Chip Kelly was drawn to the job of San Francisco 49ers head coach for many reasons, but it all boiled down to his passion for coaching.
"Everybody makes mistakes," Kelly said of settling into a job in which he won't have as much control in personnel. "To me, it's just the lines of communication. Are they open? To me, I just want to coach football. I just want to coach."
Kelly was 26-21 in nearly three seasons with the Eagles. He said he took calls from Patriots coach Bill Belichick, former Colts general manager Bill Polian, Alabama coach Nick Saban and former Colts coach Tony Dungy. Kelly described those calls as encouragement.
To turn around the 49ers, Kelly might need to practice patience, which was not a firmly held virtue in his time with the Eagles. The 49ers were 5-11 last season and ranked last in points and yards per game.
Kelly, who interviewed with 49ers general manager Trent Baalke and owner Jed York at Kelly's home in New Hampshire, sees a lot of reasons a right turn is coming soon. He pointed to a young roster that will be bolstered by 21 draft picks over the next two years, 12 in the 2016 draft.
"I would say I'm a football guy first and foremost," Kelly said. "I have a quest and a thirst for just trying to improve. One of the things that attracted me to come here is it's the most fertile ground - walk to work this morning, you smell the air and get smarter. I'm hands-on - you lead with your feet and not with your seat. ... I'm not a micromanager by any stretch of the imagination."
NFL players rejected Kelly's scientific approach to certain elements of football, including a urine sample that told personnel whether they were hydrated enough before practice or at risk of pulling a muscle. Kelly said he believes the "sports science" narrative was overplayed and while some veterans, including offensive tackle Lane Johnson, criticized Kelly after he was fired Dec. 29, Kelly said he felt a lot of love when he was bounced by the Eagles.
"Many of them reached out to me when this went down. That means a lot to me," Kelly said.
Baalke said common associates helped the 49ers debunk reports and critiques from Philadelphia, including Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie stating Kellly lacked emotional intelligence.
"We talked about a lot of things," said Baalke, who called the new structure in the 49ers' front office a collaboration. "There's perception and then there's reality. The one thing I've learned in the five years I've been in this position is the separation between the two. Tom Gamble has had a chance to work with both of us. That's a nice bridge when you have a guy you trust and he's able to basically give you the lay of the land with the respect to the relationship he had in the building in Philly. He had no doubt we'd have good synergy. It was evident early on, sitting in his living room - his dog Henry (a golden retriever) was sitting on my lap for two hours of it - we feel very good about the direction we're taking."
Kelly did not endorse quarterback Colin Kaepernick as the future for the 49ers. He cannot meet with him in person or discuss football matters until April 4. Kelly said he has talked to Kaepernick and was calling players personally. He also said he talked to backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who started when Kaepernick was injured and can become a free agent in March.
"We're receptive to anything that helps us win football games. We'll look at anything," Kelly said. "At the end of the day, it's how can we do it better than we ever have before?
The 49ers retained running back coach Tom Rathman and are conducting interviews with other members of fired coach Jim Tomsula's staff.
Kelly knows former 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh - they coached against each other in the Pac-12 and in the NFL - and said he doesn't read anything into the way York and Baalke were portrayed in the split with the current Michigan coach.
"I was confident in meeting with Trent and Jed what the vision and focus of this relationship was," Kelly said. "I'm a big Jim Harbaugh fan. I think one thing all coaches know is we rent. We rent our locker spaces. If you go into a situation wondering 'Am I going to be there at the end of the year or the year after?' You probably won't be."