Unlike his predecessor in Santa Clara, Chip Kelly fought the introductory press conference to a draw, which is exactly what he should have done given the fact that he’s done mass pressers more than 100 times in his career.
But the press conference is much misunderstood and overvalued as a tool for revelation, and the more practice one has at it, the better one becomes at minimizing its usefulness. In other words, we learned much and nothing, and are probably better off for both.
He does have a sense of humor he can apply when he needs to break up a conversation’s rhythm, and we will all get a bit of mileage from his autopsy joke. But the key to the joke was that it was applied to a question about what he learned about himself in his two-week hiatus from football, and allowed him not to actually catalog his self-perceived failings for our edification.
And that was the takeaway – Chip Kelly showed hints of himself, his philosophy and his view of individual 49ers without ever revealing anything of substance, because he knows, as should we all, that unlike the clean slate of Jim Tomsula, he will be evaluated based on his own resume.
* Will he make the repairs and schedule maintenance on Colin Kaepernick a priority? Not sure, since Kaepernick may be an ex-49er three days before the first day Kelly can actually learn what he needs to learn about him.
* Can he work with Trent Baalke better than he worked with Howie Roseman in Philadelphia? So far so good, but they haven’t had time to start any arguments about players or philosophy and general run of the building yet, and fights like that don’t happen until the coach has a few double-digit win seasons under his belt.
* Is he a martinet who is too into the job of football to properly care for the personalities of football employees, as he was accused in his Eagles’ post mortems? He was thinking about that very thing over a cool one when Jed York begged him to take $24 million, so we don’t frankly know.
* Is he a control freak with an unusually high interest in his players’ fluids? He sort of defended himself by saying how happy he was to be in the only place outside the CERN supercollider that admires innovation, allowing him not to say, “I’m a football coach, and football coaches have to be control freaks to function. You figure it out.”
* Does his offensive philosophy unfairly tax his defense? Well, yes it does, but Kelly made it fairly clear that in a war between the two, his offensive philosophy will always trump his defense’s need for the occasional seven-minute drive.”
* Will he be a swell guy with the media? He said he doesn’t care about the perceptions of others, but like anyone who has been fired, he knows that his owner does care about those perceptions, especially when they are expressed with empty seats and “Sell The Team” streamers trailing behind planes, so he damned well better be good at it.
* Well, will he be a swell guy with the media, damn it? The media will get to watch part of practice and talk to the assistant coaches, a particularly egregious display of pandering to the wonk-ish tendencies of the modern beat writer.
So to the answer of how Chip Kelly did on Day One, here it is: He has a body of work, and that’s how he will be evaluated. He inherits a team with a proud offensive history that hasn’t been a Top 10 offense in any meaningful category in 12 years. He inherits a team that is remembered by its fan base for winning five Super Bowls and 65 percent of its games in the Eddie DeBartolo era, but has been tooling along at a sub-mediocre .470 clip since 1998.
In short, Chip Kelly is starting over, as he did three years ago in Philadelphia. Like the Eagles, the 49ers are not far from their glory years, but only in a chronological sense. The roster is depleted, the owner is flailing about for the next big FOTF (Face O’The Franchise) after failing with the last one, and Kelly is working against his own freshly dented reputation.
In short, there’s a whole lot of history here on both ends to trump whatever he did or did not accomplish in his first of what we suspect will be several press conferences. He didn’t do balloon animals or hand out slices of sheet cake afterward, but neither did he need someone to interpret his answers from coach-speak to English.
He met the task of the day, and that’s all he had to do. The heavy lifting upon which he will be truly measured starts now.