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  • NFL

    The Kelly Clue Book

    Biography by Portland writer provides a glimpse at what makes former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly tick
  • We've got it all wrong about Chip Kelly, something the new Philadelphia Eagles coach seems likely to point out eventually.
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  • We've got it all wrong about Chip Kelly, something the new Philadelphia Eagles coach seems likely to point out eventually.
    He's very bright, but we know that. He's not unsure of himself, but we know that, too. He doesn't suffer fools or foolish questions well, but it's hard to blame him there.
    Where we are wrong about Kelly, at least according to his first biographer, is that he isn't a mad scientist working furiously on a secret blackboard in the back room, designing big brain schemes that leave opponents trying to block the wind and tackle smoke.
    "What he does has kind of a deep simplicity," said Mark Saltveit. "He tells all the other coaches exactly what he's doing. It's just hard to stop it."
    Saltveit, whose book, "The Tao of Chip Kelly: Lessons from America's Most Successful Coach," was published Saturday, is a Portland-based writer (among other things) who studied Kelly's career at Oregon and thinks he knows what makes the coach tick.
    The book is unabashedly complimentary — and its title is a bit of a stretch — but Saltveit lays out a clear picture of how Kelly operates. The coach follows a simple philosophy that is woven with simple truths ("Big people beat up little people") and the results have been simple to comprehend as well. Oregon was 46-7 and appeared in a BCS bowl game in each of Kelly's four seasons as head coach.
    The question is whether that philosophy, those methods, and that deep simplicity can make the jump to the next level, and, by extension, whether Kelly can do the same thing.
    "I think he's got the courage not to be clever," Saltveit said. "No one ever accused Chip of having low self-esteem, but he's surprisingly egoless. He follows the football. I don't see him pushing his own ego where it might hurt the football. Everything is always secondary to that."
    Saltveit is in Philadelphia this week on a brief book and stand-up comedy tour — comedy being one of his other avocations, along with competitive palindrome writing, at which, apparently, he is the reigning world champion.
    Tuesday and Wednesday night, Saltveit is performing at the Helium Comedy Club.
    The Eagles, of course, are coming off their own comedy act, a 4-12 season that ended the Andy Reid era after 14 years.
    Kelly was hired with a reputation as an innovator and a free thinker. According to Saltveit, however, the innovations are mostly confined to the preparation of the team.
    Once on the field, Kelly's offense is simply a super hurry-up operation that takes accepted precepts of the game and executes them with great efficiency.
    "He's a straight-forward guy. What he relies on is fact-based and grounded in reality," Saltveit said. "The whole offense is designed to the get the faster guys on the team the ball in open space. If he has a drawback going into this job, it is that we don't know how he coaches grownups."
    Or how he coaches against the ones on the other teams.
    So far, we are told, the Eagles have all bought into the idea of warp-speed practices that pile up repetitions and are designed to condition the team both physically and mentally. Run a play 50 times and you might get it right on the 51st try. Run it 500 times and the 501st repetition has a better chance to succeed.
    Can those methods carry through a full NFL season, particularly if injuries, a bugaboo at Oregon, begin to pile up as the players wear down? It's one thing to build a depth chart with 85 interchangeable scholarship athletes and quite another to hold one together in a league that is so dependent on the top players being on the field.
    Then there is the matter of what Kelly demands from his players in terms of efficiency. It isn't an efficient use of 11 players, for instance, unless the wide receivers become enthusiastic and effective downfield blockers for their teammates. That would represent a new philosophy for someone like DeSean Jackson, just as it would many of the professional divas in the NFL.
    "If you go no-huddle, you can't substitute. If DeSean wants to push it, and since the team will be running more anyway, Kelly might let DeSean sit down and think about how he feels about blocking," Saltveit said.
    The money question is the quarterback question and Saltveit doesn't think the perfect Kelly quarterback is on the roster yet.
    "I think he wishes he could mix and match them like Mr. Potato Head. Take (Michael) Vick's speed and throwing arm and combine it with the reading ability and poise of either (Nick) Foles or (Matt) Barkley. He'll make the best of it," Saltveit said.
    "Clearly, if Vick can perform well and doesn't hang onto the ball — Chip wants it out in 1.5 seconds — there's no way the other guys can compete with him."
    The decision won't really be made by Kelly, though, according to the author. Those hundreds and thousands of practice reps will make it.
    "Everybody will see it. Everybody will know who's better. There won't be any question from the team," Saltveit said.
    Maybe not from a bunch of redshirt sophomores, but pros are a little different. We'll see about that one. And we'll see if Kelly is really a coach whose traits are similar to some Eastern mystic staying true to life's "path."
    "I think he's endlessly entertaining. My dream would be for him to read this book and say, 'God, what a load of crap this is.' I'd put that on the cover," Saltveit said.
    If every writer in town feels that way by this time next year, he might actually be onto something.
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