Ray's Replies: Why so critical of Chip Kelly?

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Ray's Replies: Why so critical of Chip Kelly?

Q. Why are you so pessimistic about Chip Kelly? I saw you on Comcast SportsNet last week and I heard you on WIP Saturday, and you made it sound like Kelly was a terrible hire for the Eagles. Why so negative?

-Harry W.Warminster, Pa.

A. I received a number of e-mails saying the same thing that I was writing off the Chip Kelly hire as a foolish move that is doomed to failure. Just to set the record straight, I said no such thing.

I did say I was skeptical, which only means I have some doubts. Other analysts, such as Heath Evans of NFL.com and my old friend John Clayton at ESPN were far more critical of the hire. John used the term disaster in projecting Kelly as an NFL coach. I did not say anything close to that.

What I said, basically, is lets wait and see. I know thats an unsatisfying answer in an age of media punditry where opinions are expected to be immediate and absolute, but it is best I can do. It isnt meant to be negative.

My biggest concern with Kelly is his lack of NFL experience. It is a huge factor and it cannot be dismissed. It doesnt mean Kelly cant overcome it and be successful, but it is an issue. Look at the history of coaches who tried to make the same leap. See how many crashed and burned.

Marc Garber, a frequent e-mailer from Marietta, Ga., was kind enough to research all the head coaches who were hired with no pro experience since 1970. Kelly is the 15th coach to try it. Of the previous 14, only two won a Super Bowl and they are Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer, who rode Johnsons coattails in Dallas.

The others could be divided into the following categories:

Successful Don Coryell (St. Louis, San Diego).

Somewhat successful John Ralston (Denver), Chuck Fairbanks (New England), John McKay (Tampa Bay, made it to an NFC title game).

Unsuccessful Dan Devine (Green Bay), Tommy Prothro (Rams, Chargers), Bud Wilkinson (St. Louis Cardinals), Daryl Rodgers (Detroit), Dennis Erickson (Seattle, San Francisco).

Disasters Bill Peterson (Houston, went 1-18), Lou Holtz (didnt finish one season with the Jets), Bobby Petrino (didnt finish one season in Atlanta).

You can toss in Steve Spurrier, who had pro playing experience but no pro coaching experience when he made the jump from the University of Florida, where he was the hottest coach in the land, to the Redskins, where he fizzled out in two seasons.

Every situation is different, and it is impossible to compare Chip Kelly to, say, Lou Holtz, but it would be nave to pretend this history doesnt matter.

Pro football is a different game. The athletes are older, wealthier and more independent. They are as likely to listen to their agent as their coach. In college, the coach is king. He runs everything. He calls every shot from practice times to the pre-game meal. The NFL is a billion-dollar business with more layers and more people to answer to.

Some coaches are smart enough and slick enough to adapt. Others never figure it out. Where Kelly fits, we dont know just yet.

I have two concerns: One involves the frenetic tempo of his offense. I know thats what has many people, including Jeff Lurie, excited. But to play at that pace on Sunday, a team must practice at that pace during the week. It isnt that hard to do in college with more than 100 players including scout teamers who will run reps forever. But it is more of a challenge in the NFL, where you have half as many players, many of whom are older and more battered and may be unavailable for days at a time.

That is why it is critical that Kelly hire assistant coaches with pro experience, guys who understand the rhythms of an NFL season as well as the restrictions put in place by the players union regarding practices, training camp, contact drills, etc. Kelly needs time to build his team but that time will be dictated, in part, by things beyond his control. He is not in Oregon anymore.

The other concern is his level of commitment. Kelly has been a college coach. He has enjoyed enormous success and made a lot of money as a college coach. He knows he can thrive there. For him, pro football is a leap into the unknown. What happens if it doesnt go well? How long will it be before he starts getting a wistful take me back to campus look in his eye?

Holtz and Petrino didnt make it through one season before deciding pro football wasnt for them. Spurrier gave it two years. The point is that they knew they could go back to college and pick up where they left off. The NFL would be just a footnote in their resume, a fling that didnt work out. They landed on their feet. It was their franchises that took the fall.

