Chip Kelly is not tied to the traditions of football. He is a football outsider.
He acts as if football tradition is primitive and beneath him. He is enlightened and the rest of the league is trapped in the dark past. He tries to profit from rejecting particular aspects of football tradition he believes coaches irrationally perpetuate simply for the sake of tradition.
Like the huddle. Kelly’s offense never uses one even though every other Super-Bowl winning team in NFL history has. Kelly eliminates one of the most basic football traditions.
Huddles aren’t exclusive to football — they appear in other sports occasionally. Like in basketball, teams sometimes huddle during timeouts. And in baseball, now and then infielders huddle around the mound when a pitcher talks to the catcher and the manager.
But in football, huddles typically happen before every play. They punctuate the action. All 11 players on offense stand in a circle, sometimes holding hands, sometimes wrapping their arms around each other’s shoulders, while the quarterback recites the play and says, “Ready, break,” and then they clap their hands and run to the line of scrimmage.
If football is poetry, huddles are the rhyme scheme. And, Kelly uses blank verse 100 percent of the time. And if you ask Kelly why he’s so averse to the basic rhyme scheme of football, he makes fun of it.
At his introductory press conference earlier this year just after the 49ers hired him, a reporter asked Kelly if his fast-paced, no-huddle offense puts a burden on his defense.
“I think you have to look really at the intricacies of it,” Kelly said. “We get into the time of possession question, and we’ve been in games where it was identical play snaps for us and our opponent, it was identical yardage for us and our opponent, it was identical first downs for us and our opponent, we won the game by seven, but they had the ball for 10 more minutes than we did. So, all I learned is that they stand around better than we stand around.”
And all we learned is that Kelly thinks huddling is standing around for the sake of standing around. Interesting.
Two weeks ago, the subject came up again. I had asked Kelly, why don’t you huddle? What is the advantage of not huddling?
“I think the only advantage is you don’t get to go back seven yards and hold hands together and say, ‘Ready, break,’ and then run back to the line of scrimmage.” Kelly’s tone was sarcastic. As if there is absolutely nothing useful about huddling. Interesting.
I came back to the topic of huddling a week later during another one of Kelly’s press conferences. “In your opinion,” I said, “is there absolutely nothing useful about huddling?”
“Yeah, I think there’s some usefulness to it,” Kelly said in a begrudging way.
“Like what?” I asked.
“You communicate,” he said.
This was the correct answer.
“If the benefit of huddling is communication, why never huddle and why not let your players communicate during the drive?”
“Because they do communicate,” Kelly said, getting defensive. “You asked me what one of (the benefits) was. I was just giving you an example. But, I think our guys, we have a great system in terms of communication. So, I don’t see there’s any flaws in our communication system at all.”