Some of the picks were applauded, and some were met with the healthy provincial skepticism that has long defined this city. The reactions didn’t matter. Not to Chip Kelly.
After each of the Eagles’ selections, Kelly walked through the NovaCare Complex and into the auditorium and down to the podium where he’d answer questions about why he did this or that. Each time it was the same confident stride, as though he would conquer the room just as he believed he conquered the draft. It did not bother Kelly, not at all, when he was informed – particularly after the Eagles took Marcus Smith with their first selection – that some factions in town were less bullish on certain decisions than he appeared to be.
“I think it's what makes sports great,” Kelly replied. “Everybody has an opinion.”
He is just fine with you having an opinion. Really. But you should not confuse that with him caring about your opinion. Or the opinion of your neighbor. Or various draft experts. Or media members. Because he does not care about those things. Not at all. Not even a little.
If you are searching for concrete conclusions from the Eagles’ latest draft, there seem to be two: Kelly has a clear vision of the team he wants to build, and Kelly is untroubled by those who find even small parts of his vision the least bit fuzzy. Consider his comments during different points of the draft and you quickly realize that you can see things his way or avert your eyes, but he’s pushing forward with his plan with or without your support.
When the Smith pick wasn’t universally hailed, Kelly insisted the Louisville pass rusher was the guy they targeted all along. Kelly also urged detractors to wait until Smith actually plays before rendering judgment, which was a reasonable request. You’d expect all that. What you probably didn’t expect was the part where Kelly essentially said no one knows anything about the draft and mentioned how “50 percent of first round picks don’t make it.” If you needed comfort at that moment, you were looking for it in the arms of the wrong man.
It was a fascinating weekend. Reporters and fans were hungry for insight into his decision-making process. Kelly served up answers, ladling out information with healthy scoops of self-assurance and amusement.
In Kelly’s first season, the Eagles set franchise records for points, touchdowns, passing yards and total yards. Then he cut DeSean Jackson, who had a career year. Then Kelly used two of his first three picks to select wide receivers in back-to-back rounds. One of those was Josh Huff (see story). He’s an Oregon and Pac-12 product, which is becoming a theme for Kelly.
Over the last two drafts, the Eagles have selected seven Pac-12 players. No other team has taken more. Kelly grabbed another former Duck, defensive end Taylor Hart, in the fifth round (see story). It didn’t faze Kelly that some people thought Hart went a bit high. In fact, Kelly said he would have taken Hart even sooner. A lot sooner, actually.
“When we could get our hands on him, we had him rated a lot higher,” Kelly said. “I know I say that a lot, but that's true for us. We would have taken him in the third. We're fortunate. I think Howie [Roseman] did a great job of how we ordered it today. The other guy would be gone first, so let's take him. He guaranteed me Hart would be there in the fifth, and he was right.”
Can you imagine if Roseman wasn’t in the war room to act as a speed governor on Kelly’s full throttle Pac-12/Duck affection? He might have drafted the entire population of the Pacific coast.
Even though Kelly said he tries “to divorce himself” from situations involving potential draft picks he knows, it’s evident he’s quite comfortable taking familiar faces. Oregon Ducks and Pac-12 players in particular. And here, again, his answers were instructive. If you thought he might consider public perception, even for a moment, he stripped you of that foolish notion with another blunt reply. He’s so content to do it his way, it’s a little surprising he didn’t wear a tux and fix himself a stiff drink at the podium, Sinatra-style.
“Just because we have a familiarity, if someone wants to say that's a concern, that's OK,” Kelly said. “You know when you're going to take them, that's what they're going to do. But I'm not not going to take one because I'm afraid someone's going to say something about them.”
No, he is not afraid. Not of your opinion. Not in the least. If there was any doubt about who’s really running things at the NovaCare Complex these days, Kelly was happy to clear it up.