It started as a passing comment and blossomed into a franchise slogan.
“Culture will beat scheme every day,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly remarked to practice-squad safety Jordan Kovacs on the sideline prior to the Eagles’ 27-0 whipping of the Giants at the Linc last October.
One day later, the coach’s one-liner went viral and provoked a spectrum of responses. Still, the coach repeated his stance.
“I think culture is more important than scheme,” he said. “Pretty straightforward, black and white.”
Months later, Kelly has single-handedly reshaped the Eagles' roster and accelerated the transformation of his locker room.
"Culture beats scheme" has become an unintended motto for the Eagles, who on Sunday begin their third training camp under Kelly but first since Kelly became the top decision-maker after winning a January power struggle against former general manager Howie Roseman.
In a June sitdown with reporters, Kelly chuckled at how an innocuous comment mushroomed into a national storyline.
“That was a conversation with Jordan Kovacs at the end of the Carolina game,” Kelly said, an inaccurate recall of time and opponent that illustrates the difference in how Kelly perceives his philosophy compared to the public.
“All of sudden everybody wants to make that a banner that flies over this building. That was a [conversation] I had with a player that was telling me how he really enjoyed being here.”
Despite Kelly’s downplay, it’s hard to ignore the difference in the current locker room makeup compared to his first day on the job in 2013, when he replaced Andy Reid and immediately integrated his unique sports science program.
Pro Bowl talents DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Evan Mathis — to name a few — are gone, for one reason or another.
The roster is now rife with college graduates, former Oregon standouts and plenty of Kelly acolytes who echo the head coach’s leadership novel-borrowed refrains about “being where your feet are,” having a “growth mindset instead of fixed mindset” and “winning the day.”
“I think we all understand and agree with Chip, that the team is more important than anybody,” outside linebacker Connor Barwin said. “Whatever Chip decides … the team is bigger and that’s what you stick to.”
Kelly’s proponents liken him to Bill Walsh and Jimmy Johnson, legendary former coaches who won multiple Super Bowls and were considered visionaries by their competitors.
Kelly’s critics have knocked him for prioritizing culture as a substitute for talent and chided his players for touting the company line.
“Other teams aren’t gonna understand what we’re doing here,” third-year tight end Zach Ertz said before the Eagles broke camp in June. “It’s not that Chip is forcing us or anyone is forcing us. We want to be here and that’s the precedent we’ve set.”
To the outside, the roster changeover reflects Kelly’s maverick reputation. To Kelly, he’s no different than any other successful coach who’s building — or already built — a winning program.
“You do what you know and that’s what we do,” he said. “Urban Meyer changed the culture at Ohio State, Pete Carroll changed the culture in Seattle. If you listen to the San Antonio Spurs, [Gregg] Popovich has a culture. Now, Steve Kerr has a culture.
“I don’t know why people think it’s catchy around here, but I think it happens no matter what you’re doing, no matter where you are.”