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Chip Talks, and We Wonder

So there's this topic that fascinates me: the interactions among pro coaches, pro athletes, and the media who cover them. Here's one example: the press conferences that NFL coaches give each week. I often have this conversation with people who aren't in the sports-media profession - that what they see or hear in these conferences isn't necessarily the whole truth, that how a coach deals with players and reporters goes beyond those (literally) staged comments, that you never know the full impact of what a coach says or how he says it.

All of that is a backdrop to a conversation I had with a national NFL reporter Thursday afternoon, after Eagles coach Chip Kelly held his late-morning meeting with the media. This reporter covered Kelly's press conference, is around the Eagles often enough to pick up on changes in Kelly's demeanor, and made an off-hand comment to me that was interesting:

"Chip was different today."

In the moment, I didn't think much of it, because if you cover enough Kelly press conferences, you pick up on the differences, too. Sometimes he's happy to stand there as long as is required, happy to answer any and all questions thrown his way in depth and detail. And sometimes - like he was Thursday - he's clearly antsy, glancing again and again toward the practice field as if he couldn't wait for these pointless questions to end so he could get on with coaching.

In that way, Kelly is different from many NFL coaches who strive to present the same façade every time they talk in public. Say what you will about the relatives strengths and weaknesses of Bill Belichick and Andy Reid as coaches, but one thing they have in common is that are the same at every press conference - all the time, every time. Belichick gives you nothing. Reid never criticizes his players. The men who play for them appreciate that predictability, that consistency. It's an asset.

So if you think about Kelly's demeanor Thursday some more, it makes you wonder. This is a big week for Kelly and the Eagles: the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night, the NFC East championship in the balance. At one point, Kelly was asked a good question: If the Cowboys focus their defensive strategy on trying to stop LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, and the Eagles' running game, can Mark Sanchez win the game by throwing the ball downfield

Kelly's response: "I don't know. I don't deal in hypotheticals." Is this similar to what he's telling Sanchez - who while with the Jets showed a sensitivity to criticism - behind closed doors? Is he telling him something else entirely? Is he saying anything to Sanchez at all? Maybe Kelly was just clumsily dodging the question, or maybe he was being honest. Either way, it wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement of his starting quarterback in a public setting three days before an important game.

And make no mistake: This is an important game. Kelly tried to downplay its magnitude Thursday, arguing that every week is important and etcetera etcetera and generally conveying a why-are-you-bothering-me-with-this-silliness tone. But really, this one matters a little bit more, and Chip Kelly was a little different Thursday, and I just wonder if his players pick up on this stuff, and what effect it has if they do.