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Chip Kelly’s Antisocial Network

As he begins his third year as Eagles coach, can Kelly continue to innovate his way, or has he begun to wear out his welcome in Philly?

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Chip Kelly doing what he loves: Answering questions from the media.

Chris Szagola/AP

So it was hell of a weekend for the city of Philadelphia: On Friday, someone in this burg replete with brotherly malcontents tore the guts out of a helplessly cute hitchhiking robot, and on Sunday, someone did the same to another emotionally inscrutable public figure, Eagles coach Chip Kelly.

In the case of the latter, it was a cornerback named Brandon Boykin who scorched the earth on his way across the turnpike from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, the city to which he’d been traded. Boykin, in a text message to a local media outlet, declared Kelly “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.”

Boykin is not the first former Eagle to accuse Kelly of what might be construed, at the very least, as social awkwardness, and at the very worst as racism. And even though Boykin later elaborated on his comments, saying he didn’t think Kelly was “a racist at all,” he did reiterate that Kelly was enigmatic and oblivious to the point of frustration. And this is essentially the line Kelly’s walking heading into his third training camp as an NFL head coach: Either he is a mad genius whose interpersonal peccadilloes are worth tolerating, or he is an inveterate tinkerer and outright creative weirdo who isn’t meant to survive amid the NFL’s rigid and proscribed culture.

This is something we already understood when Kelly jettisoned both his star running back, LeSean McCoy, and a rising star of quarterback, Nick Foles, in exchange for new models in the offseason; this is something that became eminently clear when Kelly brought a Tebow into the fold while fully aware of the tent revival that he would drag along in his wake. Already, the Eagles have had one of the most fascinating offseasons in modern pro football history; Boykin’s accusations, piled atop those of Tra Thomas and McCoy (all of this in the wake of the Eagles retaining Riley Cooper after his brain-dead racist rant of a couple years ago), only add to the pressure on a coach who now has to prove that he knows what the hell’s he’s doing in a city that is perpetually prepared for the worst.

I’m still hoping that this works out for Kelly, given that he helped alter the very nature of college football with his ability to defy the status quo; I’m hoping it works out for Kelly because if it does it will make the NFL a more interesting game. I find it remarkable how Kelly has managed to remain utterly enigmatic while simultaneously serving as the most intriguing coach in the most popular sport in America; for that alone, I feel like he deserves a perverse form of credit. The thing with creative brilliance is that it often comes in odd packages, and so what Kelly possesses in innovative thought, he seems to lack in interpersonal skills. This is fine as long as the former outweighs the latter.

“When you are a player, you want to be able to relate to your coach outside of football,” Boykin said. “There were times he just wouldn’t talk to people. You would walk down the hallway, he wouldn’t say anything to you.”

Maybe that means something, and maybe it means nothing. But if things start to go bad for the Eagles, it could turn sour very quickly; if Kelly doesn’t provide promise this season, and his players feel detached from his very presence, then it’s easy to imagine the discomfort in the Eagles’ locker room ballooning into something ugly and irreparable. In which case, Chip Kelly will have no longer have control over anything.

Michael Weinreb is the author of Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games. You can find him on Twitter @michaelweinreb

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