49ers hire Chip Kelly as new head coach

Published 11:18 am Saturday, January 16, 2016

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Chip Kelly is the offensive-minded, experienced head coach the San Francisco 49ers have long sought, and now he needs to win — right away.

The 49ers hired the former Eagles coach on Thursday, finding the leader CEO Jed York is counting on to turn things around for his once-proud franchise.

Kelly faces the daunting challenge of transforming the Niners into an immediate contender again.

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“We are thrilled to announce Chip Kelly as the new head coach of the San Francisco 49ers,” York said in a statement.

“Chip has a proven track record at both the college and NFL levels that speaks for itself. We believe strongly that he is the right man to get this team back to competing for championships. I look forward to watching Trent (Baalke) and Chip work closely to build a team that will make us all proud.”

Kelly, who had personnel control with the Eagles and frustrated some of his players, won’t be introduced in a news conference until next week at Levi’s Stadium based on scheduling conflicts and Kelly working to immediately build his staff.

“As one of the most historic franchises in the National Football League, I realize the high standards and expectations that this position demands and I embrace the challenges ahead,” Kelly said in a statement.

“My immediate focus is to build the best coaching staff possible, one that will maximize the abilities of each of our players and put us in the best position to win football games.”

Kelly replaces fired coach Jim Tomsula, promoted from his defensive line duties last January to succeed Jim Harbaugh before going 5-11 — a move Baalke has said earlier this month wound up to be the wrong one, in hindsight.

With his 26 years of coaching experience, Kelly emerged as the favorite among several candidates, including former Raiders, Broncos and Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, ex-Giants coach Tom Coughlin and former Raiders coach Hue Jackson, who was hired Wednesday to coach the Cleveland Browns.

The 52-year-old Kelly was fired by Philadelphia after Week 16 with one game left in his third season as coach. The former University of Oregon coach was 6-9 in 2015 following two 10-6 seasons, prompting Eagles CEO Jeffrey Lurie to make a change.

The 49ers jumped right into the mix last week to talk to him.

“Chip possesses all the qualities we were looking for in our next head coach,” Baalke said. “He has demonstrated the ability to be innovative everywhere he has coached and has had great success throughout his career.

“Chip’s passion for the game and vision for the future of this team clearly stood out to us during the search process. He is an extremely driven individual that I look forward to working with.”

Kelly becomes just the second coach the franchise has ever hired with previous regular NFL head coaching experience along with Dennis Erickson ahead of the 2003 season — excluding Tomsula’s single game as interim coach to end the 2010 season after Mike Singletary was fired.

Hiring the offensive-minded Kelly could give the 49ers a reason to keep quarterback Colin Kaepernick to work his way back into the dominant, dynamic quarterback he was a few years back with his legs and strong arm.

There has been thought that Kaepernick could be the kind of mobile quarterback Kelly likes running his fast-paced offense and a good fit.

“Guess I might have to start running right now to get in shape,” wide receiver Torrey Smith posted on Twitter shortly after the announcement.

San Francisco has missed the playoffs the past two seasons, going 8-8 in 2014 in now-Michigan coach Harbaugh’s final season before what the team called a “mutual decision” to part ways with one year remaining on his contract.

The 49ers reached three straight NFC championship games and a Super Bowl under Harbaugh, losing by three points to his older brother, John, and the Baltimore Ravens in the championship after the 2012 season to miss the franchise’s sixth Lombardi Trophy.

On Jan. 4, a day after firing Tomsula shortly after the season-finale overtime win against St. Louis, York vowed to bring the 49ers back to prominence.

“Even looking over the last few seasons, I think it’s important to learn and to grow from your mistakes. I think I understand what the fans want,” he said.

“They want a team that they can be proud of on Sundays. They want a championship team. I want that too and I’m fighting for that. You can trust me that we are going to do everything that we can to get this team back where it belongs.”

Deciding on the quarterback will be a major decision for Kelly in the coming months.

Former first-round pick Blaine Gabbert took over in November for the benched Kaepernick, who has since undergone shoulder and thumb surgeries.

Kaepernick’s $11.9 million salary for 2016 becomes fully guaranteed for injury come April 1, and there had been belief the team might try to trade him or release him.

After Kelly was fired by Philadelphia, former Eagles linebacker Emmanuel Acho tweeted, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Baalke interviewed Coughlin on Monday on the East Coast and Jackson on Sunday in Cincinnati. Buccaneers offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter also interviewed, last Thursday in Tampa, Florida.

The coaching staff under Tomsula hadn’t been dismissed, though York said the new coach would make those decisions upon his hiring.