When the Phillies hired Gabe Kapler and I started to hear some of his ideas about leading a baseball team, the first thing that popped into my head was, “Did the Phillies hire baseball’s version of Chip Kelly?” There are a lot of similarities between the Phillies new manager and the former coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, but there are differences as well.
It was pretty clear right from the start of the Phillies managerial search that the Phillies were going to go outside of the box when looking for their new manager. They were not going to hire a retread like Joe Girardi or Dusty Baker. They seemed to be leaning towards hiring a manager who had never managed in the major leagues before and who could grow with the young players in this organization.
They also weren’t just going to promote a Philly lifer from within like they had done so many times in the past with hires such as Charlie Manuel, Larry Bowa, and Ryhne Sandberg. They didn’t want a manager who was indoctrinated in the old way the Phillies had done things in the past. So that eliminated candidates such as Mickey Morandini and Dusty Wathan. They wanted a young, Progressive thinking manager who thought outside of the box.
With John Middleton becoming the principal owner of the team, the the hiring of Andy Macphail as the team president, and then the hiring of Matt Klentack as GM, the Phillies made a major shift in organizational philosophy, going away from the traditional baseball philosophies into one that incorporated analytics into all aspects of their organization. And although Pete Mackanin did a good job of cultivating some of the Phillies young players during the second half of last year’s baseball season where they finished .500 after the All-Star break, he didn’t fall in line with the Phillies new way of thinking. So he wasn’t the kind of manager that the Phillies organization was looking to go forward with into the future.
So with all of this being said, it shouldn’t be too surprising that the Phillies hired someone such as Gabe Kapler. He checked all of the boxes when it came to who they were looking for in a manager.
So one may ask what exactly are the similarities between Chip Kelly and Gabe Kapler? I alluded to the the first similarity while explaining what the Phillies were looking for in their new manager. Like Chip Kelly, Gabe Kapler was an outside of the box hire. Neither one of them had experience coaching at the professional level. Kappler only managed one season of low A minor league ball before becoming manager of the Phillies. Chip Kelly had never coached in the NFL before he took the job with the Eagles, only having coached in college at the University of Oregon and the University of New Hampshire before that.
Both are bringing brand new styles of coaching to their profession. With Chip Kelly it was running the no-huddle offense throughout the entire football game. When asked about what his managerial philosophy would be, would he be a small ball guy or a big inning type of guy, Kapler’s response was that he would handle every situation differently. That he would collaborate with all of the coaches on his staff and make the best decision possible for that particular moment. He would also make his decisions based on piles and piles of analytical information obtained and gathered before the game. This goes against the traditional ways of managing a baseball game where a manager will manage based on “the book” or just on a gut feeling.
I think the thing that really jumped out at me that caused me to think that there are a lot of similarities between Kapler and Kelly was when Kapler started to talk about the importance of nutrition. He said he was going to put a great deal of emphasis towards the players eating right and getting enough sleep. When you look at the Peak physical condition that Kapler is in, this shouldn’t be all that surprising.
Unlike Kapler, Chip Kelly was far from a physical specimen. But he put a great deal of emphasis on things such as nutrition and getting enough sleep. He even went so far as to put monitors on players in order to make sure they were getting the proper amount of rest.
Another similarity when it comes to both men’s philosophy is their emphasis on creating a good culture. How many times did we hear the term culture when Chip Kelly was the coach of the Eagles? And a lot of the Eagles players bought in to Kelly’s emphasis on culture and loved playing for him. But not everybody on the team did. The main reason that Chip Kelly got rid of players such as Deshaun Jackson and LeSean McCoy is because in Kelly’s eyes, neither player bought in to the culture that he was trying to create.
In the end, Chip Kelly Was His Own Worst Enemy when it came to that culture he was trying to create. Many of the players complained that he didn’t communicate with them. Others in the organization complained that he was aloof and wouldn’t even do so much as say hello to them in the hallway. He exhibited a lot of the childish behavior that the players he had purged from the Eagles roster had exhibited. The result was that the Eagles fired Kelly and hired a coach with more “emotional intelligence” and who had a more traditional coaching style in Doug Peterson
And although at first it was a success leading to back-to-back 10-6 seasons and a playoff berth, the league would eventually catch up to Kelly’s outside of the box thinking. Kelly’s no-huddle offense at first caught the league by surprise because teams didn’t know how to handle it. The result was the Eagles were able to pile up points on the scoreboard and wore other teams out with their high-tempo offense. But, once coaches around the league started to watch film and adjusted to the Eagles no-huddle offense, they were able to stop it. The result was a lot of three-and-outs for the Eagles. And since it was a hurry up offense, the defense was constantly on the field. So instead of the Eagles opponents being worn out by the end of games, it was the Eagles themselves who were overcome with fatigue by the end of the game.
