How Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly converted LeSean McCoy into a believer
Joyce Park stashed this in The Sporting Life
I didn't fully understand how much LeSean McCoy wants to be not just a winner, but an all-time great running back. Now he has the coach that can help him in his drive to perfection.
Can we just take a moment to appreciate the socks story?
LeSean McCoy is dressing for his first Chip Kelly practice. It's a year ago May. Like all of the Eagles, he is unsure what to expect from his new coach. He knows that practice will be fast, because everything about Kelly is about speed -- from how he talks, to how he hustles around the facility, to how, as the coach at the University of Oregon, he once chastised an assistant for exiting the freeway onto "inefficient" side streets. So it's important for McCoy, who likes to be "the flyest guy on the team," to be dressed and ready to roll: a white long-sleeve shirt, black shorts, a black headband and, finally, black socks.
Looking good. Feeling good. But then a team staffer says, "Uh, LeSean, I don't want to burst your bubble. You look nice, but you got a dress code."
It's Chip Kelly's dress code, and it mandates white socks. Kelly wants the Eagles to be uniform, like a team. No exceptions -- not even for McCoy, a 2009 second-round pick out of the University of Pittsburgh who, with warp speed and quick feet, has become an NFL All-Pro. He's desperate to join Adrian Peterson as their generation's only Hall of Fame running backs. McCoy has a broad forehead and football-shaped eyes. He never stops moving and yet is late to everything. His mood is as shifty as his running style, which is why they call him Shady. And at this moment, he is, along with Michael Vick, the core of former coach Andy Reid's decidedly NFL offense. Reid was fired and replaced by Kelly -- a "college guy," McCoy calls him.
The white socks feel like a gimmick.
So McCoy wears black socks to the first practice -- and tapes them white.
It is AMAZING how Chip Kelly creates an advanced team by promoting the basic important things.
Sleep. Water. Practice. Nutrition.
LeSean was SKEPTICAL that these things would make a difference until he went through it himself:
Nobody has ever run a team quite the way Chip Kelly runs one. And McCoy is about to learn what it means to live and work in Kelly's new system. During practice, players wear mandated heart monitors and GPS devices. Trainers carry water bottles labeled with each player's name and after practice ask the players to pee into a cup, part of Kelly's plan to track hydration. A monitor on a wall in the facility ranks the most hydrated players. Drinking water is now a drinking game.
Kelly also wants the players to wear special bracelets that monitor sleep. He tells them that elite athletes need between 10 and 12 hours a night -- almost twice McCoy's usual doze. The bracelet is hooked up to an adapter that lies near McCoy's bed, beeping and whirring all night, disrupting what it's supposed to record.
And then there's practice. Kelly famously runs the fastest practices football has ever seen, based on what he has termed a simple premise: "The more times they get reps, the better they get as players." McCoy finds himself in a three-play-a-minute hustle, one following another like shuffled cards. The only chatter at his first minicamp practice is Kelly's ubiquitous "Hurry up!" as he sprints between drills, an efficiency expert with a whistle. Kelly, a former University of New Hampshire quarterback, throws passes to receivers between snaps, his delivery still clean and high. He seems happiest when the team moves so fast that backups run with starters and vice versa, hierarchies dissolving and a team forming in its place.
McCoy is dubious. He's not used to seeing a head coach lifting weights with the players. He's not used to assistants signaling plays with a device invented by and mailed from -- no joke -- a nearby dental hygienist. Kelly, who declined comment for this story, is one of football's most influential coaches -- the likes of Bill Belichick and Urban Meyer have picked his brain -- but he doesn't have a coaching tree or a championship. And though Kelly is often called a mad scientist, McCoy finds himself spending 90 percent of practice working on the zone-read run play, as old as football itself. It's tough to see why Kelly's every move seems to perpetuate a notion that he's transforming football.
Before the Eagles' first preseason game, Kelly tells the players he wants them to ride together to the stadium, all dressed in jumpsuits. When McCoy was a rookie, he'd watch stars drive fancy cars and roll up in pristine suits. After he signed a five-year, $45 million extension in 2012, he joined the club, buying a Rolls-Royce, tailored threads and a rock for each ear. Now, what the hell? Jumpsuits? "It was like, 'Are you serious?'" McCoy says.
