Chip Kelly was fired as a head coach several hours ago.
The onslaught of opinion, dislike, and even (yes, I have been quite surprised at the use of the word) hatred being expressed towards him is at first blush stunning, shocking even…until one begins to think a bit deeper in regards to this reaction towards a person who is only a coach of a sport.
Caveat: I am not an Oregon Ducks fan…but I am a fan of Chip Kelly the coach, and as a coach Chip Kelly the person. In fact, I originally was thinking that he was an opportunist with a gimmicky approach to a game that was required to be played a certain way for reasons long held as deeply as Tevye and his cohorts held tradition!
Caveat: I also have been involved in a professional capacity in required efforts to reform an organization that had drifted into mediocracy, had lapsed from accountability to laziness and assumptive privilege, and become fat and sloppy. The net result was that the human beings involved were giving considerably less than their best and thus were deeply resentful of any calling to a higher/deeper/better way…that meant more work, more uncertainty, and called for a walk into the future that hadda be made with faith and not with sight.
Caveat: I am transgender and a woman and thus deeply at odds with a culture whose prevailing paradigm is patriarchal and oriented to rewarding those who support it and keep it alive.
So what do those caveats have to do with Chip Kelly and his firing?
It is not so much Chip’s successes and failures that I wanna comment on, but rather what those successes and failures have revealed about other people that both fascinates and disturbs me…and that is what I wanna talk about.
Story: In Chip’s first year with the University of Oregon, his team was up in Idaho playing Boise State…and I was at home cheering for the Broncos, like any good USC Trojan fan would do. I found Chip’s demeanor off-putting, and I projected a lot of my own thoughts and assumptions as to what kind of a person he is onto him, based on how he looked on the outside. Well, Boise St beat the Ducks, and omg Schadenfreude was flowing from me in Cartman-esque tears of “infinite sorrow”…
…and then it happened…the Duck’s LeGarrette Blount (a black running back from the inner cities) punched a white Boise St player in the face and cold cocked him…BAM! The Boise St dude dropped like he had been shot!
And the outrage began…and I was shocked and amazed and quite distressed about the incident and then the onslaught of things spoken about Blount…throw him off the team…throw him outta school…throw him in JAIL! And all the while no explanation sought or obtained…just shrill bloodthirsty simplistic and (yes, I will say it) racist calls for Blount’s blood.
Chip was asked about the incident and he simply said that he was investigating and would take appropriate action. He did not acquiesce to the media demands for Blount’s head, he did not give any indication of any action he might take or not take…he simply was who he is…his maddening lil smirk in place and his calm and collected savoir faire leading to the assumption that he is a simple arrogant prick.
It turned out that the white player had gleefully gloated over the victory and had used a racial slur in the doing of it, intentionally seeking to insult and “other” Blount…and paid the price. It also turned out that Chip got the truth, got together with Blount, kept him on the team and in school, meted out a punishment of suspension and integrated involvement with the team and some leadership help…
…and Blount graduated and plays in the NFL today ever since, having had a decent career.
I knew then that I was witnessing a different breed of cat, so I started to read about Chip, and discovered that his approach to football (and life) is far from gimmicky! He is utterly disinterested in anything but being the best, and doing what serves the best. He has no time for ego…he has no interest in racism…he gives not a fart in the wind for opinion of others about what he does and who he is…because none of those things serve his understanding of the pursuit of excellence and becoming the best.
There was a lot of backlash in the early days with Chip…but the administration stuck with him, and were rewarded with a record of somewhere north of 40 wins and south of 10 losses (you can google the exact record)…and he played in National Championships (one of which they were victimized by a bad call in)…and did so with very few blue chip athletes.
Remember: I am a USC fan since I was around 7 or 8 growing up in California, and I never recovered…so I am not a myopic fan blinded by Chip Kelly Love.
Chip went to a town that has booed Santa Claus…a stadium that has its own court and jail built into it so it can process the criminal behaviour of fans…and a media that was used to being coddled and given kid glove treatment by a jolly easy going maintainer of the status quo…and a football team that had grown soft and entitled.
He had a huge job in front of him: the changing of a culture in a football team, imbedded in a city suffering from that same cultural decay and attitude, and all that imbedded in a league that has every interest in a monolithic vanilla approach to playing and coaching the game of football…
He had to confront the familiar and not only fix the short term bleeding, but go on to transform the entire culture of the team/city-wise. He went 26-21. Compare that to the records of other NFL coaches…and he is north of their success rate.
