Former San Francisco 49ers coach Chip Kelly has again defended Colin Kaepernick, saying the polarizing quarterback was “awesome” to work with and “never was a distraction.”
Kaepernick has yet to sign with an NFL team following a season in which he drew national headlines and caused controversy by kneeling during the national anthem as a way to draw attention to racial injustice.
“At the beginning of the year, (Kaepernick) made a stance in terms of what he believes is right,” Kelly, now an ESPN college football analyst, said on a network podcast.
“And we recognized and supported his ability to do that, but he never brought that into the locker room. We had a meeting the day after the Green Bay game, that he (kneeled) in the preseason, and he explained to all the players his thought process and mindset for what he was doing. And there were some players who agreed with him and there were some players who didn’t agree with him.”
Kelly, who was fired after going 2-14 in his lone season with the Niners, said the idea that Kaepernick was a distraction last year is hearsay.
“We heard from the outside about what a distraction it is,” said Kelly, who also defended the quarterback last year when both were still with the 49ers. “Except those people aren't in our locker room and it never was a distraction. And Kaep never brought that and never turned it into a circus ... came to work every day, extremely diligent in terms of his preparation, in terms of his work ethic in the weight room, in terms of his work ethic in the meeting room, and I really enjoyed Kaep.
"I've talked to Kaep three or four times since we both left San Francisco. I know he's working out really hard in New York right now and I think he's a really good person and a really good player and I really enjoyed coaching him. … I think people that aren’t in there, when you just talk about … when you’re not there, it’s easy to speculate on what it’s like, but he is zero distraction.”
Kelly believes Kaepernick, who threw 16 TD passes in 2016 against four interceptions and had a passer rating of 90.7, deserves to be on an NFL team somewhere.
“He really wants to win and he’s highly competitive,” Kelly said. “He’s got a real good physical skill set to play the (quarterback) position and has played it at a really high level. I also don’t think he played it at his top level last year because he was coming off of three surgeries.
"So I think Kaep this year will be better than Kaep last year. He’s proven like he did in 2013, he was a play away from winning the Super Bowl. … I think that experience, his physical skill set, his mindset, I would tell anybody that (he is) zero distractions (and) a really talented player who can help you win.”