Gil LeBreton

Kelly changing players, making waves in Philly

Eagles coach Chip Kelly has been the target of disgruntled former players and assistants during his short time in Philadelphia.
Eagles coach Chip Kelly has been the target of disgruntled former players and assistants during his short time in Philadelphia. AP

The memory is a bit foggy on who the former Dallas Cowboy was, but I want to say it was Kevin Gogan.

It was Jimmy Johnson’s first training camp, and Hurricane Jimmy — pun intended — was up and down the practice field, yelling and clapping and coaching up miscreants as only Jimmy could.

Wow, he really seems to pick on a certain few players, we more or less commented to the veteran Gogan.

“No, not really,” the big bear of a lineman corrected. “He hates all of us.”

The anecdote came to mind last week when Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, a former successful college coach just as Johnson was, found himself on the wrong side of the day’s NFL news.

In a reported text message to CSN-Philly, ex-Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin, freshly traded to Pittsburgh, charged that Kelly is “uncomfortable around grown men of our culture.”

Boykin is African-American, and his words gained gravitas after people cited similar comments by former Eagles Tra Thomas and LeSean McCoy.

The latter said, after his trade to the Bills, that Kelly “got rid of all the good black players.” Thomas, once an assistant on Kelly’s Philadelphia staff, contended there was “a hint of racism” in the way the new coach ran the team.

It’s a weighty insinuation, even if all the disgruntled ex-players and ex-assistants stopped short of calling Kelly an out-and-out racist. A person of color would better weigh that insinuation. But all society should show concern when the charge is levied, even when it’s rendered by a demoted player on his way out of town.

Many who know Kelly quickly jumped to his defense.

Columnist John Canzano of The Oregonian, who sparred with Kelly regularly when the latter was Ducks coach, wrote, “Chip Kelly is quirky. He’s demanding. Like a lot of football coaches, he’s a control freak. He’s unconventional, intelligent, wicked funny and can be difficult when he wants to be.

“But what he’s absolutely not is a racist.”

Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Daily News turned to running back Kenjon Barner, who played for Kelly at Oregon and now in Philly.

Barner told a story about Kelly caring enough to sit outside a classroom one day when Barner had missed class. Ouch.

“I can’t speak on another guy’s perspective of Chip,” Barner told Domowitch. “I met Chip when I was 18. He’s been the same guy since then. He hasn’t changed. He doesn’t deal with guys any differently now than he did then.”

If cutting and trading players are at the root of what upset ex-Eagles Boykin and McCoy, if they see Kelly’s radical overhaul as having a cultural bias, they have pages of NFL history stacked against them.

When a new coach comes in, often everyone and everything is rife for upheaval — cornerbacks, quarterbacks, uniforms, training camp sites, even Tom Landry.

Jimmy’s tirade about the “asthma field” is the stuff of franchise legend.

As Gogan said, maybe only half-kiddingly, Johnson “hated” all of them.

Johnson was interviewed last week by Sports Illustrated’s Emily Kaplan and related his Dallas experience to what Kelly is going through.

“Until you win big, people are going to criticize you,” Johnson told Kaplan.

Part of Kelly’s problem, Jimmy said, is that he’s now making the personnel decisions in Philadelphia as a committee of one.

“When one guy makes the decision, you take chances,” Johnson said. “That’s what Chip has done this year.

“I’m a fan of Chip Kelly. I like what he’s doing.”

An old coach, of course, is always going to view things through the prism of a former coach.

Maybe the issue in Philadelphia is bigger than that.

I’ll leave that side of the Philadelphia discussion to people more qualified. In the meantime, from afar, Chip Kelly seems to be just another new coach.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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