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Eagles players expected to police Kelly's culture

"Culture wins football. Culture will beat scheme every day." - Chip Kelly Malcolm Jenkins has a story about five monkeys, a banana, and culture.

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)Read more

"Culture wins football. Culture will beat scheme every day." - Chip Kelly

Malcolm Jenkins has a story about five monkeys, a banana, and culture.

The Eagles cornerback first heard it when he was with the Saints. He said the story was told in New Orleans as an allegory for building culture, and that it applied to Kelly and why he probably believes the culture he's creating within the Eagles organization supersedes scheme.

"If you take five monkeys, put them in a room with some stairs, and put a banana at the top of the stairs, every one of those monkeys is going to try go get the banana," Jenkins said. "Each time one of them attempts to get the banana, you spray the other four monkeys with cold water.

"Eventually, they'll learn that whenever somebody goes up there they're going to get sprayed, and you'll have five monkeys in the room that will not climb the stairs. You take one of those monkeys out and put in a new monkey. He's going to try go up and get the banana, and he's going to get beat up by the other four. He'll know not to go on the stairs.

"You repeat that process, and eventually you'll have five monkeys who will not go get the banana, but they don't know why. They've never been sprayed with cold water. They just know this is how we do things.

"That's how you build culture."

Jenkins said it was former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams who liked to tell that Pavlovian story. Williams, of course, was suspended from the NFL for a year for his role in the Saints' bounty scandal, so it's fair to question what kind of culture he was actually trying to build. But the Saints won a Super Bowl in 2009 - Williams' first season in New Orleans.

Only three players on the Eagles have Super Bowl rings - Jenkins, cornerback Cary Williams, and safety Chris Maragos. Jenkins and Maragos were signed as free agents this past offseason. Williams was added the previous March, two months after Kelly took the Eagles job.

Two of the three agreed with Kelly's statement that culture beats scheme. Williams, who won a title with the Baltimore Ravens in 2012, did not. He said culture was important, but that culture and scheme work hand in hand: You can't get players to buy into a particular culture if the scheme doesn't work.

"We're talking about football," Williams said. "Culture has a lot to do with it, but I think schematics have more to do with it, because if you're good in one particular area - you could just be a Cover 3 team - it helps build culture. It helps build a belief in one another, a belief in the scheme, and a belief in oneself."

By the time Williams arrived in Baltimore in 2009, the Ravens had a culture established by the 2000 Super Bowl champions and the core group that remained. Most of those players, however, were gone by the time the Ravens won three years later under John Harbaugh.

"Harbaugh's main thing was let your personality shine," Williams said. "Just be who you are on the field. He was never trying to change you or make you into somebody you weren't, because we all come from different backgrounds, live different lifestyles. I'm not saying Chip did that."

Maragos said that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll spoke more about "mind-set" than culture, but that they were essentially the same thing. He said Carroll and Kelly were similar, except perhaps that "Pete's got that laid-back, West Coast feel, and Coach Kelly is more East Coast, a little more rough tough."

Carroll's temperament may have been one reason he tolerated Percy Harvin last season. But despite the distractions the receiver sometimes caused - he reportedly got into a fight with teammate Golden Tate the day before the Super Bowl in February - the Seahawks still won.

"When you have a great culture, you can add some of those guys in, and they are integrated into the program," Maragos said. "But if you get too much of the bad it can create a lot of issues."

But all three of those Super Bowl-winning teams won with players who weren't necessarily squeaky clean or who were later found to be disreputable. And all three organizations had been embroiled in controversies (the Saints with the bounty, the Ravens with the Ray Lewis and Ray Rice arrests, and the Seahawks with suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs) around their championships.

And somehow they still won.

Kelly's belief, paraphrased here, is that if you can get 53 players working toward the same goal, willing to sacrifice self-reward for the common good, then you can execute the scheme to its fullest and overcome what you may lack in talent.

It didn't take newly acquired practice squad safety Jordan Kovacs - the recipient of Kelly's culture-beats-scheme sideline declaration - very long to figure out Kelly's philosophy or the Eagles' culture, because it's evident once you spend a little time in the locker room.

"I don't think it's necessarily the most athletic guys or the best scheme that wins games," Kovacs said. "You get good guys buying into a particular scheme, just working hard, and good things come of it."

Kelly wasn't expansive when asked about his statement on Tuesday. But it's safe to assume he wanted the message out there. Every coach can veto whatever NFL Films plans to air when he's wired for at least one mandatory game per season.

But it's not as if his feelings on culture were secret. He spent a good deal of the offseason talking about finding "like-minded individuals." It could seem as if he's trying to homogenize the Eagles, but independent-thinking players such as Williams and running back LeSean McCoy remain - for now.

Kelly must believe they've bought in. Jenkins said Saints coach Sean Payton would jettison players he thought weren't committed to the program.

"If you didn't fit in, you were gone. I see the same thing here with Chip," Jenkins said. "You got to have 100 percent buy-in. And it's not that we want 100 percent buy-in because we are making you do it. . . . It's not something that you can force on people."

As one Eagle said last month when asked why he thought receiver DeSean Jackson was released in March, Kelly doesn't want to baby-sit his players. He spent last season establishing his culture. This season the leaders are keeping the new players in order so that in the future the culture will be as ingrained as the Eagles' winged helmets.

"Players know that this is how we do things," Jenkins said. "You buy in, or you get checked by the core guys on the team. Eventually you got a bunch of guys who have bought in to this idea, this way of life that wasn't there at the beginning."

Monkey need not see, monkey do.