Saturday, January 4, 2014

Despite the digital age, Chip Kelly is committed to the VCR

The Chichen Itza-shaped pyramid of video home system (VHS) tapes piled in Chip Kelly's office make it difficult to spot the first-year NFL coach rewinding, pausing, and fast-forwarding one of said cassettes on a circa 1980s VCR. The worn down device precariously fights for space on a small tv dinner table positioned adjacent to the very cluttered main desk and spews wires that twist and turn their way to a nearby television.

Kelly, 50, is a video cassette stalwart, almost to a fault. "I'm a VHS guy," said Kelly, half yelling and flashing a smirk that suggests that, in 2014, he probably shouldn't be. The humming and whining sounds emanating from the gray box force the offensive innovator to raise the volume of his voice. "I realize they're on the way out--actually are out--but it's all I know. I'm comfortable with tapes. I'm a master at adjusting the tracking to improve the picture on the television. There's no tracking with digital...that makes me uncomfortable."

The New Hampshire native beams when asked about the previously mentioned VCR in the center of the room. It is a top-loading relic purchased in a Portsmouth, N.H., electronics shop in 1987 with money borrowed from a friend. "It has the original motor. I had one VCR expert tell me a couple weeks ago that it has played, rewound, or fast-forwarded nearly 300,000 miles of magnetic tape. It's my little engine that could."

So dedicated to VHS, that Kelly, out of his own pocket, bought a VCR for each player on the roster to study game film (er, tape) at their homes if so desired. Throughout training camp, the sideline leader personally lead workshops teaching the "finer points of VCR operation." All practices are filmed with large VHS cameras circa late 80s or early 90s; and all footage of opponents is recorded and watched on VHS tapes--which means fast-forwarding through many commercials.

"Sometimes I'll give players five, ten, twenty tapes to take home and go over," Kelly said, who also charges a small fee if the tapes are not rewound upon return. "I think they really enjoy the old school method. And, I make a few extra bucks rewinding tapes."

Actually, the team has three interns whose sole responsibility is to rewind tapes or, using the counter, find a desired location on the VHS for an assistant coach. "It's fun...I guess," said Danny Benoit, a sophomore at Rowan University. "I'm learning a new technology, well, I guess it's really an old technology but new to me."

The interns also track how many tapes players take home with them or watch at the practice facility--even though watching it is not mandatory. "There's definitely a competition to see who can log the most tapes. Although there are some that are not that into it and plead with the coach to go the way of the Cloud. I sometimes notice guys walk the other direction and avoid eye contact when Coach is walking down the hallway with a load of tapes."

Kelly credits much of his success at the University of Oregon to the VCR, and claims that, with the help of Phil Knight, a friend of the Oregon Ducks' athletic program and co-founder of shoe giant Nike, he was able to establish a rigorous VHS film program in order to better prepare for opponents and improve the health and conditioning of his team. (The poster in Kelly's office displays the respect and admiration that Knight shows for the coach.)

"We have so many tapes I don't know what to do with them," said Eagles video cassette recorder coordinator/technician Greg Thompson. "I wish Chip would go the digital route, I really do. I know that would put me out of job, because I know nothing about digital, but that's how much I hate VHS now. Do you know how many hours, rather days, I've spent fast-forwarding and rewinding?"

Several members of the Birds front office have reportedly, behind the scenes, called on the coach to make the switch to iPads or another type of tablet, to embrace mobile technology. In early December, citing "tremendous pressure from upstairs", Kelly met with officials from Apple at the NovaCare Complex in South Philadelphia to look at the possibilities that a massive upgrade in technology could offer his staff and the franchise's world-class athletes.

"We met with Chip for about four hours," said Apple's director of sports training programs, Sarah Thorpe. "Chip can I put iPad that can play regular-sized VHS tapes. Yes, Mr. Kelly wants [Apple] to design a device that attaches to the back of an iPad to allow it to play those large, bulky tapes."

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