In time, well get a better read on Chip Kelly and well have a better sense of whether this marriage will be a success. Im not saying it cant work. Jimmy Johnson proved it can work. Don Coryell, even though he never won a Super Bowl, proved it can work.

Im just saying lets wait and see.

E-mail Ray Didinger at viewfromthehall@comcast.net

Sixers were right to reject Pelicans' reported Jahlil Okafor trade offer

Sixers were right to reject Pelicans' reported Jahlil Okafor trade offer

If the reports are accurate, Bryan Colangelo probably made the right decision not trading Jahlil Okafor last week.

After the Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins early Monday morning in a shocking, post-All-Star Game blockbuster, ESPN's Ramona Shelburne reported several interesting pieces of information regarding the Sixers.

"The Pelicans were very close on a deal for Jahlil Okafor about 10 days ago, offering a similar package except it didn't include [Buddy] Hield," Shelburne wrote

A few hours earlier, she reported on ESPN that the deal for Okafor would have netted the Sixers Tyreke Evans, a protected first-round pick and a future second-round pick from New Orleans.

The protection the Pelicans sought was heavy — they wanted top-20 protection, according to Shelburne.

That just isn't a meaningful enough return, even for a player without a role in Philly.

Why? 

• Evans is a free agent after the season who has had three knee surgeries in the last two years and can't shoot threes. 

• A second-round pick is just a sweetener, so moving on from that ...

• A top-20 protected first-round pick isn't that enticing at all. Of the players selected between 20 and 30 in the last draft, only Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Toronto's Pascal Siakam and San Antonio's Dejounte Murray even have roles. 

In the previous year's draft, the best picks between 20-30 were Bobby Portis and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. 

The year before, Rodney Hood and Clint Capela panned out for their teams, but the eight others selected in that range have done little.

This sort of trade might have worked for the Sixers if they weren't already accumulating some roster depth. They don't need to go search for another late-first-round pick they can hopefully turn into the eighth or ninth guy in a rotation. With players developing like T.J. McConnell, Robert Covington, Richaun Holmes and Nik Stauskas, the Sixers are already building a decent second unit for the future.

There are a lot of people in this city ready to give Okafor away, but doing so just makes no sense for the Sixers. All it would solve is the center logjam and awkwardness, but the value in that New Orleans proposal just wasn't there for the Sixers. 

At this point, it's looking extremely unlikely Okafor is traded before the Feb. 23 deadline. The Blazers were interested but acquired Jusuf Nurkic from Denver instead. The Pelicans were interested but landed Cousins. 

The only team left we've heard connected to Okafor is the Bulls, who don't have much of intrigue to send the Sixers' way.

But still, hanging on to Okafor and trading him after the season, or on draft night, could yield the Sixers a better return than New Orleans was offering. Forget about Evans and forget about the second-round pick — that offer was basically a pick in the 20-30 range for Okafor. 

Not enough. 

The Sixers held out in hopes of New Orleans' making the pick top-10 protected or lottery-protected instead, but Pels GM Dell Demps knew the Sixers didn't have much leverage and thought to himself, "If I'm trading away a potentially valuable draft pick, I want a better player in return."

And so he got Cousins. That's how we ended up where we are today.

The Sixers' future is brighter because their pick swap with the Kings now holds more value, so last night was a win for them even though Okafor remains on the roster.

Sixers' big picture still bright even after recent bumps in the road

Sixers' big picture still bright even after recent bumps in the road

If you’re a fan of the local professional basketball franchise, it’s understandable that you might have been a bit frustrated to learn, weeks after the fact, that Joel Embiid suffered an itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny meniscus tear.

And you might have found it a tad concerning that contrary to popular opinion, there exists the possibility that Ben Simmons won’t play at all this year. Or that Jahlil Okafor won’t play somewhere else.

This reminder: You can love your team, but don’t expect it to love you back.

And one more: As disillusioned as you might be at present, you’ll be back.

You know it, and the Sixers know it.

They can be somewhat less than forthright on the injury front or somewhat less than successful on the trade front, and it won’t matter. They can, in fact, do everything short of moving to Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J., and it won’t matter.

Because if you’ve stuck with this outfit to this point in The Process – and man, you’re a real glutton for punishment if you have – you sure as heck aren’t going away now.

