Charlie College: Professors are secret to Eagles success

When you think of college ties in the NFL, you think of the many colleges and universities across America that sent athletes to the highest level of football.

You think of coaches who also go from making adjustments and building a program every four years to bidding for Super Bowls.

You may even think of alumni, not of a college but to a team, the way that Duce Staley and Tra Thomas have made their way back to the Eagles as coaches after having successful playing careers.

But Chip Kelly’s group goes to the college ranks for other personnel. It’s in the last place you would think to look. It’s out of the classroom and onto the sidelines. Yes, Chip Kelly’s secret to success for his team: college professors.

Meet Harry Edwards and K. Anders Ericsson, two college professors that have advised the Eagles and used classroom techniques as a way of learning the game and studying opponents on a weekly basis.

Edwards, a professor emeritus at the University of California, was brought in as an expert in race relations. The reason Kelly brought him in: perhaps the missing piece isn’t something that can be brought to the field but can still help the team accomplish what Kelly is trying to accomplish.

The same goes for Ericsson, a professor in the psychology department at Florida State University. Ericsson met with Eagles coaches and players to improve on performance. Kelly asked Ericsson in a coaches-only meeting about what the team could do differently in training.

The result, as Malcolm Jenkins said in an article for the Wall Street Journal, was film sessions designed to get players to memorize formations by calling them out loud. As the sessions progressed, “They start to flash it quicker and quicker,” Jenkins said. “There's less time to process. And so you build those same cognitive skills where it's the same as getting a mental rep on the field.”

As it turns out, Kelly isn’t just about sport science and healthy eating and exercise habits to have his players physically conditioned to run plays faster than most NFL teams can keep up. It’s also about being one step ahead intellectually as well. Perhaps that’s where the importance of college graduates comes into Kelly’s draft strategy. It’s definitely how the professors fit into the training.

"Something that many of the athletes resent is being represented as intuitive naturals," Ericsson said. "When, in fact, they should have a similar respect to a scientist or a medical doctor, who have been able to perfect their talents through performance and learning."

The professors also serve as guidance counselors of sorts when it comes to the public reception of the Eagles. In a week where the NFL faced several domestic violence cases and a potential child abuse scandal, it wasn’t long ago when the Eagles faced controversy before the Kelly Era had even really begun.

When wide receiver Riley Cooper was caught on camera uttering a racial slur, the Eagles made a call to Edwards, asking how to handle the situation.

"I told them: You guys can allow this to fracture and fragment your locker room and never get on track. Or you can give Riley Cooper a few days to clear his head, apologize and get out there," Edwards said. "You can choose not to be offended."

That story is ancient history for the Eagles now, who with the help of stars in LeSean McCoy and Nick Foles, a budding young coach in Chip Kelly and college professors working behind the scenes are moving closer to achieving the ultimate goal.

Kelly is tapping into every resource to reach that goal, even if it means going back to school.

Kevin Durso is a contributor for Eagledelphia. Follow him on Twitter @KDursoPhilsNet.

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