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Chip Kelly Update: Battling the Beat Reporters

A new weekly column on the coach

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

The weekly Chip Kelly Update column has relocated to BGN from FishDuck.com, where it has lived for the last three years. It focuses on the coach, his decisions and interactions with the press and public. - ed.

Chip Kelly has never gotten along that well with reporters, not in Oregon, not in Philadelphia. (I can't really speak to his years as an assistant in New Hampshire; maybe his sarcastic, hard-case persona fit in better there.)

Chip says he doesn't care what anyone thinks, and he backs it up with his actions, giving reporters crap about any questions he doesn't like and making no effort to be popular with them.

It seems to be getting worse in Philadelphia as the Eagles continue to struggle. To reporters, Chip avoids them and is evasive or BSing at his mandatory press conferences. They're also frustrated that his staff doesn't leak to well-connected reporters the way that Andy Reid's did.  (I'm not sure Chip would even argue any of those points.)

From the coach's point of view, the press just keeps manufacturing controversies that are ignorant or flat out wrong, such as LeSean McCoy "hanging up on" a Chip phone call, or arguments about the number of snaps Vinny Curry has been getting compared to Taylor Hart.

The Vinny Curry thing is dumb, since the two defensive linemen don't really play the same position. Hart is a two-gapping run stuffer, backing up Cedric Thornton, while Vinny Curry is a pass rushing specialist who only plays in subpackages because he's not very effective against the run. He will usually only be in on 3rd down and longer than 2 yards.

But Hart played for Chip at Oregon, and Curry was in Philly with Andy Reid, so it's another way to pump the very tired "Oregon Bias!" narrative. If anything, the Eagles should be using ex-Duck Josh Huff more -- he's the most effective wide receiver on a team desperately short of WR talent.

The more interesting story is that Hart played more snaps than Cedric Thornton against Arizona. Ced is a free agent after this year, having signed his restricted free agent tender last April. Thornton, signed as a UDFA in 2011, has been a key part of Chip Kelly's 3-4 front line, but developing Hart could signal that the team is willing to let Thornton walk at the end of the year, or just hoping to keep his salary demands in check by showing they have alternatives.

Why did Curry get only 22 snaps against the Cardinals? The main reason was probably not Hart or Thornton at all, but the fact that Arizona ran so much. With rookie RB David Johnson erupting into an offensive rookie of the year candidate, the Cards ran 39 times against only 31 passing attempts. And with the Eagles' defensive collapse, Arizona only had 14 third downs in the entire game. Curry's subpackage wasn't needed that much.

The LeSean McCoy story was even worse. It's hard not to feel bad for Shady after the press egged on his ego battle against Chip. Not surprisingly, the Eagles were able to game plan against and frustrate a McCoy-led running attack, leaving Shady angry and embarrassed in front of everyone.

Then came Jeff McLane's explosive story about Chip calling Shady to apologize, only to be hung up on. That's great drama, human and rough at the same time. The only problem is, both men say flat out that it never happened.

And it would be illegal tampering if it did, since coaches can't contact another team's contracted players. The NFL fined Jets owner Woody Johnson $100,000 just for telling reporters that he'd love for Darrelle Revis to come back to the team, an obvious sentiment. Calling a player directly on his cell phone would probably get the death penalty.

McLane insisted (in print) that he had "two sources." Since phone calls only have two participants, and both deny it, who could the "sources" have possibly been?

There are only two possibilities: the story about the hang-up is completely fabricated by McLane's sources, whoever they are (Howie? Joe Banner? DeSean?), or Chip and Shady both lied directly to reporters. It's hard to understand why McCoy would do that, since he clearly has anger toward his ex-coach and hasn't been shy about telling the media.

Kelly is gruff, but he's consistent, and it would be nice if the beat reporters adjusted. He's going to tell you as little as possible about injuries, as he's done since 2009. Yes, he schedules his meeting with team doctors after his Monday press conference so he can say he doesn't know what's up.

Here's a clue: that's not an accident. Three years in, it's just stupid to write (as many do) that he should reschedule that meeting. It's by design. He wants to give the next opponent as little time as possible to plan how to take advantage of missing players.

He doesn't like to criticize players or coaches during the season, because it's too hard to find replacements and get them up to speed. And he doesn't want to undermine their confidence just to help some reporters get clicks. In case you hadn't noticed, he's pretty decisive about making changes once the season's over.

He's not going to tell you what plays they will run, before a game. In fact, for better or worse, he likes to call plays from his gut, not some rigid plan or scheme developed in advance. That's why he keeps talking about "the way the game expressed itself."

The situation is way too fluid to predict, between the other team's surprise game plans, injuries, the weather, and how well players (and coaches) learn and grow during the season itself. The best response, Chip thinks, is to carefully observe whatever happens and respond, instead of trying to impose your narrative on the game before it even happens.

It's a high risk, high reward strategy. The best coaches work from the gut, but new coaches like Kelly need lots of games to get competent, much less good. Like quarterbacks, you need to be good enough to stay in the league for years, before anyone can even tell if you are "a keeper" or not. Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll and Bruce Arians all had rough stretches before demonstrating their mastery, and none of them were obvious choices when hired for their current jobs.

Chip's at the lowest point of his head coaching career. Honestly, no one knows yet if he will succeed in the NFL. Some great coaches had worse records than he does after three years , but some terrible coaches had better records too. I'm guessing Jeff Lurie lets him finish his five year contract, no matter what.

However much time Chip has left will be a lot more interesting and illuminating for fans if the press can tone down their egos a bit and let the situation express itself, instead of trying to impose narratives or get into ego battles with Chip. Like Belichick, he can be crusty in conflict, but if you ask the right question he'll open up at great length on some detailed aspect of scheme or coaching philosophy.