Not after watching Embiid, who – 31 games into his professional career already – looks like a transcendent player. And not when you stop to consider the promise of Simmons, the first overall pick in last summer’s draft. Or the promise of whatever Okafor might bring in a trade.

That said, the optics are not good right now. Not with the smoke from three brush fires hovering over the team, partially obscuring some promising developments (the rise of Dario Saric and T.J. McConnell foremost among them).

General manager Bryan Colangelo appears to have only told the truth about Embiid’s injured left knee as a last resort – i.e., after Derek Bodner of derekbodner.com reported the meniscus tear on Feb. 11.

Before that, the team had most often referred to the injury, sustained Jan. 20 against Portland, as a contusion, which would seem to connote some sort of minor, skin-deep issue. As he continued to miss games – in all he has been held out of the last 11, and 14 of 15 – there was, eventually, the admission that it was a bone bruise.

In a hastily convened news conference after Bodner’s story broke (and before a game against Miami), Colangelo finally said that the team knew from the start it was “a very minor meniscal tear,” in addition to a bone bruise.

Not the finest hour for a GM who had promised transparency.

Then the Inquirer’s Keith Pompey reported last Friday, at the start of All-Star Weekend in New Orleans, that the Jan. 23 CT scan on Simmons’ surgically repaired right foot indicated he had not fully healed.

Simmons suffered a Jones fracture of that foot’s fifth metatarsal on Sept. 30 -- i.e., the final day of training camp. The word then was that he would miss three months and thus be back in January. Then there were reports he would return after the All-Star break. As recently as last Wednesday coach Brett Brown told ESPN.com, “I fully expect him to play this season.”

After Pompey’s report, Colangelo issued a statement saying the team is “employing a conservative and thoughtful approach” to Simmons’ recovery, and basing his return “on the advice and direction of medical professionals.”

Colangelo added that Simmons’ next examination is scheduled for this Thursday, the day before the Sixers resume their season at home against Washington. Brown has said the rookie will need four or five full practices before he plays in a game, of which 26 remain in the season. The math doesn’t look promising, people.

The trade deadline also arrives Thursday, and on Sunday night Sean Deveney of The Sporting News and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com tweeted out that the Kings offered guard Tyreke Evans, a 2017 first-round pick and a future choice over a week ago for Okafor before shipping a similar package (as well as rookie guard Buddy Hield) to Sacramento for All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins.

Shelburne tweeted that the sticking point in the Okafor-to-the-Pelicans deal was the fact that the Sixers and New Orleans could not agree on the protections for the first-round pick.

So this saga continues. As far back as Feb. 6, there was a report (from USA Today’s Sam Amick) that the Sixers were talking with New Orleans about a deal involving Okafor.

Then, during a break in that Miami game on Feb. 11, Okafor was seen shaking hands with teammates as if a deal had gone down. He didn’t play that night – Brown admitted it was because of “trade rumors” – and Okafor didn’t even travel to Charlotte for a game two nights later.

But he rejoined the team last Wednesday in Boston for the Sixers’ final game before the break and saw some time off the bench. David Aldridge of Turner Sports has since reported that a swap with Portland fell through.

Other outlets have reported that Denver and Chicago expressed interest (the Nuggets presumably before swapping centers with the Blazers), and on Saturday Deveney wrote that Dallas was a potential destination.

So far, nothing.

Lest you be inclined to fret about any of this, understand that the Sixers stand to benefit from a (likely) downturn in Sacramento’s already-dim fortunes, given that they can swap first-rounders with the Kings under terms of a larcenous 2015 trade engineered by Sam Hinkie.

On another front, Embiid said that if all goes well in practice this week, he “probably” will return Friday.

And kindly consider the big picture – that the Sixers have had far worse times than this. Far worse, even, than the first three years of The Process. They are the franchise that traded Wilt, Moses, Barkley, AI and nearly Dr. J. The one that went 9-73 when they were TRYING to win. The one that twice frittered away 3-1 leads en route to losing playoff series; no other Eastern Conference team has done it that often.

You will get through this.

Deep down, you know it. And they do, too