Culture and the Chip Kelly Way

by Edward Henkler on July 7, 2015

Culture: is it really about how you play the game?

Most of you are probably familiar with the Peter Drucker quote, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” I’m not in the room but I bet the Philadelphia Eagles are eating a lot of breakfast right now. Just in case you’re not a football fan and not from the Philadelphia area, Chip Kelly is the relatively new coach of the Eagles, heading into his third season after a meteoric rise and successful college coaching career. He has very definite beliefs about how to coach a football team and is responsible for some significant innovation with sports science, accelerating play, and defining ideal physical characteristics by position. While everything may not be novel, the combination seems to be.

He is also known for an exceptionally strong commitment to establishing a team and locker room culture which is intolerant of anyone who deviates, star or benchwarmer. For the upcoming season, he has virtually complete control over “football activities”. He has not been shy about using his newfound powers to mold a team in his image. An always nervous Philadelphia fan base is watching anxiously, hoping he knows what he’s doing and perhaps that the injury gods don’t interfere.

Grantland Rice famously said, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” Very few professional sports fans care more about how you play than whether you win. And Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia tenure will be short if he doesn’t win many more than he loses but he’s living Grantland’s philosophy. Bill McGovern is an outside linebackers coach (stick with me even if you don’t know what that means). Bill has coached for decades, primarily at the college level, but recently said that he’s never had a head coach push him like this intellectually. Sample snippets:

  • Kelly’s philosophy on rest and sleep: “Don’t tell me that’s the way it’s always been done. Let’s find the best way to do it.” Sleep is important and working incredibly long hours is the way it’s always been done but maybe it depletes you rather than making you successful. Even if your team wins, might you lose your family in the process?
  • His focus on healthy eating is very well known and seems to be helping the players’ stamina and performance
  • He talks to his coaches about the right way to talk with their players (What? You yell at them; that’s how you talk to them! Maybe not in Chip’s experiment…)
It's about culture with Chip Kelly

Culture: Chip Kelly plays the game the right way

The comment that really caught my eye was Bill wondering if Chip might make him a better parent. I am very hopeful the Eagles win it all but a tiny (ok, very tiny) part of me loves the way he’s impacting lives – players, coaches, and their families. Happy, Grantland?

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