Most coaches are flat out boring at press conferences. Their attitude toward the press ranges from back-slapping ingratiation to stoic silence or careful blandness.
You won't get any of that with Chip Kelly. He flat out does not leak information, as even the best connected Philadelphia reporters concede. If you saw a report from an Eagles team source, it didn't come from Chip (or his buddies). Unfortunately for him that means it came from his enemies, often former GM Howie Roseman or his associates.
Chip doesn't give exclusive interviews to print reporters, either, and only a few for broadcast. Sports Illustrated's Peter King got a few words with Chip walking out of practice the last two years. A New York Times reporter got access to do a profile in 2010, and a Eugene writer the year before. Ross Tucker got him on a podcast (with Bill Polian) once. That's about it.
So the whole game with Chip Kelly and the media takes place at press conferences, and the coach does not sit back and wait for questions. He teases reporters, challenges their queries, and (on a good day) gives them crap the way you might do with your buddies after a few daddy sodas.
On a bad day it can devolve into outright hostility. Several Philadelphia reporters were openly hostile toward Chip. During his last press conference before he was fired, someone turned off the lights (It was symbolic, get it?). Even back in Oregon, Chip got into an epic 20 minute on-air argument with writer and radio host John Canzano (Download the MP3 in the linked article to hear it).
Either way, it is never boring. For all that the press grumbles, Chip's table at the annual owners' meeting has far more reporters than anyone else. Even when its bristly, he'll get laughs from his interrogators.
If a question is interesting or he's in the right mood, he can launch off into fascinating digressions relating to philosophy, goofy movies or the latest business management book he's read. At the end of the 2013 season, a reporter asked him a question about the Eagles "controlling their own destiny." Chip's reply?
"You know you can't control your own destiny? Destiny is a predetermined set of events, therefore if it's predetermined, you can't control it."
During the 2014 minicamp, another reporter asked Chip if he thought players felt peer group pressure to attend voluntary workouts. His answer was not what you'd expect:
"We had full attendance last year but just depends on what model of organization you want. Do you want blind obedience or informed acquiescence or self‑governance? If you have self‑governance, I think the individuals have more invested in what's going on because they have a say and they have a stake in it and we are moving towards that model but I don't know if we are totally there right now."
Kelly, whose father is a retired lawyer, can get defensive though. He is an expert in diverting reporters by finding a flaw in their wording and pouncing on it. Other times he'll reject the premise of a question with a blunt "We don't look at it that way."
A lot of it boils down to personalities. In Philadelphia, Kelly had a particularly strained relationship with the top beat reporter, Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer. The newspaper, known as the "Inq" was founded 1829, a century after Benjamin Franklin invented the modern newspaper in Philadelphia with the Pennsylvania Gazette. It is used to respect and power, but its circulation and revenue are plummeting even more than most daily newspapers. Kelly's refusal to give McLane special access didn't sit well with the glower-y reporter, though he got more questions answered at press conferences than anyone else.
In my book "Controlled Chaos," I describe a confrontation between the two after McLane asked the coach a question in a somewhat teasy way.
Martin Frank of the Wilmington News Journal described what happened next in an article titled "Chip Gets Testy, Says No to Young Players":
'Then the reporter [McLane] responded that the question was in the vein of Kelly only looking to the next game. To which Kelly responded: "Was that a wise-ass comment?"Then he stared at the reporter for a few seconds before adding: "I just told you before, we haven’t done anything game plan-wise."'
Under the scientific laws of Chip Kelly Special Relativity, a five-second wordless stare from the coach into your eyes at a press conference lasts seven or eight hours in normal space-time. A writer who was in the room described the scene this way:
'Chip doesn’t necessarily like reporters, but he has a special lack of fondness for McLane. There was like 5 seconds of silence with them just staring at each other. And literally every person in the room is just sitting there like, "Oh boy." … I don’t think Chip loves any of the reporters, but I think he loves Jeff the least.'
The battle clearly rattled both of them. While McLane delivered both some scoops and some insightful think pieces, he also muffed two of the biggest stories of the Chip Kelly era. In 2014, he wrote flatly that the team would never trade or release DeSean Jackson -- about three weeks before they did. He never acknowledged his mistake, either.
More recently he reported that Chip had called his former player LeSean McCoy around the time that Philadelphia played Buffalo, to apologize for the fact that McCoy learned about his trade from the press rather than the coach -- but that McCoy had hung up on him.
The only problem with that story is that both men denied it directly and publicly at press conferences. It also would have constituted illegal tampering for Kelly to contact a player under contract to another team. McLane stood by his report, but if both sides of the phone call denied it, who could his anonymous sources have been?
The relationship between Chip and the local press will be an important part of his coaching stint here, too, and even though he's not inclined to kiss reporters' butts, he's very aware of it. Local writers such as Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News have already grumbled about the delay between the announcement of Chip's hiring and his first press conference later today. I honestly think Chip might be using some of that time to scout the beat reporters and watch tape of them at press conferences.
There are a lot of strong personalities in the Bay Area press, too, including Kawakami himself. Grab some popcorn because this introductory press conference should be interesting.