August 03, 2015

Talk is cheap to Chip Kelly – and that’s his greatest fault

Chip Kelly has a serious problem as he embarks on his third season in the NFL. No, the Eagles coach is not a racist. His disagreement with Brandon Boykin on the first weekend of training camp exposes a far more obvious – and far more ominous – flaw in his philosophy.

He does not value communication.

Boykin, a defensive back whose mouth is considerably bigger than his talent, triggered another flurry of empty allegations when – after his trade to Pittsburgh Saturday – he said in a text message that Kelly is “uncomfortable around grown men of our culture.”

After the racially-charged remarks of LeSean McCoy last winter, and similar acknowledgment of a racial disconnect by ex-assistant Tra Thomas before that, Kelly is developing a reputation that he doesn’t deserve.

Is it possible that Kelly, who has a combined record of 66-20 coaching rosters filled with African-American athletes in college and the pros, actually harbors a bias against black players?

It is becoming more obvious that Kelly doesn’t bother to share his thoughts with anyone. Inside the organization, this has been a complaint since the day he got there. 

No, it isn’t. That allegation is totally ridiculous. As my journalism professors taught me many years ago, consider the source. All three of the accusers are ex-Eagles. They are malcontents. They are making excuses for their own failures. End of argument.

Something else Boykin said, however, rings true. The safety said Kelly is not very good at communicating. In fact, the coach has been known to walk down the hallways at the NovaCare complex without even acknowledging the members of his own team. This behavior is not cultural, though. Kelly appears to be an equal-opportunity snub artist.

Although he is one of the sharpest football minds in the business, Kelly has never prioritized the need for communication. The athletic director who was Kelly’s boss for three years at Oregon, Mike Belotti, said recently: “I’m not sure I would consider that I know Chip.” Heck, It wasn’t until last week that anyone even realized Kelly had once been married.

The biggest misconception about Kelly is that he is fan unfriendly – rarely offering his thoughts on the inner workings of the team, going for months at a time unavailable for questioning, then hiding the truth behind a quick, cutting wit when he does emerge. The media has always interpreted Kelly’s elusiveness as a statement against them and the fans.

Now, though, it is becoming more obvious that Kelly doesn’t bother to share his thoughts with anyone. Inside the organization, this has been a complaint since the day he got there. Howie Roseman was blindsided when Kelly issued his him-or-me ultimatum after last season.

Even now, the coach acts like there was no problem with the ex-GM.

Where did Kelly develop this mum’s-the-word paranoia? Do you really need to ask? His NFL role model is the ultimate mute, the most uncommunicative man in sports, Bill Belichick. Why, just last week the New England coach dealt with the latest developments in the Tom Brady crisis by answering all questions with: “Check the transcript.”

So far, the difference between Kelly and Belichick can be measured in Super Bowl rings. Belichick has four. Kelly has none. Of course, the New England coach probably cheated in each of his four championship seasons, but in the bottom-line world of the NFL, he is king. What works for Belichick, however, won’t necessarily work for Kelly.

No one deserves the allegation – implied or otherwise – of racism without undeniable proof. The problem is, Kelly’s unwillingness to communicate has opened himself up to baseless charges like this. He needs to address this shortcoming now, or Boykin won’t be the last player to put him on the defensive.

Chip Kelly made some sweeping changes to the roster over the past few months, but there’s one important change he still has to make. He has to change himself.

***

In the aftermath of a surprisingly fruitful few days before the trade deadline, speculation has been growing that Ruben Amaro may have saved his job as GM of the Phillies. This thinking, of course, is totally insane. Praising Amaro now is like thanking a demolition man for removing the bulldozer after he accidentally destroyed your house.

Ruben Amaro has been the worst GM in Phillies history, and the trades he made last week of Jonathan Papelbon, Cole Hamels and Ben Revere will not change that reality. The truth is, Amaro may have been making the phone calls that led to those deals, but he was definitely not the final word.

Outgoing president Pat Gillick, who was brought in to begin the rebuilding of a roster riddled with Amaro mistakes, was the head of a brain trust that also included incoming president Andy MacPhail.

