Eagles Players Say Chip Kelly's Dictatorial Style Is the Issue, Not Racism

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterAugust 10, 2015

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The quote below is from an African-American Eagles player, and it puts into perspective something important about Chip Kelly.

"Chip is not a racist. The notion he is isn't fair. The thing with Chip is he just doesn't see you as a person. He sees you as a commodity. The more players get that, the better off they'll be."

The player added: "Chip's attitude towards players doesn't bother me. I actually like it. I know where I stand with him. You understand that he doesn't want to be challenged so don't f--king challenge him. It's pretty simple. I get it. Some guys don't."

A second African-American Eagles player said: "He sets the agenda. You don't follow it, you're dead to him. That's not racial. Some guys handle it well, some guys don't."

The players declined to be named out of fear of repercussions from Kelly.

A week has passed since Kelly and race rose yet again to the top of NFL discussion points. In that time, a different picture of Kelly in the NFL has come to light. The picture these players draw is of a control freak who, by choice, keeps a certain distance from his players. Not because of race, but because Kelly, these players say, doesn't care about building relationships with them.

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We don't know if this picture is wholly accurate. This is just a small sample size of interviews. However, anecdotally at least, Kelly's headstrong personality is running into the strong wills of some Eagles players. The result has been a purging of stars and non-stars alike.

The problem Kelly faces, based on the interviews with these players, is him becoming the next Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh pushed his players to the brink physically, and that intensity burned out many in the locker room and throughout the organization.

Kelly may have the same effect but for different reasons. Kelly's unwavering dedication to his system and coldness toward players—instead of fire—is a problem for him.

It's impossible to run an NFL team in the long term by constantly pushing players to the brink. But it is equally impossible, in a brutal sport that at times requires compassion and communication, to run a locker room where players are seen as Monopoly pieces.

Kelly has, just this past year alone, dramatically altered the team. This offseason led to nine new starters (10 if Kiko Alonso starts).

The 49ers were initially inoculated from problems between Harbaugh and the players because the team won so much under him, going to a Super Bowl. But once the losing started, player complaints grew louder. TV reporters and analysts saw what was happening.

Fox's Jay Glazer said in September of last season he didn't think Harbaugh would be back for this season. NFL Network's Deion Sanders said players wanted him out. Jerry Rice said on the NFL Network: "I think there might be a little disconnect between Jim Harbaugh and some of the players. His approach to the game, not being willing to listen to those veteran players. Almost like 'it's my way or you're out the door.'"

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The difference between Kelly and Harbaugh now is you don't hear much complaining from current Eagles players. Only the former ones. Their complaints can be dismissed as sour grapes.

But what these complaints do show is that, like Harbaugh, the Eagles coach is using college-style management techniques in the professional game.

Again, this is not unheard of, but, as in the Harbaugh situation, the patience of players can quickly erode if the winning stops. Kelly is 20-12 in two seasons with one playoff appearance, a loss.

In an interview, one AFC head coach said he admired Kelly "for his innovations and smarts. He has already made an imprint on the game in just two years."

Then, the coach said, speaking not specifically of Kelly, but NFL coaching in general: "The biggest challenge as a coach isn't the X's and O's part of it. It's the relationship part. If you don't master that part of it in our league, you'll be dead."

The coach added that what's happening in Philadelphia is the most discussed topic among coaches in the NFL.

This isn't the first time we've heard about an uber-controlling Kelly. Adam Jude, who covered the 2010 Oregon team for the Register-Guard, told Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News in 2014, speaking of Kelly's tenure as coach of the Ducks, "You're either with him or you're not. There's no in-between with him.

"People wondered if professional players would follow him," Jude continued. "...I don't know if 'overbearing' is the right word, but he's certainly demanding of his players. If you fall in line and if you're with him, [those] players tend to love him. If you cross him, you're probably not going to be in uniform very long."

Those words proved prophetic.

Kelly isn't the first control-freak coach in the history of the NFL. Or the first overbearing one. Or the first my-way-or-the-highway guy.

What Kelly may be, however, is the ultimate example of this. He may be doing it on a level like we've rarely seen before.

A coach being called "too controlling" isn't new. That's a phenomenon that goes back to the sport's roots a century ago. More recently, Bill Parcells, now in the Hall of Fame, could be a terrific hard-ass. But he had a human touch in his coaching. Tom Coughlin was once called too brutal, but he later adapted his ways. Kelly may have to do the same.

What's different with Kelly is the racial factor. No coach in the modern history of the sport has been publicly accused of racial bias as much as Kelly.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 7: Running back LeSean McCoy #25 of the Philadelphia Eagles talks to head coach Chip Kelly on the sidelines during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on September 7, 2014 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Penn
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Kelly has now had three separate ex-players say he has problems with black players. Former running back LeSean McCoy told ESPN the Magazine that Kelly "got rid of all the good players. Especially all the good black players." Former assistant coach Tra Thomas said on the Fox affiliate in Philadelphia that some of Kelly's moves have "a hint of racism."

After being traded, Brandon Boykin told Comcast SportsNet's Derrick Gunn that Kelly "can't relate and that makes him uncomfortable. He likes total control of everything, and he [doesn't] like to be uncomfortable. Players excel when you let them naturally be who they are, and in my experience that hasn't been important to him, but you guys have heard this before me."

Kelly has steadfastly denied bigotry plays a role in his decisions.

"The reality is we have 90 guys and you're going to have to cut to 53," Kelly told reporters after Boykin's comments. "So 37 guys are going to be disappointed and obviously I would imagine all 37 of those guys have a different opinion than we have as a staff, but that's what you have to do."

The players I spoke to presented a more nuanced view of Kelly. It is not a flattering portrait of the coach, but it's also not a racially charged one.

They portray Kelly as someone who wants players to conform in every way: the way they dress, act and engage with him. Yet Kelly provides them with little communication. One example of this came just recently when DeMarco Murray, after being asked why he sat out of practice on the first day of camp, told reporters none of the coaches informed him.

One player said each of the players let go by Kelly confronted Kelly in some way, but never demonstrably. Neither player interviewed by Bleacher Report wanted to provide details out of fear Kelly would discover their identities.

"He has made remarks about how some of the black guys dress, and they took it as racial," one Eagles player said, "but I've seen him make remarks about how white guys dress, too."

One thing Boykin told reporters is Kelly barely talks to players away from the field. This would fall into the Kelly philosophy. He doesn't want to humanize the players. That way emotion doesn't get in the way of evaluating them.

"When you're a player, you want to be able to relate to your coach off the field," Boykin told reporters at St. Vincent College, the site of Steelers training camp. "There were times he just didn't talk to people. You would walk down the hallway, he wouldn't say anything to you. I'm not saying he's a racist in any way."

"I felt a lot of guys in that locker room feel the same way," Boykin said. "Of course, when you're in the organization, you're not going to voice your opinion. For me, I've always been a guy of honesty. Not trying to put anybody out in any way, but if you're honest with me, I'll be honest with you, and I felt like that honesty wasn't there all the time."

Current Eagle Malcolm Jenkins said, "From my own personal perspective and experiences, I feel like I have a pretty strong personality. I'm very outspoken on what I like and what I don't like. I know for a fact that Chip likes uniformity. And it's not necessarily a bad thing. It's not about personalities or race or whatever. It's just about being about the team.

"So sometimes that means you can't have as much swagger as you want to as far as the way you dress, but it's also the mentality that no player is bigger than anyone else and no player is bigger than the team, and I can buy into that."

It's not race. It's about relating to your players on a basic human level.

Which is almost as big of a problem for Kelly.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.