All the Clichés Involving the Word “Chip”
A CHIP OFF YOUR SHOULDER
There are parts of this story you already know. The Philadelphia Eagles fired Chip Kelly before the 2015 season was out after his team lost to the Washington Redskins, eliminating Philly from the playoffs. He was the head coach there for *almost* three seasons. His total record with the team was 26–21. He was not only head coach for the all-but-one-game 2015 season he coached with the birds but also head of personnel. The San Fransisco 49ers picked him up relatively quickly. The Eagles played like they had a chip off their shoulder following his release, closing out the season to beat the New York Giants in the Meadowlands. The Eagles wore all black uniforms, for only the third time in their history as a team. Black is what funeral-goers wear in mourning. Was this a pun? Was this poetry?
A major criticism of Kelly during his time in Philly was the talent he let slip through the door and the talent he pushed out of that same door, especially as head of personnel. An article at ESPN suggests that before he was fired, Kelly was asked if he would step down as head of personnel but “balked at the idea.” Some were surprised that Jeffrey Lurie, the Eagles owner, would give Kelly that level of control, allowing him essentially to gut the team, and then fire him so quickly. This is akin to hiring someone whose art you appreciate to paint a portrait of your family. As you are sitting there, there is a gleam in the artist’s eye you don’t like. You think he talks funny. You don’t like the way he is moving the brush, the way he peers out the window every now and then. You stand and walk over to the other side of the easel and take a look at the half-finished painting. You don’t like what you see. You fire him. The portrait, you’ll never know what it could have been.
A CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK
Outside of the losing season — his only losing season in Philadelphia — the team not making the playoffs (two years in a row), and most fans’ disgusted bewilderment of the beloved players Kelly let go, he was not necessarily a likeable dude. His Wikipedia page spends 183 words on his personal life and much more on his football life — as a player but mostly as a coach. His personality — outside of who he is as a coach, as someone invested in the game of football— is not something Kelly cares to share with most people.
Lurie said of Kelly after he was fired, “You’ve got to open your heart to players and everybody you want to achieve peak performance…I would call it a style of leadership that values information and all of the resources that are provided and at the same time values emotional intelligence. I think in today’s world, a combination of all those factors creates the best chance to succeed.” Suffice to say, Lurie did not seem to believe Kelly possessed the right combination of these factors.
I remember listening to a press conference with Kelly before this season started. I remember him telling the reporter that he didn’t want to talk about contracts. I remember him telling another that he said hello in the hallway to the guys who said hello to him, that he had different relationships with different players, and that was all he wanted to say on that. Apparently, some players liked him while others complained about him. An article on ESPN says, “Kelly didn’t want players perceived as ‘me-first’ guys. He alienated some of his players, although those who spoke out against him did it after they were gone.” Team before individual, culture before scheme. Kelly wanted his players — and filtered the roster to make it this way — easy (for him) to get along with and talented — not one or the other.
One of my favorite interviews with Kelly is him monologuing about how efficient the team was in taking their team photo before the 2015 season started, belying in him a certain tic, a certain obsession. The Chip Kelly practice scheme, the Chip Kelly offense, the Chip Kelly system is fueled by and only succeeds through ultimate efficiency. In an article for Philly.com, one player says of Kelly’s practices, “There’s not a lot of messing around or slack or extra stuff going on. It’s all business. And it makes the day go faster. You’re home by 6:30, which gives you time to rest. So it’s very efficient.” Even when we see those bits of personality shining through, like when he referred to the photographer as someone who “thought he was Ansel Adams,” it’s really the system he wants to talk about. In other words, with Kelly, it’s always about football, even when it’s not.
If you listen to Kelly talk for a few press conferences or interviews or post game shows, a few things are clear: he has a vision. He may be a dreamer, but he is also a statistician. His vision will only be complete if X, Y, and Z are in place. Hence the complete control he needed over the roster. And this vision isn’t something he can explain to the common news reporter or anyone else not involved directly in it, for that matter. You live the system, you breathe the system, you die in the system, or you‘re not not a part of the system. If you were outside the system — or within and against the system — Kelly didn’t much care about or for you. Those who fell into these categories were either placated, ignored, or booted. Hence the gutting of the team. Hence the often sharp, snide comments at press conferences. Hence the not saying hello to everyone in the hallway.
