The Eagles assistant coach who owes his career to Chip Kelly

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The Eagles assistant coach who owes his career to Chip Kelly originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

It’s almost like the words “Chip Kelly” have been banished down at the NovaCare Complex.

As soon as he was fired late in the 2015 season, just about every record of him ever coaching with the Eagles disappeared.

Talk about a clean break.

In fact, Lane Johnson and Zach Ertz are the only remaining players the Eagles drafted or signed during that three-year period from 2013 through 2015, and Ertz is barely still here. 

So it was a little different to hear Michael Clay talking in reverential tones about Kelly.

But understandable.

Clay, the Eagles’ new special teams coordinator, played for Kelly at Oregon and after got his coaching start with the Eagles under Kelly, first as a defensive quality assistant in 2014 and then as assistant special teams coordinator under Dave Fipp in 2015. 

“I owe the world to him right now,” Clay said Thursday. “Because he gave me my first gig as a young guy getting out of college, going with the Dolphins, getting cut, and then him extending an olive branch out and saying, ‘Hey, do you want to come coach?’”

When the Eagles fired Kelly after the 2015 season and he became head coach of the 49ers, he brought Clay with him as assistant special teams coach under Derius Swinton. 

And when the 49ers fired Kelly a year later, Kyle Shanahan fired Swinton but kept Clay around for three years in the strength and conditioning department, although he still worked with new 49ers special teams coordinator Richard Hightower and assistant Stan Kwan (who had been Jim Schwartz’s special teams coach in Detroit). 

Now Clay replaces Fipp, who had been here since 2013 and is now running the Lions’ special teams.

“My first time here in Philadelphia was a blessing,” Clay said. “I grew up being a defensive guy. I played special teams in college and everything, but being able to work under Dave Fipp during those runs really helped me grow as a coach and especially fall in love with the special teams world. Especially going back to San Francisco, working under Derius Swinton and Richard Hightower and working with Stan Kwan, who's been coaching for 30 years. 

“I think that whole foundation of how Dave really got to connect with players and get them to play as hard as possible, I was able to transcend that and keep that going for my five years in San Francisco under two different coordinators. Nothing changed.”

We look back at the Kelly Era as one of unmet expectations, but behind his chilly personality, rigid methodology and inability to get along with people there were some good ideas that led to an NFC East title and made him Coach of the Year in 2013. 

That’s the Kelly that Clay remembers.

“What I learned from him is just you've got to be on the details, but you've also got to believe in yourself more than anything else.

“I think, when Chip was really rolling, he was believing in himself. Everything he thought of and everything he said, he believed, and I think to get everybody else to do that, they've got to buy in as well. So the whole, from him in college, playing for him for four years and coaching with him for three years, just believing in it, I think, was the biggest thing with Chip.”

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