I too have experienced this particular and exquisite torture…what you will end up giving people is significantly more nutritious and rewarding than what they have, and yet they fight SOOO hard to keep the familiar…and when they discover that you are serious about it, they get out their long knives and start carving away…
Things begin to happen…things that ordinarily would be decried, and in other times and spaces would be unthinkable. People that typically are fierce advocates for human rights and the giving of tender love and much benefit of the doubt begin to feel desperate and threatened…and use words like “Hate” and other more florrid descriptors in order to vent their spleen over the one who is forcing reform.
In my case, with regards to the organization I referred to, there was activity that I will not talk about other than to say it ran the gamut of the deeds of the flesh mentioned in Galatians 5…and in the case of my resolve to help change the patriarchal paradigm, it is the usual invective involving the usual slurs…shouted with twisted faces, hearts of hate…
and the worst part of it? The sense that it is justified because the threat is soo dire!
In Chip’s case, I will confess to being shocked at the sources from which hatred of Chip Kelly is professed and affirmed.
Reform is a huge task! Recently I read an article written by one of my most deeply loved and admired spiritual leaders, and it was all about how the reformation and restoration of deeply loved and treasured institutions often times required a bit of demolition on the way. It required patience with mistakes, some rebuilding, and the allowing of time and space for the truth of the activity to fully emerge.
I was mindful of that as I listened to the stories emerging about Chip…the hints and dark inferences that Chip was racist (a claim that is patently absurd with even a cursory examination of his record…Chip’s crime is the same one that most coaches suffer from: he is so singularly focused on football that he can forget to be a human being and that to anyone regardless of color! None of the great coaches are considered to be really stellar Mother Teresa types)…Chip certainly did not suck up to the media power structure…
Chip sought and obtained player personnel control and along the way showed some hubris, some arrogance and inexperience that was so emblematic of his conviction that his system and methods were indeed the breeding ground for success. Chip looks for a particular type of player rather than a “star”, and he develops them into a unit that is cohesive and thriving. Along the way there were some players that he chose to let go, traded, or gave ultimatums to that were not well received…and I think an honest look at those moves would reveal some attitude problems, quite a bit of wear and tear on some bodies, and yes some mis-handling of the method that Chip has acknowledged long ago…
…but nothing there that warrants hearing of even children saying they hate him.
I truly think this is disturbing…and I feel very anxious about it, because it was the lashing out of an empowered fanbase and media infrastructure that did not want their “toy” messed with. Familiar mediocrity was much preferred to unfamiliar transformation and possible success…and when that familiar landscape was excavated, the backlash was and is vicious.
What will happen to me when the transformation of a paradigm commences in earnest?
My POC friends have long been experiencing horrors resulting from that push-back…
I think of that old country song about “walking on the fighting side of me”…as if there are just some areas where we are allowed to deeply indulge our animal lusts for hurting anyone that messes with us…
and on this the last day of the year 2015, I want to challenge us all to think about what is shown of our hearts in how we react to our sports, to our guns, to our neighborhoods, to our _____ when they are messed with in order to advance the cause and plight of humanity.
I feel it in my bones. It matters.
As for Chip? Likely he is a jerk…the same way that Belichick is a jerk…or Saban…or Coughlin…or (simply fill in the blank)…they each and every one will cut you without a glance if there is someone who they think will better serve their team. Chip is like that, I am sure…and he will learn from his experiences.
Frankly, given the reform of a league that is increasingly petrified wood, I welcome the revolution he presages…in fact Belichick has spent beaucoup time with Chip and has adopted many things from Chip’s ways…others have as well. I hope Chip goes somewhere that gives him the time he needs to truly renovate the team and build it.
I hope that as much because I desire that same chance, and that same patience…and for us both I pray that we will be allowed to live without the horrible curses and ignorant anger that is rained down.
No…I am not blinded.
My eyes are wide open.
May we all eradicate hating on anyone for any reason, least of all for sports related reasons. There is no such thing as a place or an activity where it is “okay to hate and revile”.
If you think there is, it is you who is the one blinded…blinded by love of hatred.