Hanna: It’s hard to give Chip Kelly an A because it was a 3-9 year. I think a B is right. There were clear pieces put in place for the future that we’re going to be very encouraged by for obvious reasons, but there’s just so much further to go that you can’t give an already complete grade. So I think B is about right.
Eberhardt: I’m going to say B+, and that plus is going to represent where we differ on the value of what we’ve come to call workshopping – the idea that Chip went in to certain early games not playing to win but to use the live game action to slowly install pieces of the offense and to hone particular skills or formations. If you take that into account – if you caveat that, say, the Colorado game was lost because of workshopping – there isn’t really any time where Chip Kelly made mistakes or poor decisions that cost us game X, Y, or Z.
Hanna: I’m going to change my grade to B+, but not for that reason. Our running game was garbage the last two seasons under Kennedy Polamalu, and Jedd Fisch did what he could to work around it, but there was only so much he could do. But for Chip Kelly to take one of the worst rushing offenses in the country and turn it into a top-30 unit? It’s staggering. That is utterly staggering.
Eberhardt: So B+. I think the thing that I want to focus on in what I’m saying here is less about the production, although what he did with the run game and what he has us thinking in terms of the trajectory of this program is a huge part of it, but there’s something more. It’s the sense that this is mentally a completely different team than it’s ever been in my lifetime. If and when this team has a let-down game, it’s going to come as a surprise. Contrast this with the Mora years when you could bank on that embarrassingly bad loss after a big game.
There were a number of things that raised their ugly heads this year: penalties, special teams issues, drops, run defense. But none of them were season-long. Maybe a game or two here or there but then they were addressed. He knows what he’s doing, and he’s actively coaching the team. I mean that to be as damning in what it doesn’t say as it sounds. He is engaged. He is managing the mental state and the commitment and the buy-in of 85 18-to-22-year-olds. That’s astounding that he’s doing it to the level of success that he is.
One of the things I remember reading (it might have been from Ted Miller when he was covering the Pac 12 for ESPN) about what made Jim Harbaugh so good at Stanford was that it’s buy-in. It’s someone that can come in and say, ‘I have a system or a vision or a football philosophy. It’s coherent, and I want you all to sell out completely for it.’ And that is not something that I think Mora could ever do, or certainly not Rick Neuheisel.
Hanna: Neither of them had the credibility to do so, and neither did Karl Dorrell.
Hanna: This is a guy who comes in with a built-in, ‘I know what I’m doing, and it’s worth your while to listen to me,’ reputation. Nobody else had that before.
Eberhardt: I think a lot of that, too, frankly, comes from cutting loose the guys that didn’t buy in. You increase the percentage of the team that buys in if you say bye-bye to the people who don’t. And that has a self-multiplying effect. It makes it more likely that the people who are left are going to buy in, and the degree to which they buy in becomes greater when they see that the coach is serious about this and when you’ve removed countervailing energies within the culture.
That, to me, is a lot of what I’m giving my B+ on. This just looks like a different type of program than it ever has before. That, matched with the way the results have gone (not necessarily games and scores, but how good they look on the field over the course of the season), have me very encouraged. So, 3-9 notwithstanding, I have to give him a B+.
Hanna: This was a really interesting, 12-game preseason. I’m excited for his first year to start.