If anyone thought a new Chip Kelly would show up as 49ers head coach Wednesday, they had another one coming.
Kelly sounded much like the same lightning rod who left Philadelphia amid questions — about the logic of his up-tempo offense, alleged racist tendencies and even his supposed lack of “emotional intelligence,” as Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie put it after firing Kelly last month.
“I don’t know if I can be significantly different,” Kelly conceded during his formal introduction at Levi’s Stadium. “You have to be yourself about how you do things.
“I’m not one that looks at what’s reported. I’m a pretty black-and-white guy.”
The fact it took six days for Kelly to make a local appearance was an indication of who will be in charge. The event was pushed back so he could attend a family birthday party and pack clothes in his native New Hampshire.
To be sure, the 52-year-old Kelly comes to Santa Clara with much to prove. After a 10-6 debut season and hot start in 2014, he lost 12 of his last 19 games. Asked where he failed this season, Kelly said with humor in his voice, “I don’t think it was a self-scout. I look at it more as an autopsy. So I’m in the middle of the autopsy right now. I’ve sent some toxicology reports out, and when they come back, I’ll give you a full answer in terms of what went wrong.”
Kelly was not in much demand around the league before the Niners took him up on an invitation to discuss their vacancy. They had targeted coach Sean Payton as their top candidate before he returned to the New Orleans Saints. Then they interviewed former Raiders head coach Hue Jackson. Much as they say Kelly was their man from Day One, that likely wasn’t the case.
“He’s a strong leader of men and somebody I really consider a true football guy,” general manager Trent Baalke said.
Kelly plans to bring his trademark zone-read offense, though he said the up-tempo scheme might require some tweaks.
“Our offense will look somewhat like we did in Philadelphia, but we’ve got different personnel to plug into places and we have different players,” Kelly said. “We have different coaches coming in from different organizations to add what they can. At the end of the day, it’s how do we do it better than we’ve ever done before.
“I know (Seattle Seahawks quarterback) Russell Wilson and (Carolina Panthers counterpart) Cam Newton are killing people with [the zone-read] right now. So I think it’s applicable to what you have from a personnel standpoint.”
As Kelly has done throughout his college and pro career, he will call the plays for the offense. The primary roles of the quarterback and offensive coordinator will be to execute his plan.
Alabama offensive coordinator and former Raiders coach Lane Kiffin has become the hot name in Kelly’s search for a top assistant. Buffalo Bills running backs coach Anthony Lynn and Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator John DeFilippo also were interviewed for the coordinator position.
The only immediate change for Kelly will be his role in personnel matters. Baalke will continue to have final say on the draft and 53-man roster, a bone of contention that led to Jim Harbaugh’s exit as coach after the 2014 season.
Likewise, control was an issue for Kelly during his Eagles tenure. Prior to his final season, he prevailed in a power struggle with general manager Howie Roseman, who was stripped of his authority on personnel decisions. Kelly went to on make several ill-advised moves that hastened his departure.
For now, Kelly said he was “real comfortable” with the coach-GM arrangement. “I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t,” he said. “I think the way this personnel department is set up and how they structure things, I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Kelly said he is unfamiliar with the Niners’ roster and the tumultuous events that led to their last-place finish this season. For that reason, he wouldn’t venture a guess as to when the team would become competitive again, let alone a championship contender.
“I couldn’t say,” Kelly said. “I haven’t studied [the roster] enough in depth to say this, that or the other. We have time in that process. For me to make a prediction on Jan. 20 doesn’t benefit anybody. It makes a good sound bite, but I’m not a sound-bite guy.”
What’s more, the Niners play in the NFC West, a division that includes the Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals, both perennial contenders. The Rams will move from St. Louis to Los Angeles next season, which figures to serve as an emotional boost.
“An unbelievable standard,” Kelly said of his new rivals. “The NFC West is stacked, but that’s exciting if you’re an competitor.”
What Kelly did know is the style of team he wants to field next season.
“I want them to be fearless, not afraid of any situation that they’re put in,” he said. “It is gonna be difficult and a challenge, but you have confidence based on your preparation to see it through.”
While it figures to take years for Kelly to mold the team into his likeness, he has time on his side.
For financial and credibility reasons, team management can’t afford another coach to fail. Kelly succeeds Jim Tomsula as the third Niners coach in the last 13 months. His four-year, $24 million deal makes him the league’s seventh highest-paid coach. The organization also has $10.5 million left to pay on the final three years of Tomsula’s four-year agreement.Chip KellyJed YorkNFLSan Francisco 49ersTrent Baalke