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Chip Kelly’s secret coaches are college professors

September 16, 2014 / Coaching
Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly is, to say the least, different. And if his breakneck offensive approach isn’t enough to convince you, perhaps this latest story will do it.

The Wall Street Journal today published an insightful piece examining how the former Oregon head coach maintains “a secret network of college professors” that help advise him on a variety of issues related to his football team. We’ve heard of coaches searching in strange places to find an edge on the field, but this one is new. 

Here is an anecdote from the story involving K. Anders Ericsson, a University of Stockholm graduate who is an eminent scholar in Florida State University’s cognitive psychology department:

Ericsson was called in by the Eagles this summer to discuss one of his specialties — expert performance. He has a fairly typical story for an expert conscripted to advise the Eagles.

He first met personally with coaches. That is where he learned that the trait they prize in players is the ability to verbally articulate game situations, which they feel leads to better conversations about game situations and eventually a better team. Ericsson then addressed the entire staff in a 90-minute session in which Kelly tried to get to the heart of the matter. Kelly wanted Ericsson to understand the basic training methods of the Eagles, then ask of the professor, “What could be done differently?”

Ericsson’s answer is tied to another Kelly secret. The Eagles use memory devices to get players to memorize formations. Safety Malcolm Jenkins said that during meetings, coaches will show an opponent’s formation on a screen, and players will attempt to remember it and yell the play call they would use against it. Then, Jenkins said, snapping his fingers, “They start to flash it quicker and quicker. There’s less time to process. And so you build those same cognitive skills where it’s the same as getting a mental rep on the field.”

The full story is worth your time and it provides a glimpse into how Kelly values the mental aspect of athletic performance. You get the idea that play calling is the least of Kelly’s worries, and he prefers to spend his days in a white lab coat poring over complex equations or examining how humidity might affect play recognition. To Kelly, all options are on the table, and maybe that’s something more coaches should embrace.

Photo by Abdoozy (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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