ALL THAT AND A BAG OF CHIPS
If you think I’m gearing up to make some sort of grand gesture or point, you’re right. According the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), some symptoms for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are as follows:
- Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts;
- Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities;
- Symptoms can cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.
While many have mistaken Kelly for someone who is antisocial or rude, a dictator, and/or a coach “lacking a personal touch,” he can be understood better if we consider that Kelly, a 52 year old man from New Hampshire, was born in a time when ASD was not diagnosed as it is today. NIMH notes also that “Some children are mildly impaired by their symptoms, while others are severely disabled.” Kelly’s symptoms as an adult are mild, but present. I can’t dig into his past outside of his career to let you know what raising him was like or if any of his childhood behaviors confirm the likelihood of him being on the spectrum, but the fact that all we really know about Kelly has to do with football speaks volumes. The developments made in research behind ASD these days, even the change in its name from merely Autism to there being different levels/types of Autism (Asperger’s for instance), to finally the idea that many who are born with ASD are on various points of a larger spectrum confirm, for me, that had this type of research existed when Kelly was younger, he would have been diagnosed as on this spectrum. More than anything else this season (the Eagles, though 7–9, were one of only 4 teams to beat the Patriots!) and throughout his now-elapsed time in Philadelphia, he has been criticized for lacking social skills — not football skills. He has learned to make small talk, learned the tricks and trades that keep him ahead in his profession. He was quickly hired after the Eagles let him go, so despite all of the bad press his personality got, he is still admired and desired as a coach. He is immersed in football, and many within the football world can see, acknowledge, and appreciate his talents as a coach.
Its Kelly’s genius despite his inability to socialize in the expected way with those he interacts with but does not feel close to that put him on the spectrum. As an Eagles fan, I can safely say I was unhappy with the team this year, and I was pissed when he let go of Desean Jackson, Shady McCoy, Brian Boykin, Evan Mathis, Jeremy Maclin, the list goes on. But as a keen observer, I think understanding Kelly as someone on the spectrum helps me at least to better understand what goes into and what’s behind his schema, his “system”, his vision.
LET THE CHIPS FALL WHERE THEY MAY
I’ve run this theory by people before. People who love the Philadelphia Eagles. People who thought Kelly was going to bring the birds their first-ever SuperBowl ring. And people who just love football. Reactions varied: a tilting of the head and a squinting of the eyes; “I could see that”; “Maybe…”; “Oh, I don’t think so.” I was frustrated and curious why no one wanted to agree wholeheartedly with me. One reason they might have hesitated to confirm my theory could be their lack of understanding and appreciating the intricacies of ASD. The word “autism” meant something different in the 1990s than it does today, for instance. Mostly, I think it might have been because people are afraid of the word “disability.” To too many, it implies that someone is “sub-”normal or built “wrong” rather than just different. I think Chip Kelly, along with everyone else differently abled, is “just different” — and I think Kelly’s “just different” belies a deeper understanding for the game of football than most.
Children and adults alike with autism have been called savants, geniuses. Chip Kelly is a football savant. He lives and breathes football. Only one other article I’ve ever read suggests that Kelly has ASD, specifically towards the Asperger’s side of it. In it, the reporter says that “more than one person has suggested that to [Kelly],” that he is on the spectrum. And that’s that. Shrug. Cut scene. Dim the lights.
Perhaps he knows he’s on the spectrum and fears that exposure of this information could change the way that organizations he works for/hopes to work for will perceive him. Perhaps he is merely a deeply, deeply private dude. Perhaps he doesn’t realize that his issues with social communication have a history, a background, and a name that might be more than shrugged at. I can’t say. I think looking at Kelly as someone on the spectrum not only helps football fans understand him, but perhaps can lead to his being seen as a role model for others who share his patterns of behavior. Yes, he may have “trouble relating to players” —but he is still “a brilliant football mind”. I can’t wait to see what he does with Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers.