With the season spiraling out of control and no answers left to be found, rumors are starting to swirl that San Francisco 49ers HC Chip Kelly could be headed back to the collegiate level. On the surface, having a head coach walk away after just one season could appear to be a chaotic event for a franchise, but it may be just what the floundering Niners need to eventually get back on the right track.
Let me start off by saying I don’t think that Kelly is totally at fault for the absolute disaster that has been the 2016 season. San Francisco is a deeply flawed team, and it’s roster is one of the two or three worst in the league. They have terrible quarterbacks (maybe the worst in the NFL) and a defensive coordinator whose scheme is confusing on multiple levels. It’s not Kelly’s fault that QB Blaine Gabbert or QB Colin Kaepernick can’t hit an open receiver. He’s not directly responsible for bad technique by his defensive lineman, or his linebackers shooting the wrong gaps. He can’t help that his already thin depth chart couldn’t sustain the loses of NT Ian Williams or ILB NaVorro Bowman.
But while you can argue Kelly hasn’t been part of the problem, you could also make the point that he hasn’t been part of the solution either. Kelly’s offense is what it is. It’s not very imaginative in terms of formations or movement, and rarely do you see a play design that makes you think you’re watching an innovative offensive mind. Yes, he did a good job his first year-plus in Philadelphia, but things started to go bad after the league adjusted to him. In his first 22 NFL games, Kelly went 15-7 and the Eagles averaged 28 points per game. Over his next 25, Philly went 11-14 and his offense ultimately dropped to 13th overall in points in 2015 after being in the top five the previous two years. When you add in his brief tenure thus far in San Francisco, he’s 12-20 over his last 32 games. The 49ers are averaging about 20 points per contest, but their yardage total has been abysmal as they’ve been held to 302 or less in six-of-seven games. Even regardless of what the numbers say, Kelly’s offense has had many detractors around the league for quite some time. It’s said to be predictable, lack rhythm, and can’t be consistently successful against the better defenses in the league.
Kelly also appears to struggle with making second half adjustments, or at least he has this season. If you exclude Week 3 against the Seattle Seahawks, the 49ers actually have a point differential of zero after one half (72-72). However, the team’s getting it’s doors blown off in the third quarter, and has been outscored 52-10. Overall, in their six losses, the Niners have a point differential of negative-58 in the second half of games. That doesn’t bode well for the coaching staff.
— Al Sacco (@AlSacco49) October 23, 2016
So while Kelly may not be a bad coach, the evidence suggests he might not be a very good one either. He’s probably somewhere in the middle, and I’m not sure that’s someone you want to build a franchise around anyway. Even if you do have faith in Kelly, you’d have to be concerned how things might play out because of the way the Yorks handled the HC Jim Tomsula situation. They removed the coach, but left a general manager in place who was on his last legs. The result is now they have a new head coach they’ve committed to long-term, but a general manager who they haven’t. The only way things don’t go all out dysfunction-junction is 1) they keep GM Trent Baalke in place, or 2) they fire Baalke and promote Kelly’s buddy, assistant GM Tom Gamble. Otherwise, the new general manager will want his guy, and the Yorks will be on the hook for big bucks to Kelly and Tomsula over the next 2-3 years. I doubt they’d want to pay up on that.
When you add in the fact that the 49ers need a complete roster overhaul, it might just be better for everyone if Kelly walked away. That would allow CEO Jed York to start over and not be on the hook to pay Kelly the $18 million he’s owed for the next three years. York should then hire a football minded vice president who would be in charge of selecting the next general manager, who would then be in charge of picking the next coach. Jed York should stay as far away from any meaningful decisions as possible. This scenario would allow the team a true rebuild, which is what it desperately needs, because the approach that’s been taken the last three years isn’t working.