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What I know about Chip Kelly, through theory and practice

Excited to join the NinersNation roster! Here's some quick background on what I've learned about the Niners' new head coach.

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Hi all, I'm pumped to be joining the Niners Nation squad! A little bit about me. I'll spare you the extensive biography, except to say I'm a writer based in Portland, where I started following Chip Kelly in 2007 when he first came to Oregon. I'm also a professional standup comedian and editor of a palindrome magazine, both of which I started when I lived in San Francisco in the 1990s. I'm thrilled to find out that Red's Java House and Swan's Oyster Depot are still around.

I'll be writing a lot here at Niners Nation and I look forward to hashing things out with you folks in the comments, or maybe at a meetup. I recently did an AMA at Reddit, which you might find interesting. I've written two books about coach Kelly, which could be summarized quickly as the theory and the practice of his coaching. I'll be going into greater detail about each of the books during the coming offseason, but in the meantime, I wanted to use them as a way of introducing Chip Kelly and myself to a new audience.

"The Tao of Chip Kelly" (2013) spells out the philosophy of football (and leadership generally) that he worked out over 20 years of coaching in New Hampshire and Oregon. That's the theory. Each chapter is one of his football mantras, from "Win the Day!" to "the Faceless Opponent" and "Players Not Positions."

The Tao of Chip Kelly cover

I compare his approach to the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism (or Daoism) which underlies a lot of martial arts, though Chip has never mentioned Daoism publicly and may never have heard of it for all I know (He did quote a Zen proverb at one press conference, and when he was in college in the 1980s, a ton of people had the Jane English/Gia-Fu Feng Tao Teh Ching on their bookshelf.).

Maybe he just reinvented the concepts, I don't know. This season he kept talking about responding to each game "as it expresses itself," which is one of the key Daoist concepts. There's a precise word for that in Chinese, ziran (also spelled tzu-jan).

The other book, "Controlled Chaos" is the narrative story of the Philadelphia Eagles 2014 season, including the off-seasons before and after. It starts with the highly controversial decision to release Pro Bowl WR DeSean Jackson, through training camp, sports science, practice gadgets, games, his battle with GM Howie Roseman over personnel power, and his rapid-fire roster changes that set up this disastrous past season.

Controlled Chaos Cover

It's an up close view of his NFL coaching in practice, as his theories slammed into the reality of NFL competition and egos. In retrospect, you can see a lot of the problems with the team emerging in real time, with the benefit of hindsight and inside sources. I go into detail with inside information on the DeSean Jackson situation, problems with LeSean McCoy and Brandon Boykin, and Chip's bureaucratic death match with  Roseman.

It concludes with a caution about Chip having few people he can take advice from any more, and my worry as to whether he can be as skeptical and open-minded about his own ideas -- and whether they really work -- as he is about everyone else's.

Besides the two books, I've written hundreds of articles and "Chip Kelly Update" weekly columns for Bleeding Green Nation, Iggles Blitz,, and  The best introduction to Kelly is the 9,000 word longform profile I did for, which is Philadelphia's equivalent of It's the most thorough story of his life in print anywhere.

Chip Kelly Profile