Like Chip Kelly, Gabe Kapler has put a heavy emphasis on creating a certain culture with his team. This also leads us to one of the differences between the two men. Which is how the two men went about creating this winning culture.
Chip Kelly never put a lot of emphasis on communicating with his players. Conversely, Kapler emphasized over and over again during his opening press conference that he would put a lot of emphasis on creating a good line of communication between him and his players. When asked about what he would do if a player didn’t take to his philosophy of eating right and training heavily during the off-season, Kapler’s response was that they he wouldn’t Force the player into doing something he wouldn’t necessarily want to do but, he would keep coming at the player from a different angle and with different information in order to try and coax him into doing what is best for his physical conditioning. Kelly had a more my way or the highway approach when it came to this and that was probably a big Factor in him cutting both Jackson and McCoy.
Another difference between Kapler and Kelly is the way they handle the Press. Granted, Kapler only had the one press conference, and he had another interview on the Mike Missanelli show. But, the way the two men go about handling the Press couldn’t be any more different. Kapler would say things such as, “that’s a great question” and he would use terms like “bro” when talking to the reporters. Conversely, Chip Kelly gave off an air of knowing more than everybody else. And never did you hear Chip Kelly tell somebody that they had asked him a great question nor would you ever hear him refer to somebody as “bro”.
When watching and listening to Kapler, I got both positive and negative vibes. At times he seemed a little bit too scripted and a lot of his comments seemed to be PR driven and seemed to be made in order to Curry favor with the Press. There were two examples of this. The first one during his opening press conference when he said, “my main goal is to bring an effing trophy back to Philadelphia”. It seemed like a disingenuous and scripted remark in order to try and get the fans and the media on his side.
Another example of this was when he had first come on to the Mike Missanelli show. Love him or hate him, Missanelli can be a very tough interviewer. In what seemed like an attempt to soften Missanelli up a little bit , knowing that Missanelli is a Penn State alum, before Missanelli could even ask his first question, Kapler said how he thought Penn State had the nicest uniforms in all of college football. Yet another pre rehearsed, scripted remark in order to Curry favor with the interviewer.
At other times though, Kapler seemed like a very genuine, very down-to-earth, and very passionate guy. When he would go away from the scripted remarks and would talk about things that he was genuinely excited about such as the young talent on the Phillies roster, he seemed a lot less fake and more of a genuine human being. Not somebody who was just trying to get the media and the fans in to his corner.
I also think he did a very good job of handling the question about the comments he had made in his blog about the uses of coconut oil. Instead of getting defensive or getting upset at the reporter who asked him the question, he attacked the question head-on and gave a very honest answer. He said that it was something he would never say if he were the manager of a team, that it was meant as a joke at the time, and that if he could have gone back and handled it differently he would have.
I didn’t get a good vibe from him when he was making his prepared statement to the media because it seemed as though he was just saying a bunch of things that people wanted to hear. But when I saw how he handled what was a very difficult and potentially awkward situation, I grew to like him a little bit.
Like was the case with Chip Kelly who had some players who loved to play for him, Gabe Kapler has had some people say nothing but glowing things about him. The quote you hear from anybody who has played with him is that he was the best teammate they had ever played with.
But like also was the case with Chip Kelly, Kapler has had some run ins with people that he has worked with. Nick Francona, son of former Phillies manager Terry Francona, has sued Kapler, accusing Kapler of demoting him when Kapler was the head of Player Development with the Dodgers because Francona had admitted to having PTSD as a result of having served in Afghanistan. Could Kapler, like Kelly, be someone who preaches team culture but in the end winds up tearing a team apart because of his own behavior? Like is always the case with things like this, all we can do is wait and see.
Whenever coaches that think outside of the box or have some type of new system are hired in any League they are always met with resistance. The Old Guard refuses to believe that this new unconventional way of thinking or this newfangled system can work. Sometimes the Old Guard is right, but sometimes they are wrong.
Nobody thought that Paul Brown’s Innovative offense that demphasized the run and emphasized the short passing game would ever work in the NFL. But it did. Nobody thought that Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense, which was actually a variation of Paul Browns offense, would work in the NFL but it did. Same goes for Tom Landry’s Flex defense, the vertical passing game that was run by the Raiders and the no-huddle offense that was run by Sam Wyche and Marv Levy. These were all cases of the Old Guard being wrong.
But sometimes the Old Guard is right. Both the Detroit Lions and Houston Oilers tried running the run-and-shoot offense and both failed miserably. And so did Chip Kelly’ with his attempt at running the no-huddle for a full 60 minutes. So the question is, will Gabe Kapler be the next Bill Walsh or the next Kevin Gilbride?
Like was the case when the Eagles had hired Chip Kelly back in 2013, the Kapler hiring could either be an absolute home run, or an absolute disaster. With the Phillies having so much young Talent on their team, and a lot of talent in their pipeline, let’s hope it is the former instead of the latter.