Chip Kelly opened with a joke.
Asked early in Wednesday’s introductory news conference why it took six days for him to meet the media, the new 49ers coach said: “I’ve been known to run a really slow offense. And I wanted to set the tone for how things are going to be.”
The gag, of course, is that Kelly’s offenses operate at warp speed, something that was both admired and criticized during his three-year tenure in Philadelphia.
After he was fired, Eagles players complained that he pushed them too hard. Others noted that the fast pace of Kelly’s offenses meant defensive players had little time to catch their breath on the sideline and ended up playing more snaps during the course of a season than a typical unit.
Kelly doesn’t seem eager to change his style.
“I don’t know if I can be significantly different,” he said. “I think you have to be yourself, in terms of how you do things. But we all learn.”
When Jim Tomsula was introduced as San Francisco’s coach a year ago, he was visibly uncomfortable, had trouble expressing himself and was upstaged by general manager Trent Baalke, who after a rambling explanation by Tomsula about his vision on offense, butted in and said, “I think somewhere in there he said we’re going to run the ball.”
Wednesday was the opposite. Kelly was confident, quick, defiant and funny. Another reason for the tardy news conference, he said, was because when he flew west to meet with Baalke and CEO Jed York last week, he came with only “a pair of sweats and a T-shirt.” He couldn’t meet the press if he didn’t have any nice clothes.
Most of all, Kelly was in control.
Baalke was seated next to the new coach the entire time. But he hardly said a word, and when he did speak, it was to say, “I don’t think I can give you a better answer than coach just did.”
Other takeaways from Wednesday’s session:
▪ Kelly said he’s chatted with Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert but was careful to avoid showing a preference for either quarterback. He notably worked in Gabbert’s name whenever he was asked about Kaepernick.
“Obviously, Kap is an extremely talented football player and you need to have a good quarterback to win,” he said. “But I was also impressed in the film I watched in terms of how Blaine played this year. I think statistics bear out that you probably need two good quarterbacks in this league with the injury rate quarterbacks have. I think both of those players make this an attractive situation.”
▪ The only assistant coach he has officially hired is running backs coach Tom Rathman, but others are in the building. An ESPN report on Wednesday suggested the team was closing in on hiring Texans linebackers coach Mike Vrabel as defensive coordinator. Kelly interviewed Vrabel on Tuesday.
▪ Kelly is considering at least two candidates for offensive coordinator – Bills running backs coach Anthony Lynn and Lions running backs coach Curtis Modkins. Both are versed in power-running schemes. “I’m really looking for diversity, someone who comes from another system so we can continue to add and make what we do better,” Kelly said.
The 49ers had two interview sessions with Kelly before hiring him, one at Kelly’s home in New Hampshire and another last week in Santa Clara. Echoing what he said five years ago when he hired Jim Harbaugh, Baalke said he and Kelly had a “similar vision” for the 49ers.
Harbaugh’s offenses prized physicality over speed, were deliberate and held onto the ball for long drives. Kelly, by contrast, runs a quick-strike attack. But Baalke noted there were comparisons between what Kelly does and how the 49ers have operated – and had success – in the recent past.
“He likes to run the football,” Baalke said. “And he likes to use play action off of that and certainly has shown the ability to pass the football as well. We’ve had a philosophy around here that’s worked. And I don’t see it any different.”
Another similarity between Harbaugh and Kelly: Both men love to compete and both exude confidence.
Asked how he wants his 49ers to be defined, Kelly said, “I want them to be fearless.”
How would he define that?
“Not afraid of any situation you put them in,” he said. “There are going to be times when it’s going to be difficult and be adverse, but you have confidence based on your preparation that you’ll see it through.”