Thrust into the toughest city in all of sports, at the mercy of the most ravenous fans in the NFL, he didn’t choose to be dubbed a savior: that was just the burden he was given. But as is often the case, impatient Philly fans couldn’t wait for his plan to properly unfold and he was cast aside like yesterday’s cheesesteak. While they can take away his job, his house, and even his credibility, they can never take away his genius. He will rise again like a phoenix from the ashes. These are the adventures of…
CHIP KELLY: FOOTBALL GENIUS!
8:35 a.m. March 12, 2016.
As he flicked on the lights to illuminate his dank office, Chip’s face couldn’t hide his disappointment. Sure he knew things were going to be different with this job, but as he looked around the cramped, tiny space, his heart fell. It wasn’t so much the peeling yellow paint or the ancient Panasonic boom-box that bummed him out, but rather that his new organization couldn’t even fulfill his request to leave a fresh box of Hostess cupcakes on his desk.
Not being treated like a God was just an adjustment he was going to have to make. After all, a lot of things didn’t make sense about his new home. For example, the Golden Gate Bridge. Chip had driven over it several times, and not seen one iota of gold. If he were in charge, he’d call it the “Big Red Suspension Bridge That Connects San Francisco to Marin County.” It just made more sense that way.
At least his new team was correctly named. If you rated this team’s talent on a scale of one to 100, San Francisco would be a 49. That’s what Chip was here to fix. They may have a failing grade now, but before long, he’d have this team playing like San Francisco 69ers.
The pyramids weren’t built in a day, Chip reminded himself. He had to take this rebuild one step at a time. And today’s task was to sit down with his potential starting quarterback.
In Philadelphia, Chip had quickly built a roster in his image: lean and quick. Most importantly, he made sure to get players who “bought in to his system.” If players weren’t “system” guys, they were dealt with quickly, usually to the open market.
Even though Chip knew his way was right, it wasn’t always easy shaping a roster of “system” guys. In the past, he had taken heat for letting go of fan-favorites DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and LeSean McCoy. But as you could tell from their names alone, they were positively not “system” guys.
Now Chip was back to square one, needing to figure out how many “system” guys he had in San Francisco. And it started with the enigma that was incumbent starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
A big, physically gifted runner, Kaepernick didn’t look like a player who would fit in a Chip Kelly offense. But Chip had also heard that Kaepernick’s mother was very “systematic,” and that intrigued the genius coach to no end. He was torn on what to do with the QB, so he had arranged this meet and greet to get to know more.
Kaepernick shuffled into Kelly’s office five minutes later than scheduled. In person, he was as impressive a specimen as described. For a second, Chip felt self-conscious. Then he remembered who he was and the feeling passed. He went to offer Kaepernick a chair before realizing the office only had one. The quarterback would have to stand.
“So tell me about your family,” said Chip, diving right into it. He had no time for idle chit-chat. The clock was always Chip Kelly’s enemy.
The quarterback launched into a story about how his birth father took off immediately so his birth mother put him up for adoption. Chip frowned; the father clearly wasn’t a “system” guy. However, he was pleased to learn that the family that adopted and raised Kaepernick was very “systematic.” It really posed another nature vs. nurture question: could being a “system” guy be taught, or did it have to come from within? It was time to find out.
“What about football? Do you enjoy playing it? How do you feel when you score a touchdown?”
Chip leaned back in the only chair and tried not to grin. This was obviously a trick question. One that had stumped so many before Kaepernick and would stump so many afterwords. But the quarterback surprised the genius with his answer.
“Honestly, it’s been so long since I’ve scored, I don’t even remember what it feels like. Right now, football has been so rough on me, it really just feels like work,” said a forlorn Kaepernick.
The coach allowed himself the smile he had been trying to hold back. This player had clearly been humbled. He didn’t have any sass, any ego, any emotion at all. He was a blank slate. Sure he didn’t look like a “system” guy, but Chip could definitely work with this.
“Against my better judgement,” he said, “I will allow you to be the starting quarterback of my football team. You are being given a great honor. Only a select few get to play quarterback for a coach of my genius. Do you understand how lucky you are?”
Kaepernick meekly nodded in understanding. Chip was pleased the quarterback had stifled the urge to celebrate in front of him.
Then all of a sudden, the tiny office door burst open and a sandy-haired man stood before Kelly.
“Sorry I’m late,” said Blaine Gabbert. “I heard the new coach wanted to meet with the quarterbacks?”
Quarterbacks? Chip wasn’t aware that he had two. A genius is so busy, he can’t be bothered to learn the names of everyone on a 53-man roster. But as he looked Gabbert up and down, Chip was pleasantly surprised. There was nothing understated about him: this guy was clearly a “system” quarterback.
“Disregard everything I just told you,” said Chip looking at Kaepernick. “This man is my starting quarterback.” And he gestured towards a confused looking Gabbert.
Chip shooed both the players from his office as they exchanged puzzled glances. Then he went back to his chair and pulled out the reserve cupcake he always kept in his back pocket. These are the tough decisions a new coach has to make, he thought to himself. And what makes these decisions so tough is that they are never black and white.