Chip Kelly is so private, and such an interesting personality, that he has become an obsessive target of many writers, including me. (I was going to use the cliched Moby Dick metaphor, but calling the coach a "Great White Whale" might lead people to thinking I'm talking about race, or weight-shaming.)
The ultimate goal is the perfect longform profile, mixing fascinating details with moving stories told by those who know him best. Controversial author Robert Huber, a feature writer for the non-football side of Philadelphia Magazine, just published his results today, in a 5,000-word article titled "The Secret Life of Chip Kelly." (Full disclosure: I was one of many people Huber spoke with in his research for this project.)
Huber is a hard-charging reporter who is no stranger to controversy. Speaking of race, his 2013 article "Being White in Philly" -- inspired by the urban conditions he saw around his son's Temple dorm, and calling for more White critiques of Black culture -- led to widespread criticism and discussion everywhere from the New York Times to a white power website (and no, I'm not going to link to that). Mayor Michael Nutter called the article "disgusting" and called for an investigation.
For this profile, Huber interviewed as many people who knew coach Kelly as he could find, culminating in a three day trip to Manchester, New Hampshire. Predictably, few people spoke with him, though he did get 3 athletic directors who Kelly worked for on the record, two from Oregon and one from New Hampshire.
Huber has one embarrassing mistake in the middle of an interesting quote, referring to former UNH WR David Ball as "Ryan Ball." He probably mixed him up with the teammate who threw to him, QB (and current Eagles QB coach) Ryan Day.
"There were times I would walk by him and I knew damn well in his mind there’s, like, a film session going on, there’s plays being run," Ryan Ball, a receiver at UNH, once said. "You know, some people took that as him being standoffish. But he’s not." An obsessive, yes — but not unfeeling. "He had a relationship with football."
The portrait that emerges -- a hard-working, obsessive man of integrity and un-publicized good deeds -- fits what we've seen before, but that doesn't mean it's uninteresting or unimportant. All profiles are approximations, and finding several more people to confirm what has been said before, without any dissenters, definitely adds to our understanding of the coach. After all, the more secretive someone is, the more chance that their public image is distorted or manipulated or just plain wrong.
The most controversial part of this piece is likely to be Huber's aggressive pursuit of his subject, notably showing up unannounced at the doorstep of both Kelly's father Paul, and Kelly himself. Both men answered the door and politely but firmly declined to have a discussion; Huber's writing is skillful enough that even these failures come off as insightful glimpses into their characters.
In the end, this becomes a story about the pursuit of Chip Kelly, more than about Chip Kelly himself. It's well written, and I found it fascinating, but then I'm involved in the same pursuit (though much less aggressive in my methods). I am curious whether the effort is as interesting to more typical fans, or whether the intrusions seem over the line.
Ironically, the best insight of the piece, to my eye, was one not connected to any of Huber's dogged reporting. He suggests that Kelly's bold, attacking method of coaching was made possible by his long gestation as an assistant coach in New Hampshire.
Chip understood very early, as only the lucky among us can, just what he wanted to do. Not just coach — he wanted to attack. He wanted to find a way within a hundred-year-old game to create something new and different, something that might even change the game — something, at least, that was all his. That’s why he stayed so long in his tiny basement office down the road in Durham — because that’s exactly what he could do there. He could attack to his heart’s content, and he got very good at it.
It's a persuasive paradox, and left me wishing he had spent more time musing instead of chasing down reluctant or unwilling interviewees.
EDIT: fixed typo, h/t to FooFighter1124