FIERRO: Perception of racial bias comes at Eagles' Kelly from multiple angles
First off, have to say that however flawed the logic leading to assertions that Eagles coach Chip Kelly is racially biased may be, the perception is real.
What running back LeSean McCoy most recently told ESPN in an interview that's blown up on social media wasn't the opinion of just one black man.
That said, it's impossible to be a football coach in America today, particularly at the NFL level, if there is any kind of racial bias on the field.
Yet that's what McCoy, who spoke out of both sides of his mouth on the issue, blatantly implied when he told Mike Rodak that Kelly "wants the full control. You see how fast he got rid of all the good players. Especially all the good black players. He got rid of them the fastest. That's the truth. There's a reason. ... It's hard to explain with him. But there's a reason he got rid of all the black players — the good ones — like that."
Then he responded to the very next question about whether other players share his view with some contradictions:
"Oh, man, people have heard it," he said. "I mean ... [ESPN reporter] Stephen A. Smith has talked about it. Other players have talked about it. But that's one of the things where you don't even care no more. I'm on a new team, ready to play. So it's nothing to do with Chip. I have no hatred toward him, nothing to say negative about him. When he got [to Philadelphia], I didn't know what to expect. When he let DeSean go last year, I was like: 'C'mon. DeSean Jackson?' So it is what it is."
McCoy dropped hints about his feelings when he was first traded to the Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso. But these latest words just solidified them.
And he's not the only one.
Also alluding to perceptions was former assistant coach Tra Thomas, let go by Kelly this offseason despite helping many of their pass rushers have their most productive seasons in a 3-4 base front. Among them were Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry.
"One of the things that you're seeing right now, and these are the things that you have heard from the locker room from different players, is that ... they feel like there is a hint of racism," Thomas said in a TV interview.
"Yeah, you have seven assistant black coaches, but only one black coach is over the segment. The other guys are assistants to the assistant coaches. [Running backs coach] Duce Staley is the only guy that's head over his segment who is going to be in charge of his group. The other guys are just assistants to an assistant coach."
Kelly defended himself shortly after that.
"I was disappointed," he said. "We gave Tra a great opportunity. He came in on a Bill Walsh minority internship program. [Eagles owner Jeffrey] Lurie was nice enough to keep him on for two years — one on offense, one on defense, seeing if he could find a job in the NFL. I hope Tra does find job in the NFL. We don't have a job open."
The feeling here is that Kelly would not be facing any of these uncomfortable questions at his next news conference had he just done the right thing and jettisoned Riley Cooper when he had the chance after the wide receiver made a racist comment in the summer of 2013.
Instead, he and Lurie sent Cooper away for "professional counseling" that turned out to be little more than chilling with his parents back home for a few days — until the initial outrage died down.
Cooper (47 catches, 835 yards, 8 TDs) went on to have his best season, along with fellow wide receiver DeSean Jackson (82 catches, 1,332 yards, 9 TDs). But after it was over, the Eagles rewarded Cooper with a contract extension before releasing Jackson around an hour before a story about Jackson's ties to Los Angeles gangs hit the Internet.
The only problem is that the story revealed little that the team didn't already know about Jackson when it drafted him in 2008.
So the reality that Kelly is trying to build a color-blind, team-first culture became a much harder sell at that point.
But that's all he's doing, and apparently no comments from McCoy or Thomas or anyone else will slow the process down.