Get all of Greg Bedard’s columns as soon as they’re published. Download the new Sports Illustrated app (iOS or Android) and personalize your experience by following your favorite teams and SI writers.
BOCA RATON, Fla. — Entering his fourth NFL season and heading up his second NFL team, 49ers coach Chip Kelly is still a mystery to many. But we learned one new factoid about the former Eagles coach on Wednesday at the league meetings: Kelly is a movie buff, or at least a big fan of A Few Good Men.
Asked about the league voting Tuesday in favor of a new rule that would cause players to be ejected from games after two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, Kelly admitted all he could do was think about the 1992 blockbuster starring Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson.
“Ever see A Few Good Men? Why the two orders? Right?” Kelly said, in a rare moment of levity during his 60-minute Q and A with the media. “If you already have the ability to throw them out of the game, why do we have to put a second order in to throw them out the game? Throw them out of the game. If they’re not playing it the right way and you have ability to eject them, why do we ...
“There is already a mechanism. Private Santiago. Don’t touch him. Why the two orders? Right, you tell me. Maybe they ordered a code red we didn’t know about, we have to investigate. It is important to know. And I don’t think anybody’s ordering a code red in the National Football League.
These league meetings are notoriously dry, bordering on boring, especially for the coaches who are basically dragged to them when they would rather be watching film or evaluating draft prospects at pro days. It’s not a surprise, then, that Kelly was day-dreaming about Daniel Kaffee and Nathan R. Jessup interjecting a little fun into the proceedings.
“That’s all I thought of [during the ejection rule debate], to be honest. I know I think things differently than a lot of other people. I wanted Col. Nathan Jessup to come in, just walk up to the microphone and say, ‘Why the two orders?’ And then Lt. Kaffee would get into it, ‘I want the truth.’ And start screaming at each other … Can’t handle it. Sometimes you can’t handle it. If the guy doesn’t do something right, get rid of them.”
Leave it to Kelly, one of the outside-the-box thinkers in the NFL, to boil down the debate to brass tacks. If only a more important situation to him and the 49ers were as easy: who will play quarterback in San Francisco next season.
Blaine Gabbert finished 2015 as the starter and had some success (he threw 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions as the 49ers went 3–5 down the stretch), but Colin Kaepernick remains on the roster despite being given permission to seek out a trade.
Kelly quickly shot down any possibility that the 49ers would release Kaepernick before April, when $11.9 million of his $14.3 million salary for the 2016 season becomes guaranteed.
“[It’s] not even in the conversation,” Kelly said. “I don’t think you cut talent.”
If you’re a 49ers fan, you would hope Kelly, master of the spread offense, and Kaepernick, who could outrun most defenders and throw bombs with the best of them when he led San Francisco to two NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl appearance in his first two seasons as a starter, would find a way to make things work. Kaepernick is the perfect quarterback to run Kelly’s system, which would also shield some of Kaepernick’s weaknesses such as playing from under center and performing full-field progressions.
“Colin’s a mobile quarterback. You can use him in a lot of different ways that you don’t use a traditional NFL quarterback,” Kelly said. “You’re not going to use Colin the same way you use Tom Brady. He’s got a lot of skills. That’s why I’ve said, if he’s there on the fourth (of April), we’ll be excited. I’ve expressed that to him.
“Regardless of what’s gone on and what’s been said—there’s a business aspect to this—but there’s no point where I’m saying we have bad feelings toward him. I’ve had very good conversations with him and I’d be excited to work with him, and that’s what I’ve told him.”
But Kelly said he hasn’t had the opportunity to sell Kaepernick on forgetting about what happened in the past with San Francisco and forging a new beginning with a new coaching staff.
“Have I done any selling? No. It’s just been talking to him and I don’t think there’s a selling part,” Kelly said. “No. 1, I can’t talk offensively with him and say, ‘I think this is a good fit because of this, this and this,’ because you’re not allowed to do that. But I did make him understand that just because there is a business side, it doesn’t mean that we don’t want you here.
“We want him. I really would love to work with him, so I think he understands that.”
It’s hard to listen to Kelly and not come away with the feeling that he would relish coaching a player with Kaepernick’s skill set. You could hear it when he gushed about how Russell Wilson and Cam Newton don’t get enough credit for their ability to throw the ball. Kelly saw firsthand what Kaepernick could do when the Eagles played the 49ers in 2014.
“He got flushed [from the pocket] three times and then he turned and threw a pass to the right sideline where I think Frank [Gore] was the last outlet on the play and just, his entire body and momentum was this way and it just came off his hand and stuck a hole shot.
“When he went to the combine I think he had the fastest ball speed. I mean he can spin a football. He can really throw it.”
It seems Kelly feels that Kaepernick got a raw deal last season from critics when he was benched after eight games for Gabbert after the 49ers’ 2–6 start.
“I think the biggest misconception that people don’t realize with Kap is just injuries,” Kelly said. “It’s not like his skill set diminished. He went on injured reserve last year, so he was only available for eight games. He was legitimately injured. He’s in the process of rehabbing right now. People look at where he fell off. He didn’t fall off. He got hurt. I think the biggest thing with Kap is let’s get him healthy. I think this league has seen a healthy Kap, and he’s been pretty impressive.
“I love his skill set. I don’t know until you get to work with a guy on a daily basis whether he’s this or that. You just turn on the tape and watch what he’s done in this league. It’s pretty impressive.”
The question remains for the 49ers and Kaepernick: Can they handle the truth that they might be better remaining together?