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Why I’ve Changed My Mind and Think the 49ers Will Fire Chip Kelly

Al Sacco
Dec 12, 2016 at 8:47 AM24

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Let me start off by saying that I fully supported the idea of the San Francisco 49ers giving HC Chip Kelly another season to prove his worth. After all, it's not his fault that he was strapped with one of the worst skill position groups in recent memory. He wasn't the one who ignored glaring needs on the roster like quarterback, wide receiver, inside linebacker and pass rusher. Kelly can't control the injuries that have left the team without ILB NaVorro Bowman, NT Ian Williams, ILB Ray-Ray Armstrong, OLB Aaron Lynch, DE Arik Armstead, and S Eric Reid. In a lot of ways, the embattled head coach is bringing a knife to a gun fight every week, and while he can poke a few holes here and there, eventually his squad just gets mowed down. It's a tough spot to be in.

While there are some teams the 49ers just can't be expected to compete against, there are also some who are in dire straights just like the boys in red and gold. The thing is, San Francisco can't beat those teams either. In the past two weeks, Kelly has seen his squad go up in flames against a Chicago Bears team that's currently playing with mostly backups (and backups to backups) and the New York Jets who have basically quit. Each loss was it's own special brand of brutal, as the Niners were destroyed by the undermanned Bears 26-6, and blew a 14-0 lead against the "couldn't care less" Jets to lose 23-17 in overtime.

Both of these losses took a familiar tone too, and it's one that's been present all year long. The 49ers will play well, and in some cases, actually lead in the first half, only to have their doors blown off in the third and fourth quarter. In the second half (and overtime), San Francisco has been outscored 209-106 this season. Against the Bears and Jets? Outscored 39-0. Looking deeper, they've been absolutely abysmal in the third quarter specifically, and have been held scoreless in eight of their 13 games this season. Overall, they have three field goals and two touchdowns in the third. What that tells me is that Kelly and his staff are a very easy bunch to make adjustments against, and Chip is either too stubborn or not competent enough to do the same.

The terrible play hasn't been regulated to one side of the ball either, it's truly been a team effort. On offense (which is supposed to be Kelly's specialty), the Niners can't pass, run, or score with any kind of consistency. To start, San Francisco quarterbacks are last in the NFL with an average of 177 yards passing per game. The league average is 242. Individually, QB Blaine Gabbert and QB Colin Kaepernick have combined to complete 55.6 percent of their passes, which is 31st in the NFL. As far as running the ball (something the 49ers are built for), the numbers are a little misleading. San Francisco is actually averaging 4.7 yards per game, which is good for fourth-best in the NFL, but if you take the quarterbacks out of that number it dips to 4.2 That still sounds good, until you consider the yards per carry for running backs was under 4.0 before they exploded for 225 yards against the Jets in Week 14. So looking at the season as a whole, the ground game has been underwhelming overall. In turn, the offense hasn't been able to put up points with any kind of regularity and has only scored more than two touchdowns in four games all year.

Defensively, it's been an utter train wreck, and while Kelly isn't responsible for the day-to-day on that side of the ball, it's still his staff. Per Pro Football Reference, the Niners are on pace to allow the fourth most yards, eighth most points, and 22nd most rushing yards in NFL history. The run defense is so bad, that it's allowed a 100-yard rusher in 10-of-13 games. On the year, the Niners have allowed 2,200 yards on the ground. The next closest team (the 0-13 Cleveland Browns) are 320 yards behind them. This defense isn't just bad, it's all-time bad.

All of this equals out to a 12-game losing streak, and one of the bleakest periods in the history of the franchise. Now, the question is, do the owners even care? They do...kind of. The Yorks see the 49ers are a business and John and Denise treat the team as such. Right now that investment is tanking. The fans are unhappy, the stadium is empty and people are threatening to walk away from their PSLs. That's bad for business and the Yorks know it. They have to do something drastic or their product will continue to tank and, eventually, that will take its toll on their bottom line. Also, the Yorks are embarrassed right now, which I believe will force their hand. John and Denise care more about perception than they do wins and losses, and right now they're a joke and everyone knows it.

