Football guy. /footbawl gí/ ▪ noun▪ 1. A person devoted to the game of football. 2. Someone whose background and interests revolve around football.
Use in a sentence: “Trent is a football guy, and I’d like to think that I’m a football guy. He’s a grinder. He loves the game. He loves everything about the game.” – Chip Kelly
Football guys like other football guys.
San Francisco 49ers coach Chip Kelly is a football guy. So is general manager Trent Baalke. So, for that matter, is Tom Gamble, who holds the nebulous title of “senior personnel executive” with the 49ers.
Gamble isn’t someone you usually hear a lot about. But he was integral in hiring Kelly, who didn’t receive any other head-coaching interest after being fired by the Eagles with one game left in the 2015 regular season.
The 49ers’ brass, having heard the avalanche of negative reviews out of Philadelphia after Kelly was let go, initially was hesitant to put him on the interview list. But Gamble encouraged it. And he allayed concerns about Kelly.
Gamble spent the first two years of Kelly’s tenure in Philadelphia as the Eagles’ vice president of player personnel. On New Year’s Eve 2014, Gamble was ousted by Howie Roseman, then the Eagles’ general manager.
Gamble had become Kelly’s right-hand man. Both are football guys. Roseman is a numbers guy, the type of guy whom football guys inherently discount. A tension-filled 2014 season preceded the reshuffling of the Eagles’ front office, which ended with Gamble gone, Roseman stripped of his personnel power and Kelly in charge of the 53-man roster.
Gamble had spent eight seasons in San Francisco before going to the Eagles. After he was fired, Baalke snapped him up. Several people in the organization said Gamble initially will serve as a “bridge” between Baalke, who took the lead on the 49ers’ pursuit of a coach, and Kelly.
In his previous stint with the 49ers, Gamble frequently traveled to Eugene, Ore., to scout Kelly’s players, including former Ducks running back LaMichael James and defensive lineman Will Tukuafu. In doing so, he and Kelly got to know each other. During a 20-minute segment on KNBR radio Thursday, Kelly alternately referred to Gamble as “Tommy” or “Gam.”
“Will played defensive end for us – was a great player and great person – and they turned him into a fullback, and he’s still playing fullback for the Seahawks and has had a heck of a career in the National Football League,” Kelly said. “For a guy to come in and look at a defensive lineman and say, ‘I think he could be a good fullback at the next level,’ I don’t think anybody else saw that. That’s just the type of guy Tom is. That struck me what an eye he has for talent.
“Tommy’s an East Coast guy,” continued Kelly, who is from New Hampshire. “So he kind of talks fast and in quick statements and phrases. So I understood him, and he understood me. We just hit it off. He’s a football guy, through and through. He lives and breathes the game.”
Does that put Baalke on the outs in a football-guy love triangle?
“You’re allowed to have more than one friend,” Kelly said. “Trent and Tom are very close. I think people that have similar thoughts and visions gravitate toward each other anyways. .... When Gam told me a little bit what’s going on, he just said, ‘I really think you and Trent should sit down because I think you’d hit it off.’ And he was right.”
It’s important to note that former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh also was dubbed a “football guy” when he was hired in 2011 and his relationship with fellow football guy Baalke didn’t always go smoothly. It’s also notable that when Kelly arrived in Philadelphia in 2013, he didn’t have or want control over the 53-man roster but that he had it when he left the organization.
One more thing: Roseman seemingly became leery of how chummy Gam and Chip were in Philadelphia. Will Baalke start feeling the same way?
For now, at least, the 49ers are highlighting a commonality that wasn’t present in Philadelphia.
Said Baalke in his introduction of Kelly on Wednesday: “He’s a well-rounded, highly innovative coach with a proven track record of success at every level, at every level of competition including the NFL, identified as a strong leader of men and somebody that I really consider a true football guy.”