Months after they both left the University of Oregon, Kyle Long still hears Chip Kelly in his head every day.
“Something that I say to myself walking up to the line of scrimmage that I’ll never forget that I got from Chip is the fast, hard finish,” said Long, a rookie offensive guard for the Bears, who will invade the Linc on Sunday night to face Kelly’s Eagles.
“It may be Play (No.) 15 and it’s six degrees here at Soldier Field (in Chicago) with the wind chill negative 15,” he said. “Fast, hard finish, man. Who’s gonna be the one to finish?”
It’s with some irony that both men are racing to the finish line, fueled by the same mantra.
The Bears and Eagles each have the potential of locking up a division title Sunday. Likewise, one has the potential to obstruct the other’s path to the postseason.
Which will be the one to finish?
Another irony: Long, a first-round pick in April, wouldn’t even have the opportunity to play an NFL postseason game, or any NFL game, without Kelly’s help.
Three years ago, Long, then a pitcher for the Florida State baseball team who admittedly put more emphasis on partying than his curveball, left the school for a four-month treatment program in Arizona following a DUI arrest.
In rehab, he decided to ditch baseball and rekindle his passion for the family business. His father, Howie, played 13 seasons for the Raiders, made eight Pro Bowls and delayed real retirement for a post-NFL career of TV analysis and commercial endorsements. His brother, Chris, a defensive lineman who played at Virginia, went No. 2 overall to the Rams in 2008.
Kyle spent one season at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., and then sought transfer to a Division 1 program. Unlike countless Division 1 prospects, Kyle wasn’t looking for his rear end to be kissed or promises of playing time.
Lucky for him, Kelly wasn’t offering anything other than a scholarship.
“I went to Oregon because Coach Kelly is the one of the few people in the game of football that were less concerned with my last name, my father, my older brother,” he said. “He said, ‘Look, if you want to do it, we’re gonna bring you in. You’re not going to be guaranteed a starting spot, you’re not going to be guaranteed anything because of your last name.’
“My ears perked up. I loved to hear that. I like to earn things on my own and I feel like Coach Kelly made me learn everything that I got there. It probably made me a better man and better competitor, because of that.”
Long said Kelly and Oregon represented the fork in the road of his life journey.
“I was at a point in my life where I could go in one of two directions, and Chip was very very important in helping me find my way down the right path, as a football coach and as a man,” he said. “Just somebody who puts great emphasis on who you are as a man. Obviously, it’s a good thing if you can block an inside zone to the right on a read option. It’s another thing if you’re doing the right things off the field as well.”
Kelly gave Long a second chance because the lineman didn’t make any excuses for his past or ask for anything other than a chance.
“Kyle, when you met him and you understood what he had been through and he explained his story to you, I think he had learned a very, very valuable lesson,” Kelly said. “I think he was on the road to working his way out of that. That’s what impressed me with Kyle as a person. That’s why I admire Kyle in terms of what he's been able to accomplish since then.
“He made a mistake. He admitted his mistake, and he's done everything in his life to correct that mistake. He should be commended for that. A lot of people in his situation could have [said], ‘Woe is me, and I've been dealt a really tough set of cards.’ I think he owned up to everything that he did, and I'm really proud of him.”
Long said he and his Oregon buddies never doubted that Kelly’s unique college program, with priorities on science and tempo and read-option schemes, would translate to the NFL.
“I know he got my blood going on Saturday, and he got everyone else’s blood,” he said. “When you’re running out of the tunnel and you’re playing under Coach Kelly, there’s not a guy that’s not fired up that wouldn’t put it out on the line for you.”
Asked for any good Kelly stories from the past, Long didn’t hesitate to recall a botched screen by he and fellow lineman Colt Lyeria in practice and Kelly’s uncanny, yet highly simplified, method of making the correction.
“He called me over and took out this piece of paper and said, ‘Look, here’s a box of pizza.’ He drew a square with a circle in it,” Long explained. “He said there’s a pizza box, there’s a pizza in it. I’m about to cut the pizza in two slices.
“He said, ‘Colt, this is your slice. Kyle just ate it. What are you gonna do? Are you gonna complain about it or take Kyle’s slice?” That’s how he explained blocking to me.”
Long watched the Monday night season opener, as the Eagles’ no-huddle offense shell-shocked the Redskins, who fell behind 33-7 at home just a few minutes into the third quarter. Long said he was calling out Kelly’s plays, enjoying the scheme he once helped engineer make its splashy introduction into the NFL.
He knew then the Eagles had bought into Kelly’s program the same way he did years ago.
“Chip, he’s the mastermind behind this whole thing,” Long said. “Step One is getting people on the ship. Step Two is getting the people moving. You can’t get the guys going fast unless they’re convinced to do so. After seeing that first week’s game, I was like, well, he’s got it figured out.’”