PHILADELPHIA - Chip Kelly holds his daily news conferences in a tent next to the Eagles' practice field. The canvas-covered venue makes perfect sense, given the reverent, almost evangelical-like fervor that grips the first-year coach every time he discusses his controversial, cardio-obsessed offense.
Kelly is a believer. It doesn't matter that the Eagles are 1-3, have lost three straight and are coming off a 32-point dismantling in Denver. Nor does it matter that his stock around the league and his new city is falling fast while that of his predecessor, Andy Reid, is soaring with undefeated Kansas City.
Kelly is a believer, one who has dedicated his career -- his life, really -- to spreading the gospel of this frenetic, no-huddle offense. He and his disciples saw it dominate on the college level, transforming sleepy University of Oregon into a football powerhouse. And they believe it is only a matter of time before it does the same thing in Philadelphia -- and before he turns all his players and fans into converts.
"I don't think we are far away offensively," Kelly told reporters in Philadelphia this past week as his team prepared for Sunday's game against the 0-4 Giants. "I think we know as a group we can move the football, but sometimes the enemy we play isn't the other team -- it's ourselves."
Kelly does things his way
The remark was classic Kelly. It doesn't matter that observers around the league are deriding his offense as one that can produce a lot of yards, but not points or wins. A self-reliant New Englander from New Hampshire, he doesn't pay much attention to outsiders. In fact, he doesn't pay much attention even to opposing defenses in his condition-oriented practices, with the theory being that if his team's offense can execute the way it is supposed to, it doesn't matter what other the team does.
In a world obsessed with scouting reports and matchups and silencing critics, it's a unique way of looking at things. And it may be that attitude, as much as his innovative offense, that may help Kelly succeed where so many others have failed.
Nick Saban. Dennis Erickson. Lou Holtz. Steve Spurrier. History is littered with cautionary tales of very successful college coaches who bombed after jumping to the professional ranks.
He's bounced back before
With each loss in Philadelphia, the pressure seems to be mounting on Kelly. But those Eagles who have been with him before say it's nothing like the pressure Kelly faced after his first game in Oregon.
Kelly, a relatively unknown assistant in New Hampshire, had served two years as an offensive coordinator in Oregon before he was promoted to head coach in 2009. His debut was a nationally televised game against Boise State. Not only did his offense look dreadful in a 19-8 loss, but after the game, Ducks running back LeGarrette Blount punched a Boise State player.
"Here it was after his first game as a head coach and a lot of people were predicting he wouldn't make it past the first year," said Eagles linebacker Casey Matthews, who was on that Oregon team. "It was rough. There's no manual on how to deal with something like that, but he handled it well. He was the same guy after that game. He kept us together as a team and we won our next seven games."
Kelly, in fact, won 46 of his next 52 games after that loss. He also endeared himself to his players and college football fans with his composure, dedication and sense of humor.
When a livid Oregon alumnus who attended the game at Boise State sent Kelly a critical email with a bill for $439 in travel expenses, Kelly got his address and wrote him a personal check. It was never cashed.
"We had a lot of drama after that game, and I think he used that adversity to bring us all together," said Brendan Bair, a defensive end on the Eagles' practice squad who also played on that Oregon team. "We were able to see how the coach handled the situation. He pulled us all together. His thing was we're going to change what we're doing and invent it all over again. We're just going to do what we do and do it great. So we pressed forward and pulled together."
It's one thing to make converts out of a bunch of college kids and quite another to turn seasoned pros, some of whom have enjoyed great success playing in different systems, into believers.
When Kelly came to Philadelphia, he brought five assistant coaches from Oregon. Including the practice squad, the team also has four former Ducks. It's safe to say that they are the only ones on the practice field who have seen anything like this before.
Turning up the music
Unlike most NFL teams' practices, there aren't big groups of guys standing around during the Eagles' sessions. The goal is to keep practice as physical as possible, with the entire session consisting of rotating between various drills while a player's heart rate and movements are monitored.
An electronic voice -- Matthews likens it to a male Siri -- announces when it is time to move to the next drill. All this is done against the backdrop of a loud, unpredictable and fairly irritating mix of music that in one session may jump from Van Halen to Kanye West to AC/DC to Jennifer Lopez.
All this is designed to prepare players for the hectic pace of the game. Michael Vick admits that the changes have been an interesting challenge.
"It's different. It's fast and up-tempo and doing things at a rapid pace,'' Vick said "We're conditioned for that now. It was difficult, but at the same time, it's fun to be in."
Of course, it would be a lot more fun if the offense could produce a few more points and wins. Though the Eagles are averaging 458.8 yards per game, second best in the league behind Denver, they are 11th in the NFL in points per game with an average of 24.8. In their last two games, losses to Kansas City and Denver, they have totaled 36 points. So you can bet that the Eagles are looking at their meeting with the Giants as a good chance to improve those stats and end the slide.
"We're the No. 2 offense in the league right now, so we're obviously doing some things very well," said wide receiver Jeff Maehl, who also played at Oregon.
Added Bair: "I think it will work in the NFL. It makes sense. I've been a part of it and seen how it works. It doesn't matter who's doing it, a high school kid, a college kid or in the NFL. It's going to come around.''
Spoken like a true believer.