About that red 49ers No. 7 jersey you were about to toss in the trash: Don’t do it.
Colin Kaepernick, the formerly forsaken San Francisco quarterback, looks like he’s back in business by the bay. Chip Kelly, hired as the new head coach Thursday, orchestrates an offense that fits Kaepernick’s unique skill set.
That means the graduate of Pitman High, within one calendar year, has morphed from 49er star, to injured 49er reject, to apparent redemption with Kelly. All Kaepernick must do is continue his rehab from three surgeries, not unlike putting Humpty Dumpty back together again.
So hold on to those jerseys, Faithful. They’re not relegated to history’s dust bin yet. Everything around the 49ers just accelerated to about Mach 4. Kelly and his high-wire act are Santa Clara-bound.
At first blush, it’s a curious choice. Let’s do the Kelly checklist: Strong and grating personality, knows he’s the smartest guy in the room, treats the front office like a blocking sled and wins games until he wears out his welcome.
Yes, that sounds exactly like Jim Harbaugh, whom owner Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke gladly discarded. They said, “He was impossible to deal with,” while fans answered, “He took us to a Super Bowl and three NFC championship games!”
Does the 49ers’ front office really want a return to the déjà vu theater? Not really. Assess it from their side: The 49ers have gone 8-8 in Harbaugh’s final season and a miserable 5-11 under one-and-done Jim Tomsula. Kelly’s teams in Philadelphia went 10-6, 10-6 and 6-9.
Compared to Tomsula and his annoyingly confused sideline demeanor, Kelly looks like Rockne. Know this: The 49ers became a better team over the last 24 hours. Then again, the bar here has been lowered to caterpillar height. Kelly adds touchdowns by just signing the contract.
The new boss probably can’t believe his good fortune. In Kaepernick, he’s got the kind of quarterback he pined for at Oregon. Kelly owned that state from 2007 to 2012, during which his offenses churned out the yardage and his Ducks advanced to four straight BCS bowl games.
His teams in Philadelphia enjoyed some success, though Nick Foles and Sam Bradford never were ideal Kelly quarterbacks. He wants a running threat taking the snaps, and a healthy Kaepernick brings bells and whistles to Kelly’s up-tempo offense. Peyton Manning types need not apply with Kelly. He takes the established NFL mold at quarterback and slides it through the shredder.
The 49ers understand, or at least it is hoped they understand, the risky nature of this hire. Kelly’s baggage is almost a copy of Harbaugh’s, and that show did not end well. Whether the new coach’s philosophy even works in the NFL is an unanswered question.
The Eagles’ high-RPM offenses under Kelly possessed the ball for less time than almost all other teams. That reality had consequences. Their defense wilted late in the season because of the added wear and tear. The quick touchdowns are fine until the still-weary defense trudges back onto the field.
Critics say the entire roster, not just the offense, must be rebooted with Kelly as coach. And, in case there’s not enough cause for concern, he’s the 49ers’ third coach in three seasons. There are reasons that many think he’s not the change-agent the 49ers need.
Kelly’s exit from Philadelphia bordered on mutinous. He achieved authority over personnel and promptly traded Foles and LeSean McCoy and released DeSean Jackson, all three fan favorites. The offense, Kelly’s baby, cratered while the locker room turned on him. Even the Philly fans couldn’t boo loud enough.
He was called a “dictator” who deployed “Orwellian” ideas. My guess is that the daily urine tests he mandated did not exactly curry favor. His nonstop testing and analysis enforced his reputation as a control freak whose ways would never work in the NFL.
But let’s pause and reconsider: By definition, almost all head coaches march to drums only they hear. Bill Walsh never was a paragon of rationality. Bill Belichick hikes “us vs. them” to dizzying levels. Harbaugh wore black shirts and khakis for his entire tenure with the 49ers because he refused to bother with other choices. Simply, the genre nearly requires a less-than-conventional personality.
Kelly qualifies. He’s described as an X’s and O’s master who can game-plan first downs and touchdowns in a heartbeat. That sounds encouraging after the almost unwatchable 2015 mess.
The 49ers reportedly have told Kelly that he will coach and Baalke will preside over personnel. There will be no ambiguity over the new coach’s role in San Francisco.
Almost all coaches in the NFL fail before they succeed (see: Belichick). If Kelly’s idea of failure was 26-21 in Philadelphia, the 49ers will buy that model and see where it takes them. Clearly, the front office felt the fans’ wrath. It’s responded with a Linda Blair head spin – from the hapless Tomsula to the brilliantly strange Kelly.
Job 1 for the new man is quarterback, of course, and who could have predicted that Kaepernick won’t need a change of address after all? There appears to be an Act 2 waiting for him with San Francisco, an idea that seemed preposterous not long ago.
Kelly and Kaepernick will come back together. Can’t wait for the pyrotechnics.