Announced shortly after the conclusion of the 49ers’ season, but in classic fashion leaked to the media prematurely, Chip Kelly’s departure actually hit me a little harder than I expected. This was not because I necessarily rated the performances Kelly and his coaching staff had elicited out of the team, as they were generally incredibly painful to watch, though I was willing to see Kelly at least given another year with some genuine tools on offense in addition to a defense that wasn’t missing several of its key pieces and having Nick Bellore as its starting linebacker.
What hit me about Kelly’s departure was the class with which he had apparently handled himself with throughout the season, in addition to my interest in Kelly as a bit of a maverick coach.
Regarding the former, it was quite clear from training camp that Kelly had been granted questionable group of personnel – especially on the offensive side of the ball. For a supposed offensive guru it’s never ideal to start with an already weakened unit and have to attempt to rebuild your reputation with that unit. For the entire season Kelly went to work with that group of personnel, bringing out career years from Vance McDonald, Carlos Hyde and Jeremy Kerley, as well as helping Colin Kaepernick improve drastically from his abysmal performances in 2015. That fundamentally wasn’t enough however, and Kelly wasn’t given the chance to run his offense with a better group of personnel.
Not only did he deal with that situation with determination and apparent good grace, during the season right up until his dismissal, but Kelly also dealt with the death of his father as well as the Colin Kaepernick protest. The former he handled as well in public as anyone could be expected to, as well as returning to his job with staggering quickness to continue his hard work.
Moreover, Kelly dealt with the Kaepernick protest with tremendous skill and thoughtfulness. Far from allowing it to divide his locker room, it struck me that Kelly not only allowed his quarterback to make his feelings known freely and without punishment, but he helped to maintain an environment where all of his players could exercise their beliefs without fearing for their status and position within the 49ers organisation. Jed York must be given some credit for this as well, but the locker room was Kelly’s domain and the unity of it was important not just for the 49ers organisation, but should be something that sports organisations around the world should look to replicate. Kelly acknowledged that Kaepernick’s cause was bigger than football, and allowed his players to express themselves as well as enabling them to focus on football and only football when that time came, without worrying about how their beliefs impacted upon that.
This was in fitting with his apparently progressive attitude to all things, especially within football. From his innovative offense to his unorthodox off-field theories and methods, Kelly was a ever a trailblazer. There was something refreshing about that: a coach unafraid to buck conventional wisdom. The NFL was arguably not ready for Kelly, so firmly set in its ways. I am sure, however, that Kelly’s influence will remain in some coaches’ play-books and methods, influencing many players and coaches in future generations.
So to Chip, I bid you farewell and good luck in your next endeavour, whatever that may be.
Oh… and a word on Baalke.
That particular firing, was long overdue. Adieu.