Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Play the Cards You’re Dealt

The advice to “play the cards you’re dealt” is one of those many poker clichés you’ll hear come up in non-poker contexts. In fact, now that I think about it, you probably hear the phrase uttered more often away from the poker table than at it.

After all, it seems kind of superfluous to remind each other while at the table you have to play the cards the dealer delivers to you. But in other situations, that recommendation to be realistic (or content) about what you can accomplish with whatever resources you have is perhaps better served by the poker metaphor.

The phrase occurred to me today while reading about the Philadelphia Eagles letting go of Chip Kelly just a game shy of the end of his third season with the club. The article I was reading appears on the ESPN site and is called “Why the Chip Kelly experiment didn’t work.” That title highlights the way the head coach who eventually also became the team’s general manager (and thus controlled personnel) has always been regarded as a kind of iconoclast who deliberately deviates from usual strategies when it came to managing and coaching NFL teams.

I remember writing a blog post here discussing Kelly way back at the very beginning of his tenure with the Eagles, one in which I was complaining about my Carolina Panthers’ conservative play-calling and drawing a contrast between them and Kelly’s team. Kelly had brought his no-huddle hurry-up offense from college to the pros, winning his first game in splashy fashion and making teams like Carolina suddenly seem sluggish and unimaginative. (Funny now, of course, to think of how differently the next three years would go for both clubs.)

Going without a huddle was just the most conspicuous of many against-the-grain methods Kelly tried to employ at Philadelphia, and the ESPN article breaks down in detail other aspects of his “system” and why it ultimately didn’t produce overwhelming success. (It didn’t exactly fail, either, as Kelly went 26-21 during his almost three years at the helm.)

Some of the other areas in which Kelly didn’t necessarily play “by the book” (or tried to write his own) had to do with reducing the number and complexity of offensive plays, introducing different practice schedules and routines, involving a “sports science program” to help with conditioning, and “an enormous emphasis on measurables” when it came to filling out a roster. That latter point somewhat curiously refers to the physical size of players (“Cornerbacks had to be a certain height. Defensive lineman had to have the proper arm length.”), and not to the statistics produced on the field.

All of it suggests a kind of stubbornness that saw Kelly trying to make certain players fit into predetermined roles and “schemes.” “The word Kelly constantly harped on was execution,” goes the article. “But players are not robots.... When players fail to execute, it ultimately means they are not good enough or the coaches are not doing their jobs.”

I’m sure this summary simplifies what actually happened when it came to game-plan creation and calling plays. But the impression remains that Kelly had ideas about what a winning strategy was -- a theory -- that when put into practice failed to realize the goals of that strategy at least in part because of the personnel Kelly had. And after he became GM, he assumed responsibility for that, too, and thus a certain measure of culpability when the players he’d chosen failed to execute the plans he’d made for them.

The poker equivalent would seem to be a player having certain ideas about, say, position and stack sizes, yet not appreciating the importance of the cards, too. That is to say, a player who didn’t necessarily agree with the idea that you should “play the cards you’re dealt,” choosing instead to play the same way regardless of his hand. Which can work sometimes, but sometimes does not.

As GM Kelly could to a certain extent choose the “cards” he could then play, but only according to the limitations of current player availability and salary considerations. It does seem clear, though, that he sometimes found himself playing his “cards” in unusual ways, a consequence of his “system” or method of playing that didn’t necessarily appreciate the limitations of his “hand.”

Whatever the case, the Eagles finally decided they had one Chip too many.

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Blogger Memphis MOJO said...

I didn't read (yet) the article you linked to, but when Kelly demanded personnel control, then made some of the most god-awful decisions that he made, well, it's not surprising that he was canned.

12/31/2015 9:35 PM  

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