The San Francisco 49ers had a season to forget in 2015. After all the unexpected retirements, the departure of players to other teams and the parting of ways between the organization and head coach Jim Harbaugh, there stood a team that had been through a turbulent offseason. The guy they hired to replace Harbaugh an assistant on the team the previous year, defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. He proceeded to lead the team to a 5-11 record, their worst in a long time. Even though some slippage was expected going into 2015, ownership was not happy with what they saw. And in response to their unhappiness, Tomsula was fired after his lone season as head coach. Plenty wondered what direction the team would go in to replace Tomsula. Would they go with an up-and-comer, or would they go with an established coach? One coach that reached out to the team again was former Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers coach Mike Holmgren. Unfortunately for him, the team never returned the interest he had. After doing a few interviews, news spread that the coaching search was down to two men: Mike Shanahan and former Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly. And in the end, the 49ers went with the guy that just recently coached the Eagles. Chip Kelly was announced on Twitter by 49ers CEO Jed York as the new head coach in San Francisco. And thus begins a new era in 49ers football. But what can you expect from Chip this time around?
Chip Kelly had a record of 26-21 as the head coach of the Eagles, but what many cannot forget is his last season with the team. The Eagles were 7-9 and failed to capitalize on a down NFC East. And to top it all off, the Eagles were not as good of a product as they once were. Before the 2015 season, the Eagles gave Kelly personnel power. And with that, he began to make some questionable decisions. He traded his leading rusher (LeSean McCoy) , leading passer (Nick Foles) and let his leading wide receiver leave via free agency. And to replace them, he got an oft-injured quarterback (Sam Bradford), a running back that did not fit his system (DeMarco Murray) and the linebacker he received back in the McCoy trade did not really make a big impact. Chip Kelly the GM essentially sabotaged Chip Kelly the coach. And with that, the Eagles tried to correct the mistake they made. Kelly did not want to give up that power and he was jettisoned as a result of it. With San Francisco, the good thing is that he will not have that type of power within the organization. If he did, then San Francisco would be worried. So the good thing about Chip is now he can focus on just being a coach and coaching the players that he is given. Of course Baalke will consult with the coach, as it is only right to work in concert with your coach on draft picks and acquisitions. But Kelly will not have the final say in the calls as he did in Philly this past season and that will be a good thing. It will be interesting to see what all Baalke can do this offseason with the projected $50 million in cap space this offseason.
One person that may be excited to be working with Kelly is quarterback Colin Kaepernick. After last season, plenty expected him to be released before April 1st, when his contract becomes guaranteed. Merchandise of Kaepernick was even put on the clearance rack in the 49ers team store. But with the new hire of Chip Kelly, Kaepernick’s career in San Francisco gets new life. Chip had reportedly been keeping a close eye on Colin’s situation in San Francisco, thinking he would make a run at him if he was still the Philly head coach and general manager. Needless to say, Colin has been a guy that Chip wanted on his team. So with him being hired as the new 49ers head coach, he gets his wish to work with Kaepernick. Many forget that Colin ran a very similar style offense that Chip ran when he was at Oregon and the Eagles. And if he buys into Chip Kelly, then he may be able to reverse course on his career track. With Colin, Chip has the best running threat at quarterback he has ever had in the NFL. And the other great thing about this offense when it comes to Colin is quick decisions that can be made. Many times it looked like Colin was indecisive when dropping back to pass. And as a result, there were bad decisions made and there were throws missed. With Chip, there will be clear reads and that will allow for Colin to play with more confidence when on the field. And unlike in the past, the focus of this team will be on the offense, which has needed some adjusting for some time now.
There are some things that could turn into positives there in San Francisco, but there are some things that are still in question. One of those things is the ability to adjust offensively for Chip. Over his coaching career, Chip Kelly has been known for tempo offense. He likes to run as many plays as possible and tire out the opposing defenses. But what happens when his offense is not as efficient as he wants it to be? Well, the Eagles gave everyone a preview of that last year. The result was a tired defense in the second half of games. With this second chance in the NFL, Chip is going to have to mix the speeds with which he runs his offense. It is not known who will run his defense at this time. But with whoever Chip chooses to run the offense, he must allow his unit to have a chance to be successful. If he does not mix speeds and work in concert with his defensive coordinator, he runs the risk of burning this defense out halfway through the game. And that will end up making them less effective when the time comes to finish games. The running game with Carlos Hyde will be imperative in allowing Chip to slow down the game at certain times, but most of this is up to Kelly and his preferences. He must learn from the issues he had in Philly.
Another thing that has to be talked about is the issues that were reported between Kelly and some of the players there in Philly. Between the trades of players and them coming out and saying things about Chip to the reported cold way he was around players in the facilities, it seems like the relationship between Chip and his players was not the best. That only got highlighted even more when offensive tackle Jason Peters pulled himself out of a game and said “he was not going back in for that”. Although it was unclear what Peters meant by that, it was taken by some as a shot at the head coach. In San Francisco, he hopefully learns that there has to be a better relationship between he and his players. If he does not have a solid relationship with his players, then this will not work in San Francisco. The one thing that you always heard about Tomsula when players were talking about him is how much they liked him. Of course more than your players liking you is needed to be a good coach. But Kelly has to be able to relate to his players in order to get the best out of them. If he does not and has not learned that from his Philadelphia days, then he will not get the most out of his players there.
With $50 million projected in cap space and plenty of draft picks, the 49ers and Chip Kelly have much to work with to upgrade that roster. Whether many like it or not, Kelly got a second chance quicker than some expected. It will be interesting to see what he has learned since being fired in Philly. The 49ers are betting on him getting them back to competitiveness with the focus of this team switching to offense.