The San Francisco 49ers finally landed themselves an offensive-minded coach that they sought after, as the team announced on Thursday that Chip Kelly will be the team’s 20th head coach in franchise history.
The signing comes after a week’s worth of speculation about who will assume the responsibilities after the departure of former head coach Jim Tomsula. San Francisco had been linked to names such as Hue Jackson, Tom Coughlin and Mike Holmgren before the team came to terms with Kelly.
After hiring his second coach in three years, general manager Trent Baalke released a statement welcoming Kelly into the organization.
“Chip possesses all the qualities we were looking for in our next head coach. He has demonstrated the ability to be innovative everywhere he has coached and has had great success throughout his career. Chip’s passion for the game and vision for the future of this team clearly stood out to us during the search process. He is an extremely driven individual that I look forward to working with.”
Likewise, CEO Jed York — who had recently voiced his willingness to spend whatever it takes to right his sinking franchise — praised the signing as a step in the right direction for the team.
“Chip has a proven track record at both the college and NFL levels that speaks for itself. We believe strongly that he is the right man to get this team back to competing for championships. I look forward to watching Trent and Chip work closely to build a team that will make us all proud.”
Kelly’s addition to the 49ers comes off the heels of a disappointing season with the Philadelphia Eagles, in which his team posted a 6-9 record before he was released with one week to go in the 2015 season.
Despite his slump, Kelly brings both the offensive minded skill set and the experience that was lacking from the 49ers last year. Kelly, who earned a 27-21 record over his three years of coaching in the NFL, is renowned for his up-tempo offense, which has been successful at keeping opposing defenses at bay.
Kelly was even more successful at the collegiate level, posting a 44-5 record as the head coach at the University of Oregon, while dominating the Pac-12, including the likes of Pete Carrol and Jim Harbaugh.
Kelly’s offensive prowess translated over nicely to the NFL, as the coach was able to lead a Philadelphia team who had just posted a 4-12 record into a playoff appearance his first year in the league.
Under Kelly the Eagles offense ranked as high as second and fifth best in the NFL before dropping to twelfth in his final season in Philadelphia.
Kelly’s downfall was his insistence on personnel control, as a series of questionable moves-including cutting dynamic playmakers WR DeSean Jackson and RB LeSean McCoy– led to a depletion of talent and strained relationships in Philadelphia.
Former 49er Frank Gore was poised to join Kelly and the Eagles last offseason, before changing his mind due to concerns over personnel and Kelly’s handling of the roster. McCoy would later joke that he told Gore to stay away from the situation.
But those concerns don’t factor to be an issue for Kelly in San Francisco, where it has long been known that Baalke is in control of the 49ers roster.
Earlier in the month, Baalke talked about the issue of controlling the roster in conjunction with his new head coach, stating:
“For this to work, both individuals have to be in sync, working together for the same goal and purpose. It doesn’t matter who has the ultimate final say because what matters is that you make the decision together and once the decision’s made, you move forward and you don’t look back. And that’s the type of relationship that you have to have. The control part I think is way overblown.”
The pair will likely work together in regards to the upcoming draft and free-agency, where San Francisco will need to invest heavily in offense in order to implement Kelly’s unique style of offense.
Kelly inherits a 49ers team that is in desperate need of a facelift on offense. San Francisco ranked 31st in the league in total offense last season, posting a measly 14.9 points-per-game.
Kelly’s brand of up-tempo football will likely force the 49ers away from the smash-mouth type of football that has been the signature of the team over the past few years, and into a more imaginative and expansive playbook on offense.
The hiring of Kelly also put’s into play the possibility of a resurgence for QB Colin Kaepernick, as his athletic tools are more aligned with Kelly’s scheme.
Kaepernick, who is currently recovering from multiple surgeries, seemed like a lock to either be traded or released from the team following a disappointing season marred by inconsistency and reports of divide in the locker room.
But with the addition of Kelly, Kaepernick is now inserted back into the offensive mix. His ability to create plays with his athleticism and keep the opposing defenses on their toes are the hallmarks of what Kelly looks to do on offense.
Prior to the signing, Baalke addressed how the future coach may influence the quarterback situation moving forward.
“I think the most important thing we’ve got to do right now is get the head coach in place and then follow that by getting the coaching staff in place. And once we get those pieces together, then myself and the head coach and the rest of the staff can sit down, evaluate the roster, evaluate every player within it and then determine who we’re moving forward with. Because system, and I’ve said this many a times, system is so important to so many of the guy’s success in this league. You put a guy in the right system, they have success. You put them in the wrong system, they don’t. That’s why you see players leave a team that no one thought was very good and they go somewhere else and they become good.”
Kelly is not without his critiques though. On top of the frustrations from both Jackson and McCoy over their dismissal from the team, former Eagles safety Brandon Boykins was critical of Kelly’s demeanor with members of the team, specifically African-Americans.
In a text message to Comcast Sportsnet’s Derrick Gunn, Boykin stated that Kelly was:
“Uncomfortable around grown men of our culture…
He can’t relate and that makes him uncomfortable. He likes total control of everything, and he don’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.”
McCoy was also critical of Kelly’s handling of both his personnel and African-Americans, telling ESPN:
“The relationship was never really great. I feel like I always respected him as a coach. I think that’s the way he runs his team. He wants the full control. You see how fast he got rid of all the good players. Especially all the good black players. He got rid of them the fastest”
Kelly and Baalke have wasted no time in trying to turn around the 49ers franchise, as the team has decided to hold off an introductory press conference until next week in order to focus on building Kelly’s coaching staff.
The two will also look toward the 2016 draft, to be held on April 28-30 in Chicago, where the 49ers will select with the No.7 overall pick.