The Philadelphia Eagles and Chip Kelly are Talking a Lot About Their Culture

By Jason Lisk

“We’ve got a good group of guys, don’t we?” Chip Kelly said while mic’d up on the sidelines of the Giants game a couple of weeks ago. “You know why? ’cause culture wins football. Culture will beat scheme every day.”

That’s a different spin on the old phrase “it’s not the X’s and O’s, it’s the Jimmies and Joes.” Ordinarily, people are referring to having the more athletic, skilled players, but Kelly appears to be talking about something else here.

This word “culture” has popped up quite a bit around the Eagles, if you look. In fact, last week after that Kelly quote was dropped in Monday Morning Quarterback, another article came out espousing the culture in Philadelphia, crediting “culture” as the reason players are coming back from injuries rather than milking them.

“I’ve seen [dogs] before. We don’t have those types of guys in here,” Darren Sproles (who ended up being inactive for Sunday’s game against Arizona) was quoted as saying. Sproles was an addition this offseason, about the time that DeSean Jackson was out in Philadelphia and on to Washington, so he wasn’t teammates with the controversial wide receiver, though one can certain envision DeSean Jackson and his demise with the team with all this culture talk.

After DeSean Jackson was released, Jason Kelce provided his thoughts–and yes, discussed culture:

"“Obviously DeSean has tremendous playmaking ability and I don’t know that we have any receivers on the roster now who are quite as athletic or dynamic as he is,” said Kelce. “But I think this whole thing is about a culture that we’re trying to build here. And the organization felt it was time to move in a different direction. Probably a lot of that had to do with a multiplicity of factors. I don’t think you can narrow it down to one thing.”"

“Part of it’s the culture Chip instills every day, and part of it is Chip and the front office making sure we have the right guys in the locker room. It’s been one of the front office’s MOs since the ‘Dream Team’ era,” added Kelce, still sidelined with an injury, in last week’s article.

And then the article closes with this–

"“You have to be smart about it, but there is a mentality about it: You come out here every day possible, and you train,” said veteran linebacker Connor Barwin. This bunch does. Right guard Todd Herremans, an Eagle since 2005, has seen other Birds who do not. “The reason they bring these guys in is not just because they’re good athletes,” Herremans said. “It’s because of the mindset they have, the way they do things; their work ethic.” They fit the culture."

The Eagles are not alone, and you just might miss how often “culture” is brought up. Here, for example is an article praising the Seahawks’ culture from last January. Search for similar stories with Bill Belichick or the Broncos with Peyton Manning and the term will pop up in the middle of articles.

In Philadelphia, though, it has become a major talking point. Another example, Malcolm Jenkins, one of the players brought in this year by the Kelly regime, talking about culture in a radio appearance last week.

"Honestly, if you look at our roster, we don’t have the most talented roster out there,” Jenkins admitted on Tuesday to Anthony Gargano and Rob Ellis on 94WIP. “There’s other teams that have more talent than we do, but we know how to maximize our potential. We know how to—we have a great locker room and he’s [Kelly] all about the comradery in the locker room, make sure that molds well and about the culture, and making sure the culture goes above any one person. And I think that’s what wins us games.”"

From June of 2014, on Kelly’s Culture:

"“Everybody has the same amount of time during the day,” Kelly said, “and you can either spend your time or invest your time and that’s what we are trying to get our players to understand. It’s how you allocate your time. We all have 24 hours in the same day and it’s what you want to do. If you want to go play video games and watch TV and do all those other things, you’re going to get beat out by the guy that is doing the little things that are going to make the difference between making the team and not making the team."

Hard work. Doing the little things. Maximizing potential. Not dogging it, these seem to be the focus points of the “culture” in Philadelphia.

It was an ethos that was challenged after a 3-0 start, when cornerback Cary Williams came out and complained about how hard the team was being worked in practice. Williams came out during culture week and let it be known that the practice schedule had been changed. “I don’t know if I provoked those changes. My job isn’t to talk about those things, or how long practices may be, or what the tempo is.”

After the Riley Cooper racial slur incident before the 2013 season, there was some wondering whether “the good work he [Kelly] has done to transform the culture of the Eagles could be wasted.” After Riley Cooper, along with Jason Kelce and Jeremy Maclin, signed his contract extension the next offseason, there it was in the title: “Howie Roseman Proud of Eagles’ Culture Change.”

In the spring, there was also a report from the Wall Street Journal that we wrote about here, talking about the Eagles making a conscious decision to draft college graduates. “When you look at people who are successful in any profession, it always goes back to college graduates,” Roseman was quoted as saying in the WSJ piece. “We found NFL players are no different.”

"Kelly said a degree is more than proof of intelligence. “It’s also, what is their commitment?” he said. “They set goals out for themselves and can they follow through for it? A lot of people can tell you they want to do this, this and this. But look at their accomplishments.” The Eagles say they want players who are prepared, and a degree confirms that. Take wide receiver Jordan Matthews, a Vanderbilt economics major whose study habits translated perfectly to the NFL."

What about the demographics of the culture?

Since Chip Kelly became head coach, there has been a fair amount of turnover, with 31 of the current 53 man roster coming to the team since Kelly began establishing his own culture. That’s not unusual for a new coach in the NFL within the first two years at a new organization. In an unofficial census of the demographics for each franchise released last month, the Eagles had the most racially balanced roster in the league.  In a league where 68% of the league is African-American and 28% White, the Eagles have an almost even split with 25 White players, 1 Hispanic player, and 27 African-Americans. (Houston has the 2nd highest number of white players, at 20).