Now, in my opinion, what's going to happen first and foremost is a change at the top. According to Jason La Canfora, it's possible that John and Denise are going to take a more hands-on approach this offseason, which could mean bumping Jed out of power. In turn, I don't see any way GM Trent Baalke will be retained, and his exit is something that looks more and more like a foregone conclusion with each passing week. I think Jed would have wanted to promote Assistant GM Tom Gamble and stay the course with Kelly, but I don't believe his embarrassed parents will go for that. La Canfora mentioned Mike Shanahan's name as a possible replacement in the front office, and that makes all the sense in the world from a York perspective. Shanahan has the backing of 49ers alumni and he's a big name that would make a splash in the public eye.

Whether you like or dislike Shanahan, you have to admit he brought in some big pieces during his time with the Washington Redskins that have set them up for success. Players like QB Kirk Cousins, TE Jordan Reed, LT Trent Williams and DE Ryan Kerrigan who have been staples of Washington's recent success, were all brought in by Shanahan. Now he would clean house, you can be assured of that, but we'd see a return to the roots of Niner's football, as Shanahan was the offensive coordinator for San Francisco from 1992-1994. Odds are he'd bring in his son Kyle as a head coach, and the younger Shanahan is just the kind of young, offensive mind this team needs. He currently presides as coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons' number one offense.

Kyle Shanahan is a hot commodity right now, and is probably getting a head coaching job this offseason whether it's with the 49ers or not. If the Yorks give Kelly another year, who knows what their options would be in 2018. San Francisco doesn't need another retread, it needs to go out and find the next difference maker. Regardless of your opinion of Kelly, you'd have to admit he's not that guy and his days appear to be numbered because of it. Sorry, Chip. You're just the wrong guy, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

