Kelly's Oregon group brings familiarity to Eagles

slideshow-021413-eagles-azzinaro-uspresswire.jpg

Kelly's Oregon group brings familiarity to Eagles

They know exactly what every glance means, every hand gesture, every silent stare.

They speak Chip Kelly’s language, and they know what he wants before he even says anything.

They’re Kelly’s Oregon guys, and they’re a big part of his first NFL coaching staff.

“It was one piece of the puzzle you didn’t have to try to figure out,” said Eagles defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro, who spent the last four years in the same role under Kelly at the University of Oregon. “They had been on a four-year interview with us, so it was just one piece of the puzzle that you didn’t have to concern yourself with.”

Kelly brought five coaches with him from Eugene: Azzinaro, assistant defensive line coach Erik Chinander, assistant special teams coach Matt Harper, assistant defensive backs coach Todd Lyght and assistant offensive line coach Greg Austin.

Harper, Azzinaro and Lyght were with Kelly his entire four-year tenure as head coach at Oregon. Chinander and Austin came to Eugene a year later.

Kelly said he knew as soon as he decided to take the Eagles’ job that he wanted to bring a bunch of guys with him to Philly.

“That was really important to me to get a bunch of guys in here that understood me and really kind of built it from the bottom up,” he said. “And Eric and Todd [Lyght], Matt Harper and Greg Austin are guys that are young coaches at Oregon that have been with me a couple of years and understood how I wanted things done and what my vision was.

“I knew I was going to hire coordinators that were NFL guys that haven't had the opportunity to work with me before. I have a tendency to talk really fast and I want things to be efficient. But I also know that I may forget to say something, and Pat Shurmur can go to Greg Austin and say, ‘What did he mean by that?’ Or the same thing with Dave Fipp and Matt Harper for those young guys.

“Now I can put together guys with NFL experience coming here, and those guys can say, ‘This is what coach means, this is how we operate.’”

And the Eagles will operate differently than they ever have before.

Kelly likes to practice at warp speed -- the same way he wants to play -- and that will be an adjustment not just for the players but for the coaches who haven’t worked under Kelly before.

“We know exactly what type of tempo he wants to run at practice, and we’ll be able to get everything moving exactly the way he wants it,” said Lyght, the former All-Pro cornerback with the Rams.

“The key for us is going to be get a lot of reps at practice and go at a high tempo. We know exactly the type of tempo that he wants and that way we can help bring the other coaches along and get them up to speed.

“I think having us here gives Chip a good foundation for exactly what he wants. Chip has a great vision for this program and where he wants it to go, and we want to develop this program into a championship-caliber team that can compete and win every time that we step on the field.

“The guys he brought with him, they’re exceptional coaches who know exactly what coach Kelly wants.”

Other than Azzinaro, the four other Oregon coaches are all assistants under a veteran position coach -- Chinander under Azzinaro, Harper under special teams coordinator Dave Fipp, Austin under offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and Lyght under secondary coach John Lovett.

So they get the opportunity to continue to learn their craft, while at the same time helping Kelly transition from college to the pros.

“Chip is a smart guy, a mentor to me and all the guys he brought with him and all the guys he didn’t,” Austin said. “We all understand the things that made us successful at Oregon, and we’re all here to help him replicate that success here.”

Very few people have won a Super Bowl as a head coach without ever having played or coached in the NFL. Jimmie Johnson did it in Dallas, and then Barry Switzer did it with Johnson’s guys, but that’s it.

It’s a short list.

Whether Kelly’s system will translate to the NFL remains to be seen, but guys like Azzinaro, Lyght, Harper, Chinander and Austin have been part of one of the most successful college programs in recent years, and Kelly believes they can duplicate that success 2,900 miles to the east.

“Those guys are outstanding coaches and they're going to be rising stars in this profession,” Kelly said. “They're smart, they're intelligent. I don't have to worry about what time you're supposed to be in the office, because we all challenge each other and compete with each other to who can get in first in the morning and who can leave last.

“When you have to worry about guys doing clock watching, you hired the wrong guys, and I didn't with those guys.”

Kelly went 46-7 in four years at Oregon, including 36-4 the last three years with Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl wins. All seven of those losses came to nationally-ranked teams.

These guys are used to winning and understand exactly what’s made Kelly’s program work. They’re here to help him do it again.

“Those guys have coached in a lot of big football games,” said Azzinaro, who also carries the assistant head coach title. “It’s nice to have some guarantees in life, and those guys are guarantees.”

Best of NBA: Bulls hand Spurs first road loss of season

uspresswire-bulls-dwyane-wade.jpg
USA Today Images

Best of NBA: Bulls hand Spurs first road loss of season

CHICAGO -- Dwyane Wade scored 20 points, and the Chicago Bulls handed San Antonio its first road loss after a 13-0 start, hanging on to beat the Spurs 95-91 on Thursday night.

San Antonio fell one win shy of matching the NBA's best road start set by the Golden State Warriors last season. The Spurs cut an 18-point deficit midway through the third quarter to four in the closing minutes, only to come up short.

Kawhi Leonard scored 24 for San Antonio. Patty Mills added 16 points, hitting 4 of 6 3-pointers. Former Bull Pau Gasol had 13 points and 10 rebounds in his first game in Chicago since signing with San Antonio in the summer, but the Spurs lost a road game for the first time since Oklahoma City knocked them out in the Western Conference semifinals last season.

