Put on your track shoes and make sure you’re hydrated.
The 49ers on Thursday hired Chip Kelly, the controversial and mostly successful architect of football’s fastest-paced offense, as their head coach.
The announcement was made via Twitter by team CEO Jed York, who along with general manager Trent Baalke met with Kelly last week. Kelly, 52, was fired 15 games into Philadelphia’s 7-9 season but had back-to-back 10-6 records with the Eagles before that.
Most teams hold an introductory news conference with their new coach soon after the hire is announced, but the 49ers do not plan to do so until next week as Kelly hires his new staff.
“My immediate focus is to build the best coaching staff possible, one that will maximize the abilities of each of our players and put us in the best position to win football games,” Kelly said in a statement released by the team.
Before joining the NFL, Kelly flourished as a college coach at New Hampshire and Oregon, and his teams always have been known for high-powered, quick-paced offenses, something the 49ers are intent on improving after finishing 31st in the league in 2015. Kelly also has been a proponent of using science and technology to get his players prepared for – and stay healthy in – his relentless scheme.
“Guess I might have to start running right now to get in shape,” 49ers wide receiver Torrey Smith tweeted after the announcement.
Kelly’s Eagles offenses ranked in the top five in 2013 and 2014 before slipping to 12th this season. His defenses, however, were 29th, 28th and 30th, and some defensive players complained that the frantic pace of Kelly’s offense meant they were on the field too much. The Eagles had the least time of possession in the NFL under Kelly; the 49ers had the second-least last season.
“I feel bad for (defensive coordinator) Billy (Davis), because our numbers are so skewed,” pass rusher Connor Barwin told reporters in Philadelphia last week. “We played three more ‘games’ than Seattle. I’m not trying to make excuses, but we weren’t as bad as some of the numbers look. That’s because we play three more ‘games’ than other teams. That makes a difference.”
Other players felt Kelly worked them too hard and was so accustomed to college players that he didn’t know how to deal with professional athletes. That also was a complaint some players had of Jim Harbaugh after he and the 49ers parted ways following the 2014 season.
The 49ers spoke to at least one of their players, defensive end Arik Armstead (Pleasant Grove High School), about hiring Kelly. Armstead played for Kelly at Oregon and told team officials he thought his teammates would be able to play for Kelly.
Tom Gamble, the 49ers’ senior personnel executive, was part of the Eagles’ front office in 2013 and 2014, and he and Kelly have a good relationship. Gamble is believed to have encouraged the initial interview and assured 49ers officials that they would be able to work with Kelly.
Kelly won a power struggle in the Eagles’ front office last year, which led to the additional title of head of football operations. But he was criticized for subsequent personnel moves, including trading All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy to the Bills and dealing quarterback Nick Foles for Sam Bradford. Bradford was 26th in passer rating, one spot ahead of Blaine Gabbert.
Baalke is expected to maintain control of 49ers personnel.
Kelly is thought to be fond of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was benched after eight games in 2015 and who is due to earn a base salary of nearly $12 million in 2016. Kaepernick’s status for next season is in limbo, although team officials have said repeatedly that speculation he will be cut or traded is premature.
During his interviews with team officials, Kelly said he felt he could be successful with either Kaepernick or Gabbert running his offense.
Kelly will fill his staff in the coming days. One name that has been mentioned as a potential offensive coordinator is Ryan Day, his quarterbacks coach in Philadelphia. Davis, the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, had the same job with the 49ers under Mike Nolan in 2005.