Al Sacco has been covering the 49ers since 2013 and has had his work used by national outlets such as ESPN and USA TODAY. If you'd like to reach Al with a media request, please contact him via Twitter @AlSacco49
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • don
    The most disheartening thing is the offense is actually worse than last year. I wasn't expecting that. Their defense makes Eric Mangini's look like the "85 Bears"... You have to ask yourself are these players really this bad? Or is the coaching so bad and uninspiring the players are simply half faking effort? Chip is 11-29 the last 40 games he's coached. It's just so difficult to come to the conclusion that Chip can turn this around based upon past performance.
    Dec 23, 2016 at 5:44 AM
  • Jim
    Do something over the top. Bring in Patton to run football operations and move Jed to run non football entertainment and kids soccer.
    Dec 20, 2016 at 9:06 AM
  • B. Dream
    Both Baalke and Kelly must be replaced. The current 49er coaching staff assembled by Kelly and Baalke is the worst in the NFL. Look how long it took for the 49ers to find a defensive coordinator. No one wanted the job under the current dysfunctional management. They had to make Tomsula head coach because no decent head coach was willing to join the 49ers. Eleven straight losses and counting. To continue playing a starting QB with all the baggage that comes with Kap is just pure insanity. One pass completion -- come on man! This is like a bad dream come true.
    Dec 15, 2016 at 10:20 AM
  • Joe
    Mike Shanahan turns down 49er 's offer to be their new GM. source, NFL Network, ESPN
    Dec 13, 2016 at 3:33 PM
    Holmgren was practically begging the 49ers to make him GM. He could have attracted credible coaches and found the right one. He is also 10 times the personnel man that Baalke never was. At this point, we need someone with a "proven" track-record of success, not someone who is taking credit for his predecessors personnel moves and continually drafting damaged players. There are tons of great coaches and GM potentials from the Walsh tree, but for some reason the Yorks would rather continue driving this franchise into the brick wall and then backing up and doing it again, instead of putting real football people in charge who have already figured out how to get around the wall. When are we going to start treating this team like a real NFL franchise again and stop trying to re-invent the wheel? The difference between successful people and losers is successful people realize when what they are doing isn't working and they change their approach. The only great decision Baalke ever made was hiring Harbaugh, but he managed to F that up too!
    Dec 13, 2016 at 2:35 PM
  • DaMAN
    Please I couldn't agree more Kap showed up this season ready to make a political statement not a football one and Chips hurry up offense KILLED us and hurt a lot of defensive players and don't get me started on the play calls we are so predictable. Stop making excuses and clean house great article
    Dec 13, 2016 at 1:20 PM
  • Jack
    I think I'm going to disagree with you All. I see so many dropped balls it's ridiculous. And give Kaepernick another year with this new group, providing they bring in some real pass catchers, and I believe we can be competitive. Maybe a new Offensive coordinator, with a creative mind. The 49ers do have some big tall position receivers, Bell, Streeter. Let these injury prone, receivers that cannot stay healthy, go. I think if Kelly and Kaepernick have a complete off season to work together on plays, and healthy personnel that works through all off season, preseason, and season, this will work.
    Dec 13, 2016 at 8:28 AM
  • Nick
    The main reason why Chip is coaching this team is because Baalke and Jed cannot attract decent coaching talent. Chip jumped on his only offer so unless Baalke goes forget about getting anyone else to try and coach this team...
    Dec 13, 2016 at 7:26 AM
  • Niner
    They are saying the reports of change are totally false. They have no need to change as they are under the cap, have their stadium and collect money from tv revenue regardless if they lose all their games for the next decade. Unless eddie buys the team for his daughter ( a debartolo) it's a waste of time and effort. I'm surprised anyone shows up for the games.
    Dec 12, 2016 at 8:41 PM
  • Mikecortese
    kelly was handed a peanut butter sandwich and told to make a steak dinner with it. This team has lost so many players through free agency, retirement, and injuries. Their back up players are not even average. Moreover, they had around 59 million dollars and basically picked up NO one to improv this team. Michael Crabtree is having a great year in Oakland and Anquan Boldin is the second best receiver on the Lion's offense. Really sad. The Giants have spend 30 million on building up their defense and look at the results. Yes, they defeated the Cowboys without JPP. I have been a Niner fan since 1990 and can't recall a worse season!!!!!!!
    Dec 12, 2016 at 6:09 PM
  • Klone323
    Chip Kelly is a one half coach.... in each game the team looked ok for the 1st half or the 2nd half get rid of himmmm.....
    Dec 12, 2016 at 5:39 PM
  • Monsterniner
    Shanahan & Shanahan would be a mistake. The Redskins tried it and the thing became toxic almost inmediately. Right now I see Kyle as one of those young OC´s with a huge ego just like McDaniels when got the Denver job or Haley when went to KC. Kyle needs 3 or 4 more years of experience IMO. On the other hand, I like Mike as GM because he knows everything about football, he is experienced and he is very well related in the league which means that he can land us a good coach.
    Dec 12, 2016 at 5:22 PM
  • tim
    All this crying about this loss... I mean who cares. I just want to see something from some of the young guys and collect our "L" and get ready for the draft and actually thats exactly what I got. Ward had one of his best games yet, Buckner was a beast all game long... But lets be honest... You can't take Torrey Smith, Vance Mcdonald, Joe Staley, and Daniel Kilgore out of the game and expect this team to go strong for four quarters. It isnt' going to happen people. Be realistic. This team has serious depth issues. And until that changes don't expect miracles.
    Dec 12, 2016 at 12:09 PM
  • tim
    mike pansarella, tell us about the eagles without chip kelly? They look fantastic. Clearly kelly was the problem... lol
    Dec 12, 2016 at 12:03 PM
  • mike pansarella