Jimmy Butler scored all of his 13 points for Chicago in the second half. Rajon Rondo added 12 points, nine assists and 10 rebounds, and Chicago picked up the win after dropping three in a row and six of nine.

The Spurs hadn't dropped a regular-season road game since Denver beat them on April 8 (see full recap).

Scoreboard malfunction, quiet crowd don’t stop Wizards’ rally
WASHINGTON -- Overcoming a sluggish start in front of a sparse, silent crowd and with a malfunctioning scoreboard, the Washington Wizards came back to beat the Nuggets 92-85 on Thursday night, thanks mainly to Bradley Beal's 26 points and Denver's season-high 29 turnovers.

John Wall scored only 15 points one game after a career-best 52, but nine came in the fourth quarter for Washington, which trailed by as many as 14 in the first half.

With starting point guard Emmanuel Mudiay inactive because of what the team said was a sprained right ankle, the Nuggets went 5 1/2 minutes without a point in the fourth quarter.

In that final period, they had 10 of their turnovers and shot 1 for 14 on 3-pointers -- including 0 for 4 in one last-minute possession (see full recap).

Gasol, clutch free throws lift Grizzlies over
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Marc Gasol scored 36 points and Toney Douglas made two free throws with less than a second left to give the Memphis Grizzlies an 88-86 comeback victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night.

Douglas finished with 11 points, scoring the game's final six points to seal Memphis' fifth straight victory.

Gasol was 13 of 24 from the field, including 4 of 6 from outside the arc. But Douglas, signed by Memphis this week because of injuries, took over down the stretch. The guard scored on a 19-footer with 34 seconds left, then converted two pairs of free throws in the last 20 seconds.

CJ McCollum led the Trail Blazers with 24 points, and Damian Lillard had 19 on 6-of-18 shooting. Evan Turner had 15 points and 10 rebounds (see full recap).

Sixers beat Pelicans without Joel Embiid leading the way

uspresswire-sixers-ilyasova-rodriguez.jpg
USA Today Images

Sixers beat Pelicans without Joel Embiid leading the way

BOX SCORE

NEW ORLEANS -- Joel Embiid shot just 5 for 15 from the field and the Sixers … wait … the Sixers won. 

Surprising? Actually, that’s just how the Sixers envision finding success.

It’s not about Embiid having a relatively quiet night on offense with 14 points, especially going 0 for 5 from three. It’s about other players getting involved and taking the burden off the rookie. Embiid has proved he can do a lot of things, but carrying a team each night in his first season isn’t what the Sixers have in mind. 

“I think that’s when we’re at our best,” Nik Stauskas said after the Sixers beat the Pelicans 99-88 (see Instant Replay). “Obviously there are a few guys in the NBA like a LeBron (James), KD (Kevin Durant) or Steph (Curry) that can single-handedly win a game throughout the entire season. But most of the teams are going to rely on bench players to step up and make shots and make plays. I think that’s when we’re most effective.”

Embiid entered Thursday night averaging 24.3 points and shooting 48.9 percent in Sixers wins (three games played). His 14 points against the Pelicans were his fewest in a victory this season. He also grabbed seven boards with four blocks and three steals. Embiid was a game-high plus-27, which Brett Brown called "massive."

Instead of being powered offensively by their centerpiece, the Sixers received solid efforts from the starters and reserves. Ersan Ilyasova scored 23 points (along with eight rebounds) for the second straight game. Sergio Rodriguez chipped in 16 points and eight assists. Off the bench,  Stauskas hit three treys en route to 14 points while Dario Saric scored 10 points with five rebounds as the team snapped an overall eight-game losing skid and a 23-game road losing streak. 

Embiid’s teammates attribute their success to the fact he is such a focal point of the opponents’ defense. In comparison to the beginning of the season when Embiid was getting stifled by double-teams, he has been learning how to pass out of them. Embiid expects to see two defenders every game and has been making adjustments to create opportunities for others to shoot rather than committing turnovers. 

“We’re not standing around a lot and just focusing on what Jo can do,” Robert Covington said. “Jo is making great moves to find guys that are open. He’s willing to pass. We’re starting to build the chemistry that everyone’s been looking for.”

Ilyasova has noticed a change in the flow of the offense and has capitalized on defensive mismatches when opponents swarm Embiid. 

“We just share the ball well,” Ilyasova said. “I find myself open. Obviously Joel does a great job of as far as when there is a double-team, just kicking out. When I see the open look, I try to knock that shot down.” 

This style of play is mutually beneficial for both Embiid and his teammates. Just because Embiid is passing out doesn't mean he's not getting his looks. Oftentimes, dishing out of a double-team allows him to get a better look on the next touch. 

“It’s a team effort," Covington said. "We’re doing so much as a unit that we’re not just focusing on just get Jo the ball and let him do his thing. He’s getting the ball, he’s surveying the floor and then he’s making his moves. He’s reading the defense really well. He’s doing a lot of [kicking out]. Then we find him a lot of re-posts and finding the open shot and making it easy for him to find the easy bucket.” 

Embiid is capable of scoring 20-plus in spite of his 28-minute restriction. The Sixers are making strides, though, by finding ways to win when he isn’t the running up the scoreboard. 

“I think there’s no doubt Jo is our best player and our offense is going to revolve around him most of the time,” Stauskas said. “But we’re playing our best when he’s posting up and kicking out to guys and they’re hitting threes or we’re taking pressure off him by making plays and the defense can’t just be solely focused on him. In a game like tonight, that’s kind of what you saw.”