If only he was known as Charles Edward Kelly, maybe the treatment would be different.
Maybe he’d come to town this weekend and be able to walk the streets of Seattle unnoticed. Maybe he could jog a couple of loops around Green Lake and never be bothered. Or maybe, just maybe, he could enjoy a ride on the Seattle Great Wheel and not be hassled.
As it stands, that man goes by Chip Kelly, coach of the Seattle Seahawks’ most hated NFC West rival — the San Francisco 49ers.
This isn’t Kelly’s first ruffle-Seattle-football rodeo, either. Remember when he was the highly successful coach at the University of Oregon who never lost to Washington in four tries?
Never miss a local story.
He has never lost a game in the Emerald City, either, beating UW in 2009 (43-19) and 2011 (34-17) at Husky Stadium.
But this version of Kelly isn’t riding the top rung of the college game anymore. The 52-year-old is coming off three tumultous years as coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, who fired him with one game remaining in the 2015 season.
Kelly has another NFL job and an opportunity to repair his coaching image with the 49ers (1-1), who take on the Seahawks (1-1) on Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
“One thing I know about Chip, he is a great coach and a very intelligent dude,” said Seahawks tight end Brandon Williams, who played for Kelly at Oregon. “He finds a way to figure it out.”
Kelly’s first stint in green went rather well.
From 2009-2012, Kelly posted a 44-5 record at Oregon, leading the Ducks to four BCS bowl games, including the national championship game in 2011.
And Kelly’s innovation on offense sparked interest everywhere, including the NFL. He even met with Seattle’s Pete Carroll and New England’s Bill Belichick to discuss the finer points of his “blur” (hurry-up spread) offense.
As Kelly’s reputation grew, his name began surfacing on the short lists for NFL coaching jobs, notably in Buffalo, Cleveland and Philadelphia.
Early in 2013, Kelly accepted the head-coaching position with the Eagles with one caveat — he had final say over the team’s roster.
Early on, it seemed to be working well. In Kelly’s first year, Philadelphia — coming off a 4-12 season — won 10 games to capture the NFC East crown. And he became only the second NFL coach to win a divisional title in his debut campaign.
Then the honeymoon period began to close.
The Eagles matched their 10-6 record from the previous year in 2014, but failed to make the playoffs. As Kelly continued to retool the roster, he jettisoned some of the franchise’s biggest names — running back LeSean McCoy, wide receiver DeSean Jackson, quarterback Nick Foles, linebacker Trent Cole, offensive guard Evan Mathis and cornerback Brandon Boykin.
McCoy blasted his former coach, claiming his trade to Buffalo was racially motivated. Boykin had strong words after he was traded to Pittsburgh, noting that Kelly acted uncomfortable around grown men of color.
Last season, it all fell apart. Kelly brought in bigger running backs — DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews — but they never seemed to fit his power rushing attack. Oft-injured quarterback Sam Bradford was up and down in his play as the new starter. And Kelly’s defense gave up 40 or more points in back-to-back weeks to Tampa Bay and Detroit.
Struggling to a 6-9 record, the Eagles terminated Kelly’s contract on Dec. 29 — one week before they finished their season at the New York Giants.
But Kelly did not stay unemployed for long.
Across the country, the 49ers were having their own issues. They had replaced ego-driven Jim Harbaugh as coach with nice-guy Jim Tomsula. That played out poorly. San Francisco went 5-11 and finished last in the NFC West.
Tomsula was let go by the 49ers a week after Kelly was fired by the Eagles. And when San Francisco started its search for a new coach, Kelly met twice with the organization’s top officials as the first candidate. It took only a week for the 49ers to offer him the job.
After Kelly’s hiring, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke scoffed at the past criticism leveled at the coach, noting there was a difference in “perception and reality” about the New Hampshire native.
“I do know this — he’s a very respected coach by a lot of people, regardless of race,” Baalke said.
That’s not to say Kelly hasn’t shown a willingness to tweak his style.
“I don’t know if I can be significantly different — I think you have to be yourself in terms of how you do things,” Kelly told reporters when he was hired in San Francisco. “But we all learn. ... I think we all grow and we’re all byproducts of our experience.”
49ers defensive lineman Arik Armstead, who played his college ball at Oregon, said that in the first meeting Kelly held with the Bay Area team, the new coach expressed having a “growth mindset.”
“For sure, those three years he was in Philly, he learned ... from what he did good, and learned from his mistakes — just like we all do,” Armstead said.
The essence of the spongy-faced Kelly hasn’t changed. He is still in the vanguard for exciting offensive football. And he displays the same wry, wicked wit he’s shown for years.
And now he gets a second chance to show he can flourish in the NFL.
“I think Chip comes in (to his second NFL job) a lot stronger than I did,” Carroll said. “It’s harder to prove your worth and your value.
“I think his story is well-documented — he’s had a lot of success and he’s done a lot of good things. You can see the turnaround (with the 49ers). They look really good.”