Bill Belichick said he has "so much respect" for Eagles head coach Chip Kelly before the Eagles-Patriots joint practice Tuesday. (AP)
It’s the genius and the aspiring genius. One of the NFL’s great innovators and one of college football’s great innovators. Bill Belichick and Chip Kelly. One’s won three Super Bowls, the other’s never coached a day in the NFL. They’re improbable friends, and for the next few days, they’re standing side-by-side watching their football teams practice together.
The Eagles and Patriots kick off three days of joint practices Tuesday at the NovaCare Complex, and Belichick couldn’t stop raving before the first session began about his counter-part from the Eagles.
“I have so much respect for Chip [Kelly] and what he’s done,” Belichick said. “We've been friends for a while and I know he does a great job with this football team and the program that he’s run in Oregon.
“He’s a very innovative, creative guy. He's got a great mind, he’s smart, and I think he'll take advantage of whatever resources he can. We’ll see what that is. I’m sure he’ll give us plenty of trouble.”
Belichick and Kelly go back to Kelly’s days at New Hampshire. Belichick has brought Kelly up to Foxboro to talk offense with his coaching staff in the past, and Belichick gave Kelly a rousing recommendation when he spoke with Eagles owner Jeff Lurie after Andy Reid was fired.
“Chip’s a New England guy, so we crossed paths from time to time in New England,” Belichick said. “We kept in touch over the past few years, and of course I have a lot of respect for what he’s done with the program out in Oregon.
“I’ve had several conversations with him since he’s taken over here in Philadelphia -- owners meetings, Combine, phone conversations, things like that. I just think he’s a really solid coach and a solid guy. I’ve always had a lot of respect for him and I think he does a great job with his team.”
But how much can a team like the Patriots -- who have won 10 or more games for 10 straight years and reached the playoffs nine of the last 10 years -- get out of joint practices with a team like the Eagles, who are turning over the roster, won just four games last year and have a new coach and staff?
Belichick said any time a team works against a different opponent, it’s a valuable learning experience.
“I think it will be a good experience for our team to get to see some different people, different scheme,” he said. “We’ll see some different matchups. It will be great for us from a coaching standpoint because we’ll certainly have to make some adjustments during practices and as we go.
“We haven’t done any kind of scouting report or anything like that, so a lot of it will be on the run, which will be good for us too, in terms of matchups and communication and all those things."
Belichick has been holding joint practices for years, both as head coach with the Patriots since 2000 and before that during his five seasons with the Browns.
The Pats practiced with the Saints and Buccaneers last year and also have practices scheduled with the Bucs again this year.
He said when he coached the Browns, they held joint workouts with the Bears and Panthers.
This is the first time the Eagles have practiced with another team in 15 years, since Wade Phillips brought the Bills to Lehigh for practices with the Ray Rhodes-coached Eagles. Buddy Ryan held practices with the Lions and Falcons in the 1980s.
“It's good for everybody,” Belichick said. “It's good for the young guys, it's good for the new guys, it's good for the old coaches. It's good for all of us.
“We've been working against ourselves for quite a while now, and we sort of start to know each other’s plays, know each other’s calls, certainly know the guys we line up against on a regular basis. Now we get a whole new set of faces and looks and things we don't know, things we have to adjust to and react to, [things] we won’t be able to anticipate as well.
“That will be good for all of us. I think this is as helpful for the coaching staff as it is for the young players, and I think the veteran players look forward to it as well. Anything to break up the monotony of camp.”
The Eagles and Patriots are scheduled for full practices on Tuesday and Wednesday, and a short walk-through type of session on Thursday.
They’ll open the preseason Friday night at the Linc in a national TV game.
“I don’t see how any player, rookie or veteran, could not benefit from a practice like this,” said Belichick, one of four head coaches to win at least three Super Bowls. “I don’t see how any coach could not benefit from it.
“We’re here to get better. We’re here to compete against a good football team and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to be a better football team when we leave here than we are today.”