These were definitely not Ruben Amaro deals. How can I tell? They made sense. Instead of the Cliff Lee trade for Phillippe Aumont or Hunter Pence for a player (Tommy Joseph) who has had more concussions (3) than big-league starts (0), the Phillies actually got some promising young players in exchange for their departing stars.

The Hamels deal was so good, in fact – netting three prospects rated in the top 100 in all of baseball – that Texas Rangers fans have been complaining more about the high price they paid than the oppressive summer heat. Hamels’ so-so debut Saturday night did not quiet the dissenters.

But nothing that happened last week erases seven years of terrible decisions by Amaro, a seven-year demolition project that turned the best team in baseball into one of the worst. Seven good days don’t make up for seven bad years.

Jim Duquette, a former GM and now a top analyst on MLB Network Radio, said the other day that, despite the good recent reviews, Amaro will lose his job as GM at the end of the season.

Duquette had better be right. For the sake of Phillies fans, he has to be right.

***

The New England Patriots are the reigning champions of the NFL. They also lead the league in arrogance, obnoxiousness and self-deception. It’s hard to imagine a sports franchise looking more ridiculous than the Patriots and their fans did last week.

To the surprise of no one, commissioner Roger Goodell affirmed his decision to suspend Tom Brady for four games because the quarterback conspired to deflate footballs late last season. To the surprise of everyone, Goodell actually explained why he was rejecting the appeal – because Brady destroyed his cell phone.

Brady knew the league was going to require the phone during its appeal investigation; he had already refused to relinquish it in the original probe. But to admit he had instructed an assistant to destroy it on the very day he was meeting with NFL investigator Ted Wells was both stupid and insubordinate.

It was stupid because it removed all doubt about his guilt. Who destroys evidence if it’s going to support them? Nobody. He cheated. And it was insubordinate because he works for the NFL, not the other way around. In destroying the phone, he was telling Goodell to go to hell.

And if you’re looking for hell in the NFL, a good place to start is New England, where the owner and the team’s fans are waging a spirited battle over who is more delusional. Owner Robert Kraft said Goodell’s decision was “unfathomable.” Seriously? The only thing unfathomable was that Brady smashed his own cellphone and then admitted it.

As for the fans, they greeted Brady with a standing ovation on the first day of training camp. In the months since he was unmasked as a cheat, they have showered him with more adulation than ever before. One couple refuses to go on their honeymoon until he is exonerated. That’s another thing New England leads the league in – hero worship.

Yes, the Patriots are reigning champions, although it’s pretty clear now that they cheated for the title – just as they did the previous three times they won it. They are living proof that you don’t have to be smart to win it all. You just need to corrupt enough to ignore the rules, and delusional enough to ignore the truth.

And finally ...

• This sudden surge by the Phillies is raising a rather alarming question: Just how bad a manager was Ryne Sandberg? Not only did he inspire no one with his strategic skills, but now it sure looks like his players quit on him, doesn’t it? A brilliant player, Sandberg has told friends he will never manage again. Good idea.

• Cole Hamels left Philadelphia last week with the same class and honor that distinguished his 10 years here as a Phillie. His appreciation for the fans was constant and genuine. Eventually, Hamels will receive the love from Philadelphia that he deserves. His absence will make hearts grow fonder, rest assured.

• It is now 23 days since the Sixers announced that center Joel Embiid will require a second surgery on his broken right foot. Has he had the operation? Has there been another twist in this already twisted story? No one knows because the Sixers won’t say. They don’t think they need to keep you informed. Do they?

• How crazy was the start of Eagles training camp? While everybody was talking about an ex-Eagles backup defensive back, Brandon Boykin, franchise-quarterback-to be Sam Bradford got rid of his knee brace and was cleared to participate fully in all drills. Newspapers have a term for that: burying the lead.

• What a charming gesture by Dallas defensive end Greg Hardy, who chipped in $300 for a plane to buzz Eagles practice with the message “We Still Dem Boyz.” Just a couple of quibbles: He’s never been a Cowboy, and he won’t be one for the first four games this season because of domestic abuse. Other than that, perfect.