some issues, there was no doubt about that. No sugar coating. The post-Ryan Eagles were divided, and while the team had a smidgen of success (one playoff season with one post-season win in four years) the lack of trust and bonding and "culture," in the locker room and throughout the organization doomed any chance for long-term excellence.
Ray Rhodes? With Jeffrey Lurie in as the team's new owner and willing to give Rhodes everything he needed, the Eagles started off with two trips to the playoffs and some promising moments. The culture under Rhodes was not established during a particularly volatile period of time for the Eagles moving pieces in and out of the locker room.
Then came Andy Reid, and the first-time head coach used the 1999 season as a chance to get rid of the flotsam from the stench of the 3-13 '98 locker room. The Eagles turned it all around in the locker room and built for long-term success and achieved everything except winning the Super Bowl.
But by the end of Reid's tenure, the culture soured. The energy lacked. Hiring Chip Kelly was perfect, as his fresh approach and confidence and innovation ignited the fires in the organization again.
And so here we are in the middle of Kelly's second season and the world is exploring the idea that "culture" trumps scheme. Interesting.
"Without the right guys in the locker room, without having that trust in the guy next to you, how are you going to achieve what you want on the football field?," said tight end Brent Celek. "I totally agree with what he said. It all starts with buying into the coaching staff and into your teammates and we've done that from the first day. You listen to Chip and he has an answer for why he asks us to do things. That's all a player can ask for. He has a reason for everything."
Former Eagles head coach Dick Vermeil was in the NovaCare Complex this week and I asked him about the idea of "culture" and what it means to a head coach. Vermeil, of course, took over as the Eagles' head coach in 1976 for a franchise that hadn't won more games than it lost in a single season since 1966. He had a lot of crap to clean out of that locker room.
"It took me a lot more time to get it right than it's taken Chip," said Vermeil, who reached the playoffs in his third season, 1978. "You want leadership and you want your program in place. Yes, it's important. Very important. Chip has done an amazing job turning this around so fast. He has had some pieces to work with, but to bring it all together is very impressive. I love what he's doing."
I've always said that the NFL is about quarterbacks and coaches. If you have a quarterback, you have a chance. If you have a quarterback and good coaches, you have an excellent chance.
Before all of that, though, comes "culture." Chip didn't invent it, but he has mastered it here in a very short period of time. He has helped change the entire way an organization - on the field and off - approaches the game and the results are obviously very encouraging.