PHILADELPHIA - Just days after yet another of his former players cast doubts about Chip Kelly's approach, the Eagles coach defended his approach and unapologetically explained that any of his current players who may have a problem with him is certainly free to express that opinion.
This time, it was former Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin, who was traded to the Steelers on Saturday. He complained about Kelly's aloof personality, an inability to connect with his players and Kelly being "uncomfortable around grown men of our culture."
Before that, it was former Philly running back LeSean McCoy suggesting that Kelly is racist because of all the "good black players" he has either traded or released. And former Eagles cornerback Cary Williams opined shortly after signing with the Seahawks in the offseason that Kelly was out-coached last season, in part because he worked his players to the point of exhaustion during the week.
Kelly, in his third year with the Eagles after a brilliant run at Oregon, is used to addressing skeptics about his approach. From the start of his NFL career, his unique training methods have been scoffed at. And after a second straight winning season, his stunning roster upheaval in the offseason has led to more questions about his system. But the biggest problem he has right now is fending off the criticism from the handful of his former players who believe their complaints are legitimate.
"We have an open-door policy," Kelly said at Tuesday's news conference, his first since Boykin clarified his initial remarks about not relating well to "grown men of our culture." Boykin said he did not mean that Kelly is racist, only that he has trouble relating to players. "I had a long tatlk with Brandon last spring when he came in. You can come talk to me whenever you want to come talk to me."
But Kelly is quick to point out that he is here to coach football, not to get close to his players. That's not unlike many other coaches who prefer a more business-like approach. In fact, one of Kelly's mentors, Patriots coach Bill Belichick, has been accused of being aloof or distant by many players he has coached over the years.
Kelly said there just isn't enough time in the day, nor does he necessarily want there to be. His job is to make his players better, not to get close to them. Some coaches prefer a more personal approach; Pete Carroll operates that way with the Seahawks. Rex Ryan does it, too. Even Tom Coughlin, once known as a dictatorial coach, has dramatically softened his personality over the years, while not sacrificing his demands for discipline in practice and games.
But that's not Kelly.
"We have a pretty structured day where guys are in meetings, and I don't just walk around and say, 'Hey, let me go grab [a player], and we'd sit down and get some coffee together,' " Kelly said. "When they get here, they're doing stuff, especially in the offseason. We're limited with our time.
"You get guys for four hours, there's not a time where we're all sitting around, holding hands, singing Kumbaya together," he said. "We're in the meeting rooms getting stuff done. We're in the weight room getting stuff done. We're on the training field getting stuff done, and then they're out of there."
Part of the issue here may be traceable to something that happened two years ago, when a video surfaced in which Eagles receiver Riley Cooper screamed several racial epithets at some bouncers during a Kenny Chesney concert. Cooper was sent away by Kelly for a few days and fined an undisclosed amount for conduct detrimental to the team. But Kelly decided to keep Cooper on the team, with some players, including Williams and McCoy, publicly criticizing Cooper.
Kelly's decision to keep Cooper and the following year release DeSean Jackson, who is black, was also perceived by some players, including McCoy, as being related to race. Kelly denied that kind of innuendo, and seemed more concerned with Jackson's me-first demeanor as a bigger issue in deciding to release him.
Kelly again defended his actions with Cooper on Tuesday, calling it an isolated incident.
"I think Riley made a mistake," Kelly said. "We all backed him. Michael [Vick] backed him. Jason Avant backed him. That's part of being in an organization and on a team. I look at that as a specific incident where he was 100 percent wrong. Those are things that never should be said, and I hope he learned his lesson and I think he regrets what he did that day every single day, and I see that in him. But do I regret what I did in terms of how we handled Riley? No, we don't."
Kelly raised eyebrows with his decision to trade McCoy at the height of the running backs' career, and there were some suggestions -- especially by McCoy -- that race was a factor. But that argument loses its teeth when you consider that Kelly replaced McCoy with DeMarco Murray, who is also African American.
Boykin clarified his remarks on Monday.
"I'm not saying he's a racist at all," Boykin told reporters in Pittsburgh. "When you are a player, you want to be able to relate to your coach outside of football. There were times, he just wouldn't talk to people. You would walk down the hallway, he wouldn't say anything to you."
Kelly admits he sometimes misses those days of being closer to his players.
"That's one of the things I miss about being a position coach," he said. "You get to be pretty close to your players, because you're with them all the time. That's a great time to have. But as a head coach, you're not in those meetings."
And as a head coach, you have to make decisions that players won't always like. Kelly doesn't apologize for those decisions, but he has to expect the kind of blowback he's gotten as a result of some of them. In the meantime, Kelly will continue to abide by his belief in how he runs his team, so don't expect him to suddenly deviate from his business-first approach.
Said Kelly, "I think I treat everybody how we should be treated."