But a month later, in the season opener against the Redskins, something strange happens: McCoy feels like he's part of a football revolution. Out of the hurry-up, the Eagles run 53 plays and gain 322 yards -- in the first half. On one play, McCoy runs for 10 yards out of the type of formation for which Kelly was famous at Oregon, with only three down linemen and both tackles split out next to wide receivers. The gimmicks that most swore wouldn't fly in the NFL are working. In the third quarter, McCoy takes the handoff on that boring, old zone run, darts right, cuts left and flies nearly untouched for a 34-yard touchdown. McCoy finishes with 184 yards, one shy of his career high. After the win, he's exhausted and impressed. "I don't know how he thought of it," he says of Kelly.
How do you win? SCORE POINTS.
How do you score points? BY RUNNING AS MANY PLAYS AS POSSIBLE.
Chip Kelly has the need for speed:
Kelly first thought of it on a field that, when the wind blows, smells like shit. Seriously. The football field at the University of New Hampshire is across the street from a horse stable. In 1999, as a mid-30s offensive coordinator, he sat in head coach Sean McDonnell's office and asked, "Why can't we be the best offense in the country?"
Now, it's almost unheard of for a young coach to be so transparently ambitious -- not to mention at a Division I-AA doormat. But Kelly has always defined his career on the traits that defined his childhood, when he was a self-described pain in the ass who questioned everything. At New Hampshire, Kelly spent vacations visiting other college programs and NFL teams. Trips to Northwestern and Clemson, both of which operated the hurry-up, produced a revelation of sorts: The more plays he could run, the better chance he would have to score.
Of course, there have been many iterations of the hurry-up. But Kelly was the first to explicitly make the volume of plays as important as their execution. It meant deploying every advantage -- motion and misdirection and making simple plays appear complicated -- and sometimes spending as little as five seconds between when the ball was set and when it was snapped. It meant treating fourth down as if it were first. It meant taking over the kick-return unit because, as he said, "it's the first offensive play." It meant practicing at a lightning pace and aiming for 80 plays a game, 23 percent more than most teams, and trashing tired metrics like time of possession in favor of smarter ones like points per possession. It meant only one goal for his offense, always printed on the first page of Kelly's playbooks: SCORE POINTS.
Finally, it meant basing an offense on the idea of no limits when so many coaches do the opposite. As Mike Belotti, Kelly's former boss at Oregon, says, "Instead of why, he says why not."
By 2002, Kelly knew he was onto something. His offenses would break 29 school records in 2004 and average 41.7 points per game a year later. At Oregon, first as offensive coordinator in 2007 and then as head coach in 2009, Kelly explored sports science, fusing innovation to schematics. Pro teams began to consult with and borrow from him. In many ways, Chip Kelly was the NFL's future before he was even in the NFL.
Chip Kelly admits when he's wrong:
By Week 6 of last year, the NFL's future sure doesn't look like it. Philadelphia is 2-3 and about to play Tampa Bay. It's a weird time to be an Eagle. Players used to party in Atlantic City after games. Not now, with the boss tracking sleep. Saturdays used to be light walk-throughs. Not now, with the boss having learned from Olympic runners that the best way to maximize performance is to run hard the day before the race. At the end of each week, Kelly brings in an expert to explain his methodology, but it's not fully connecting. "Keep doing the small things," Kelly tells the team. "I promise we're going to where we want to be."
Worse, teams seem to be finding answers for Kelly's offense. In September, Reid's Chiefs force five turnovers and hold Philly to 16 points. A week later, the Broncos out-hurry-up the Eagles and win by 32. Against the Giants the next week, McCoy is held to 2.3 yards a carry, and Vick pulls his hamstring. Nick Foles, who had eight turnovers in seven games in 2012 as a rookie, is now the starter.
When McCoy struggles, he tends to dance in the backfield. Nothing angers Kelly like throttled speed, and it boils to the surface against the Bucs on Oct. 13 when McCoy is slow to an opening.
On the sideline, Kelly unloads: "Hit the damn hole, Shady!"
"There was no damn hole!"
McCoy heads to the bench. But he can't let it go. He brings Kelly a photo of the play and says, "Do you see a hole?"
Kelly returns to the game, and McCoy returns to wondering whether he can coexist with his coach.
But in the team meeting the next day, Kelly says something the players have never heard so explicitly from a head coach: "Shady and I got into it, and I was wrong."
The rest of this excellent article tells the story of how Kelly fixed the broken system by adapting: