The San Francisco 49ers are in a rough position, coming off a 5-11 season with a disgruntled fan base. They fired head coach Jim Tomsula in search of a new leader that can get them back to the winning ways. The Niners decided to hire the offensive minded Chip Kelly, who was let go by the Philadelphia Eagles 2 weeks ago. After finishing 31st in the NFL in offense, the 49ers were looking for a offensive head coach, and Kelly may have been the best available candidate for that job.
Kelly’s latest tenure as a head coach started off great. In his first season with the Eagles, he went 10-6 and won the NFC East Division. His offense scored the 3rd most points in the league. Kelly made Nick Foles, an average quarterback, look like an all-pro, as he threw 27 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions.
However, things did not end well in Philadelphia. The next 2 seasons, Kelly went 16-15 and missed the playoffs both years, all leading up to his firing. But the team’s performance was not the only factor that led to his unemployment. In addition to being the head coach, Kelly had the power to control all player movement, including trades and free agent signings. Kelly made some questionable moves by trading Lesean McCoy and Nick Foles, two star players that the fan base loved. He let star wide receiver Jeremy Maclin leave in free agency. All-Pro wide receiver DeSean Jackson had a bad relationship with Kelly, and he decided to ditch the Eagles for the Redskins, their division rival.. Ownership did not agree with Kelly’s decisions and that was a big reason why he was fired.
So what does the Chip Kelly hiring mean for the 49ers? On the field, the team’s mindset will be different. With Kelly at the helm, the 49ers will be offensive minded with the most complex playbook in the league. The hard pounding run game 49er fans have been accustomed to the past several years will change. Kelly will provide the offense several different types of running plays, from quarterback runs to option plays.
The big question that Kelly will need to address is who will be the starting quarterback. He is rumored to like Colin Kaepernick, and if any coach can fix him, Kelly is the one. Kelly’s college style offense is the perfect fit for the struggling Kaepernick. The other quarterback, Blaine Gabbert, played well after he took over as starter. He showed glimpses of being a good passer and displayed his mobility. Perhaps Kelly’s offense can help him as well.
Now that Kelly is the coach, it looks unlikely that the 49ers will go after quarterback prospects Jared Goff or Paxton Lynch in the draft. As of now, it is safe to say that the starter on opening day will be either Kaepernick or Gabbert.
Kelly inherits a young defense that showed flashes of potential last season. The 49ers have not announced if Kelly will select his own defensive coordinator or retain current coordinator Eric Mangini. Whoever the coordinator is, the coach will have a good group to work with, headlined by All-Pro linebacker Navorro Bowman.
From the ownership and management viewpoint, the Chip Kelly hiring is interesting. In his tenure with the Eagles, Kelly made it clear that he wants things his way. Owner Jed York is known to have an ego and also wants things his way. It will be interesting to see how the relationship between the 2 plays out, since the 49ers parted ways with former head coach Jim Harbaugh after disagreements between coach and management.
Overall, Chip Kelly is a big gamble. He gives the 49er offense a chance to rejuvenate and be a force in the league. But he also comes with red flags regarding relationships with players and ownership. Will he be a success and lead the 49ers back to the playoffs, or will he have conflicts with ownership and be a failure? The 49ers still have a lot of roster questions to address, and it should be interesting for the fan base to see what Chip Kelly does to get back to winning football games.
By Nick Cillo
Photo Credit: Philly.com