Chip Kelly Is Stringer Bell: Why the 49ers Should Re-Watch “The Wire”

As the San Francisco 49ers recover from yet another dysfunctional season, I offer them a tip: Steal a friend’s HBO GO password.

It’s not just useful for finding out if Tyrion and the Khaleesi can reunite the Seven Kingdoms, or watching “Hard Knocks” so you can roll your eyes at JJ Watt. HBO GO also allows access to much of the network’s older programming, including “The Wire,” that show all your smug friends insist you should be watching when you try to talk about the new season of “The Walking Dead.”

Listen, 49ers, no smugness intended, but you really need to watch “The Wire.” Not just because it’s a superbly written and acted show about the decline of American cities, but because your new head coach, Chip Kelly, is Stringer Bell.

For those of you who haven’t seen “The Wire” (but seriously, though, you haven’t seen “The Wire”?), Stringer Bell (played by Idris Elba) is a cerebral dope pusher who attends business school night classes to further his standing in the drug trade. He’s a brilliant, Machiavellian power broker whose attempt to thwart the established system is ultimately undone by his own brilliance.

Former Eagles head coach Chip Kelly has been called a genius. This label was assigned with total sincerity in his successful debut season in the NFL, then with increasing doses of sarcasm as Philadelphia twice slipped out of playoff contention. And this came after Kelly seized control of personnel decisions, then purged LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, Evan Mathis, Brandon Boykin, and others from the roster.

Chip and Stringer met similar fates. Okay, Kelly might not have been murdered in cold blood in a downtown real-estate development (yet), but he did get fired with one game remaining in the 2015 season, which is the NFL equivalent of an assassination with extreme hostility. Both Chip and Stringer are too willing to eliminate essential staff members; if McCoy is still mad about being traded to Buffalo, he should see how Stringer cut Wallace and DeAngelo. They’re both probably better suited to college. Most importantly, they share a fatal flaw.

Stringer Bell believed the game (the drug-slangin’ game, that is) could be won by pure logic. He believed that he could create a system so efficient that his colleagues would be forced to adapt, and that the system he created could somehow elevate his enterprise above the petty struggles inherent to the business since its inception.

There’s a thin line between an idealist and an idealogue. The tipping point is the belief that practical failures are the result not of a flaw in strategy, but of that strategy’s imperfect execution. Kelly believes not that an NFL defense cannot effectively stay on the field for 40 minutes every Sunday, but that this particular defense cannot effectively stay on the field for 40 minutes every Sunday. Kelly appears to believe that somewhere out there exists the Platonic ideal of a 53-man roster that can execute his strategy to guaranteed success, a different notion entirely from the Belichickian principle of maximizing one’s available tools.

Stringer failed to heed the warnings of his friend and colleague, Avon Barksdale, who tried to explain that certain quirks and inconsistencies are inescapable. These X-factors are just part of the game, and no amount of foresight and planning can exempt anyone from the dirty work of dealing with them.

I’m not saying that Chip Kelly will necessarily be co-murdered by a gay vigilante and a gun-toting member of the Nation of Islam. But the 49ers, and Chip, better beware.

Omar comin’.


Bryan Miller is a writer and comedian who would rather not tell you which classic TV shows he still hasn’t seen. You should follow him on Twitter.