The Good Cop/Bad Cop routine is a cliche of cop shows for a reason. It works. When stakes are high and you need to cut a deal, you want a friend on the other side. But the other side wants a good deal too, so they need someone “when it’s time to not be nice.”
When Chip Kelly took over personnel control with the Eagles last year, he undoubtedly thought about how great it would be to shape the roster to his precise preference. He may not have realized how useful it is to have a bad guy to blame for trades, waivers, and the acquisition of competing players.
The coach needs the players on his side, and handling those other duties can make that difficult. In Philadelphia, Chip took it all on himself — controversial personnel moves, the “Sports Science” requirements (including unpopular daily urine tests for hydration), and coaching decisions such as tempo and competition for playing time.
The trade of LeSean McCoy, in particular, seemed to unnerve players. He was very popular among his teammates, but Kelly had clashed with the team’s all-time leading rusher over issues like the color of his socks. Then, almost as soon as Chip took over personnel duties, Shady was out the door. There were solid football reasons for the trade, but some players apparently connected the two and wondered what small infractions might get them shipped out of town.
All the negatives added up and pointed back at Chip. If the offensive line was weak, well, he was the one who released Evan Mathis and didn’t draft any OL. Running back DeMarco Murray publicly complained about his limited snaps, despite his extremely poor production -- which was partially due to that offensive line. Etc. There was no place to hide.
Meanwhile, San Francisco 49ers GM Trent Baalke has had plenty of conflicts with people around him, from ex-coach Jim Harbaugh to players such as Alex Boone and Colin Kaepernick. His rough touch may have been a factor in the Niners’ loss of so many players in the 2015 off-season.
Now Chip has a chance to be the good cop for a change. As he settled into his new job, two of his key players (QB Colin Kaepernick and temporarily retired tackle Anthony Davis) seemed reluctant to return, in large part due to bad feelings about the team’s front office.
Chip seems to be helping fix both situations. Anthony Davis has been tweeting shade in Baalke’s direction all spring, but on Tuesday his agent Drew Rosenhaus said:
“He has been in contact with the organization, and I also believe with the coaching staff. And they’ve rebuilt that relationship. So whatever damage took place, in my estimation, it has been repaired.“
Meanwhile, Kelly has talked to reporters about his positive talks with Kaepernick, and emphasized the QB’s injuries when discussing his struggles last year. He has studiously avoided stating a preference for either Kaep or his competitor Blaine Gabbert, but it’s not hard to see the value the former star QB could have in Chip’s system. When Kelly took over the Eagles, speedy Mike Vick won the quarterback competition over Nick Foles, and he didn’t have Kaep’s experience with the zone read play. If nothing else, Kelly was not involved in the decision to bench Kaep, and he can offer a clean slate.
The classic team of a good cop and a bad cop works together, and by all appearances, Kelly and Baalke see eye to eye on most personnel issues. Both prefer a 3-4 defensive front and long, tall players with particular measurables. They even share a taste for ACL tear reclamation projects.
Baalke is a less risk-averse on character issues but overall, he is someone the coach can trust to find players who fit his vision. It must be nice for Chip to be the nice guy for once, and say stuff like “Yeah, Trent’s a little rough around the edges, but he’s basically a good dude. I’ll talk to him for you, don’t worry about that. Now how are we going to get you back on the field again?” Or whatever he says.
The twist is Tom Gamble’s promotion to Assistant General Manager. Whether that signals that Baalke’s on the hot seat or not, it’s a signal from the team that players who don’t like working with him have another personnel executive with real power they can talk to. Sort of like a Good Cop—Bad Cop—Good Cop routine.
If Chip Kelly learns from his rookie mistakes in Philadelphia, the Niners will have scooped up a talented coach at the perfect time. And his willingness to relax back into the Good Cop Coach role is a good sign that he’s already on the right track.