    As a 9er fan living in Philly, i seen first hand how chip destroyed the eagles. The only thing that made me more upset then him being hired was the idiot fans who actually thought it be a good idea. He ran the same plays over and over. Never made adjustments. Burned every bridge in the organization and got rid of all the good players. Everything was always everyone else's fault. Players don't like him and don't respect him. He needs to go asap.
    Dec 12, 2016 at 11:53 AM
  • Ryan
    Chip needs to go period. Jim Tomsula won 5 games with basically the same roster for the most part. He runs the same stuff over and over. He makes no adjustments at all and too stubborn to make big changes to his offense. Nevertheless, it isn't his fault though because that would belong to Baalke. Chip never should have been hired to begin with. Both should be gone and the Yorks should welcome the Shannahan's. Chip'so system has been figured out.
    Dec 12, 2016 at 11:01 AM
  • Jerry
    I agree with you if they are replaced with the Shanahans. Otherwise I think it makes no sense to fire Chip. He is not the problem. He started out with the worst talent in the league and injuries have only made it worse.
    Dec 12, 2016 at 10:17 AM
  • Frank
    While I don't dislike Chip and he was put into a no win situation I think what's best for the team is to start over...I mean if we could have seen some sort of improvement from a Jim Tomsula run team then I'd be willing to let it go another yr, but it's been worse (which I didn't think could be possible). Bringing in BOTH shanahan's would be best case for this team and I hope it happens.
    Dec 12, 2016 at 10:14 AM
  • Adam
    I like the idea of the Yorks putting someone else in charge as CEO and getting out of the way again. They've proven they don't know how to run the team, and it's apparent they don't have much interest in handling the day to day operations anyway. Sadly, the Jed experiment may have actually been an improvement from when Dr. York was steering the ship, but it's now clear it isn't working either. To be fair to Jed, he's had some success - a trip to the Superbowl, three straight NFC championships, new state of the are practice/training facilities. If Kaepernick had just completed that 4th down pass against the Ravens, it might all be different. That said, things have now unravelled so far as to be comical, and it's obvious Jed isn't cut out for the job. The Harbaugh fiasco was his undoing, mainly for the way it all went down. The leaks, the sabatoge, the tweets, his strange allegiance to Baalke. It's been the theme throughout his tenure, Singletary was right when he declared we have a "rat" in the building. It's time to give someone else the keys as CEO/President, let that person hire a new GM, let the new GM hire a coach, and let's start acting like a real NFL franchise again.
    Dec 12, 2016 at 10:00 AM
  • mbniner
    I think that Chip was handed a sack of cow chips (pun intended) and told to turn it into gold. I think that most fans believed he would improve over what the much maligned Jim Tomsula achieved, 5-11, maybe even getting to 8-8. Both coaches dealt with a rash of key injuries. I agree with you that he made big mistakes in choosing his OC and DC. But, as you said, an inability to make the correct in-game adjustments is his achilles heel. Other teams know how to beat him by half-time and he seems incapable of reacting. I like Chip, and I think that under the proper conditions he can succeed, but in the current situation he will probably go. As for the comparison to Walsh, he inherited a team with a very weak defense but a good OL, thanks to Monte Clark. He was innovative and even though his record was abysmal his offense improved throughout the season, even with sub-par skill personnel. Plus, he was also GM and had a great eye for talent. Chip' offense, while an improvement over Tomsula's, has weakened as the season progressed. It's a stretch thinking that Chip fits Walsh's mold.
    Dec 12, 2016 at 9:58 AM
  • Stephen
    Very good assessment on Chip Kelly's situation. The one that really makes sense is that the team has not shown any improvement even with the weaker teams. Furthermore, I don't like his after-game excuses following all the losses. Goes into too much detail, one week he blames this , one weak something else and sometimes has even pointed on specific players. The reason that we have so many injuries is that his players are on the field too long with this up-tempo crap, of course your chances of injury will increase. You're self-destruction and over-working your own team while other teams are facing you more rested and healthier. It is a silly system and he cannot face the fact that it is a failure in the NFL. But we are definitely setup big time for this year's draft and salary cap, we cannot afford to get the next hirings wrong
    Dec 12, 2016 at 9:50 AM
  • Dino Castillo
    Kelly has done exactly what got him run out of Philadelphia. His fundamental approach will not work on the NFL level. The only successful he sniffed was do to a overtly talented team built by Reid and a gimmick the league caught up with. His clock management, lack of adjustment and bottom shelf GM should make sure he is sent back to college where he belongs
    Dec 12, 2016 at 9:49 AM
  • RishikeshA
    Thanks Al, I recall back in 1979 the 49ers had a rookie coach that lost 13 of his first 14 games. He finished the year 2-14. I for one at the time wanted him gone ASAP. He even wanted to quit, but he didn't, the rest is history. I'm in no way saying that Chip Kelly is the next Bill Walsh, but after firing a proven winner and then firing the next in line, do you really want 4 coaches in 4 years? I watched Chip in Oregon and it was different and exciting. When he went to Philly I always watched because he was an innovator. Baalke is the reason for all this team's failures, give Chip some players and he'll turn it around.
    Dec 12, 2016 at 9:20 AM
    Response: This is a really good question. 4 coaches in 4 years is a recipe for disaster for the long-term of your franchise. In a lot of ways, Chip is a product of his environment. His QBs are horrible, and he has no skills players. His young defense has been hurt by injuries and had no depth. The choice for DC was a bad one. But things have spiraled so far out of control that I think they'll just blow it all up. Not just the GM or the coach, all of it. Now it's the Yorks so they'll probably screw it up, but I think that's what the decision will be.
  • Brandon
    Good assessment. The losses to Miami, Chicago, and the Jets really boil down to the coaching. These were three winnable games where leads were built and in each one the team fell flat in the second half. The roster is awful and it should cost Baalke his job, but good coaching could easily have this team with 3 or even 4 wins at this point.
    Dec 12, 2016 at 9:10 AM

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