COMMENTARY | At the University of Oregon, Chip Kelly's policy on injuries to his football players was, essentially, don't ask, don't tell.
The message to reporters covering the Ducks was: don't bother asking.
The message to injured football players was: don't tell anyone anything about your ailment.
It was one of the many cloak-and-dagger-like games that Kelly played while coaching in Eugene, Ore., and fans seemed to be more or less on one of two sides with it: those who felt that with the money and time they spent on the program, they deserved at least some information, and those who felt like the coach could and should do anything he deemed necessary to help win ballgames.
The idea being, in this case, that the less information an opponent has beforehand on which players might be on the field, the harder it is for that opponent to prepare, and the easier for Kelly to slip in wrinkles they might not be ready for.
When you're winning, you get away with stuff like that without a lot of backlash from fans. But in an era of immediacy when it comes to news and information (about sports teams, in particular), many fans want -- expect, even -- to be kept in the loop.
Kelly isn't concerned with such things.
So it was no surprise to me when, last week, Kelly played coy with media members when asked about the absence of safety Kenny Phillips at practice. And it was also no surprise when fan responses seemed largely separated into two categories: those who really wanted the info, and those who were fine with the coach keeping quiet.
My advice to Philadelphia Eagles fans: if you're not already, figure out a way to be fine with the coach keeping quiet, because that's Kelly's approach. Where Andy Reid would start every press conference with a report on injuries, and was often seemingly honest and transparent about team issues, Kelly views such matters as in-house and keeps things close to the vest.
When asked about Phillips last week, Kelly replied:
"I don't ask questions. They just tell me who is going and who is not going."
If you believe the head coach doesn't know why a new player with a surgically repaired knee is missing practice, then I've got a deed to the Ben Franklin Bridge I'd like to sell you.
Unlike in college, Kelly will have to begin submitting injury reports to the league now that he's in the NFL -- but not in the spring. And as New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has proven over the years, even those reports can be manipulated to an extent, and certain specifics can be easily withheld.
Some fans care about this kind of thing, and some don't. It seems valid to wonder whether all the secrecy really accomplishes much beyond alienating those fans who would prefer to be in the loop. Despite all the winning, there was a faction of fans at Oregon -- many of them long-time season ticket holders and donors -- who didn't like the walls Kelly put up around a program that had once been an open and inviting part of the community. Withholding injury information was only a small part of it -- Kelly closed all practices to both fans and media, did away with meet-and-greet sessions with coaches after games, nixed a weekly appearance at a local bar for the coach's show and, in short, created a cold, almost clinical vibe around Oregon football that rubbed many fans the wrong way.
Then again, when you go 46-7 over four seasons, even the most entitled fans have a way of coming around to the coach's views on keeping things strictly business.
It would be a bit of a shock if the Eagles found that kind of success right off the bat under Kelly; the team is in transition and still has some rebuilding to do. Kelly might let us know how that rebuilding project is going, in his eyes, and he might not.
Like many things with the Eagles under Kelly, we might just have to wait until game day and see for ourselves.
Adam Sparks has followed the Philadelphia Eagles since the 1980s, and has written about the team as a freelancer since 2010.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Chip Kelly