Chip Kelly, meet Sam Hinkie.
The Eagles' new coach and the Sixers' new president share neither a sport nor a background -- but they are united in a way they probably don't even realize. They are united in their ability to make people uneasy.
Kelly insists that he is a football man to the core, but his philosophies about how to play the game -- and, even, how to practice the game -- have left some people with a permanent eye-roll. Hinkie, by all accounts, is a video fanatic who spends a large percentage of his time scouting the game in a traditional way -- but his embrace of advanced basketball statistics leads some to marginalize him as a nerd.
There is nothing new here. The problem is age-old, and really pretty simple:
Too many of us are afraid of smart people.
As a journalist, interviewing people can be a bit unnerving sometimes -- especially if your primary goal is attempting to demonstrate that you are the equal of the person you are interviewing. But if your goal is to acquire information, and knowledge, smart people are the people you want to interview, right?
Still, it can be hard. My total interaction so far with Hinkie was asking him three or four questions on Comcast SportsNet's "Philly Sports Talk." You could tell immediately that he was different. Most sports people, when they are interviewed on television, either barely acknowledge the question or pretty much ignore it completely and just pivot to whatever line of argument they feel like making. Not Hinkie. He listened to the questions, and then he parsed them -- agreeing with the first part of the premise but not the second, thinking before answering, and genuinely attempting to address the exact words of the question.
It was different. But if you are in search of information and not just spin, isn't that what you want? Even if you run the risk of being exposed for asking a dumb one, isn't that what you want?
But that is the problem with smart people -- they challenge the conventional wisdom that guides most of us through our days, and people don't like to be challenged. It's discomfiting. Chip Kelly plays loud music at practice and says there is science behind it and people scoff. He will be the first one to tell you it is all about the football players, and that he is just trying to create the best conditions for them to succeed, but all of the music and all of the plays being hand-signaled in from the sidelines and the whole nod to science -- science! -- makes people nervous. They just want him to run the ball, dammit.
It's the same with Hinkie. He will tell you that he respects scouting, and that the numbers are only a part of the analysis, and that the makeup and personality of players does matter. The two approaches do not have to be mutually exclusive, but nobody wants to hear it. Nobody wants to recognize that while a team full of mutts with nice stats is destined to fail, so is a team full of Eagle Scouts who can't get to the rim and can't shoot threes and who spend their lives throwing up 17-footers instead -- and that an amalgam of scouting and analytics offers the best chance of avoiding both of those bad outcomes.
Until they win, though, both Kelly and Hinkie will have to fight through the skepticism.
I used to think this about Joe Banner when he was running the Eagles. He made a lot of enemies along the way, and the knock from the beginning was that he and Jeffrey Lurie were playing fantasy football with a real live football team. It was an easy criticism. And because Banner was such a relentless advocate for every position he took -- winning 95 percent of the argument was never good enough for Joe -- and because of his involvement in the debacle that was Brian Dawkins leaving for Denver, he developed into the biggest of targets.
But the truth is, his command of the facts could be unnerving for some people. It could be intimidating. He was almost always the smartest guy in the room, and everybody knew it, and it grated.
But if you're trying to learn something, and you have any intellectual curiosity, how is that bad? This is the guy who exploited the salary cap loophole -- just recently closed by the NFL in its last collective bargaining agreement -- that gave the Eagles a significant financial head start on the rest of the league, right at the time when Andy Reid's teams were at their peak.
Banner recognized the loophole and he drove a truck through it -- because he was smart. To repeat: how is that bad? Why wouldn't you want that guy in charge?