Jed York is the son of money, the beneficiary of his inherited stewardship of the 49ers and, as are most sports executives, eminently capable of backroom sniping and franchise-beneficial leaks.
But the 49ers’ CEO has spine. He hired and fired the mostly successful Jim Harbaugh and, after a dismal one-year experiment with Jim Tomsula, dispensed with the warm-and-fuzzies and went with the most innovative, controversial and demanding candidate interviewed.
Kelly is not warm and fuzzy. His people skills rank right down there with Harbaugh’s. His track record at Oregon left the Ducks with three years of NCAA probation and a reduction of scholarships for recruiting violations that allegedly occurred under his watch.
With that out of the way, York looked at his new coach’s record with the Ducks and Philadelphia Eagles, acknowledged his innovative up-tempo system, and went with the choice that is both risky and logical.
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York looked at his new coach’s record with the Ducks and Philadelphia Eagles, acknowledged his innovative up-tempo system, and went with the choice that is both risky and logical.
Kelly, 52, might not be the most interesting man in the world, and it remains to be seen if he can curb his quest for power and coexist with York and general manager Trent Baalke. But he was certainly the most intriguing candidate in a group that included former NFL head coaches Mike Shanahan, Tom Coughlin and Hue Jackson, Buffalo assistant head coach/running backs coach Anthony Lynn, and offensive coordinators John DeFilippo (Cleveland) and Dirk Koetter (Tampa Bay).
The maligned Colin Kaepernick should be smiling. Assuming the veteran quarterback recovers from a bruised ego and surgeries on his left knee, left shoulder and right thumb, and can wrap his head around the possibility of resurrecting his career where it started, this latest move might have given him a reprieve.
“Colin Kaepernick was an exceptional college football player because he didn’t have to throw the ball for a living,” said Mike Bellotti, the former Oregon head coach and athletic director who hired Kelly as offensive coordinator and later promoted him to head coach. “If anybody can rejuvenate his career, it’s Chip. He certainly understands the benefits of having a mobile quarterback and is not married to one system, despite what people say.
“But I don’t guarantee that’s the way they go. If (Kaepernick) can’t become a more accurate passer and have a better understanding of how to attack defensive secondaries, he won’t be (the starter).”
Kelly, who is thought to be advocating for Kaepernick, undoubtedly had to do some fast talking. Kaeperick’s $14 million salary next season is a hefty price tag for a player whose fast rise and sharp decline includes health issues, the loss of his teammates’ confidence and being supplanted as the starter by the unremarkable Blaine Gabbert.
Yet this is where York is gambling that Kelly is sharp enough to revive the moribund 49ers offense and learned from his rookie miscues in Philadelphia. York also is being realistic. Elite quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck are few, and mostly far away. As Andy Reid has demonstrated with Alex Smith in Kansas City – and how ironic is that? – sometimes the best alternative is to coax more out of who you have.
As Andy Reid has demonstrated with Alex Smith in Kansas City – and how ironic is that? – sometimes the best alternative is to coax more out of who you have.
Just guessing here, but Kelly probably figured that out after trading popular Nick Foles for Sam Bradford before the 2015 season. All that maneuver accomplished was to hasten his departure from Philadelphia, where he coached the Eagles to 10-6, 10-6, 6-9 records while reinforcing the popular premise that he had no business intervening in personnel matters. Three seasons as an NFL head coach doesn’t put anyone in the same room with New England’s Bill Belichick or Seattle’s Pete Carroll, both of whom have far more experience and Super Bowl rings to go along with the clout in their front offices.
Kelly’s demise took place only months after he became the director of football operations and facilitated the much-debated signing of former Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, the Foles-Bradford swap and the trade of All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso.
So did he figure it out? That coaches influence personnel decisions but do their best work on the field? That not even Harbaugh overtly pursued Baalke’s job?
Bellotti insists his old friend is a quick study.
“I think Chip recognizes he made some mistakes, whether as a coach or with the general manager part,” the ESPN analyst and former UC Davis player said. “He has learned how to handle certain situations with the media and, more importantly, with his players. He recognizes that. Some people thought he might be telling people how to live their life, and he probably was. But he is very committed to football and loves the chess match.”
While adding Kelly’s personality is “somewhat similar” to Harbaugh’s, Bellotti envisions a successful Bay Area marriage.
“I think people will appreciate him a little more than Jim Harbaugh,” he said, “but people want wins and losses more than anything. Today, it’s pretty much ‘What have you done for me lately?’ everywhere.”
In that sense, Philadelphia and Bay Area fans aren’t all that different. Tomsula – the safe hire, the anti-Harbaugh, the unfailingly nice guy – won five games and was quickly shown the exit. York once again is being bold and aggressive, and daring to take a chance. He has spine, indeed.