Good friends Chip Kelly and Bill Belichick go way back

Chip Kelly says the media and the public don't get to see the real Bill Belichick, and "just really how gracious and nice he is." AP Photo/Matt Rourke

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- When the Philadelphia Eagles fired coach Chip Kelly with one game left in the 2015 season, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick quickly came to Kelly's defense.

Belichick called the firing "really disappointing" and said that Kelly would "end up somewhere and will do a great job there."

Asked about Belichick's public support on Wednesday, Kelly said he appreciated it. "It obviously means a lot," Kelly said. "He’s a very good friend and I appreciate the support he’s given me in my career.”

Of course, Kelly and Belichick's friendship has been well covered over the years, particularly in the run up to some of their past meetings and with the Eagles and Patriots regularly sharing joint practices. Now, Kelly and his San Francisco 49ers will welcome Belichick and the Patriots to Levi's Stadium on Sunday with the Niners on an eight-game losing streak and the Patriots sitting at 7-2.

On Wednesday, Belichick and Kelly discussed their relationship in brief spurts with Belichick noting that the two coaches "go back a ways." Belichick said he couldn't pinpoint the exact moment he became aware of Kelly or some of the things Kelly was doing offensively, but he did know that he first started meeting with Kelly when he was an assistant at New Hampshire.

Kelly would pay fairly regular visits to Foxborough then, a process that continued when he was an assistant and then head coach at Oregon. Those meetings would mostly consist of an exchange of ideas on all things football.

"We had a good opportunity to exchange some ideas, thoughts about a lot of things," Belichick said. "I think Chip has got a lot of great ideas. I think his overall organization of whether it's an offensive system, practice schedule, training, so forth, we talked about a lot of those things and I've learned a lot from him."

Belichick declined to offer details on some of the things he's learned from Kelly over the years but did acknowledge that the Patriots have used some of them in their organization.

"He had some great ideas that we've incorporated into things that we're doing on a number of different levels," Belichick said. "Some are X's and O's but I would say less that and more other things involved in the program."

For Kelly, the opportunity to spend time around one of the most successful coaches in American sports history was one he couldn't pass up.

Kelly said the Belichick he knows isn't necessarily the same one that the media and the public get to see.

“Just when you get a chance to watch arguably one of the best coaches in the history of the game coach on a daily basis, how organized he is, how detailed he is, how in tune he is to putting his players in position to make plays and just really how gracious and nice he is," Kelly said. "I don’t know if the media always sees that side of him, but extremely outgoing, smart, personable.”

Like Belichick, Kelly didn't offer much detail on what they've discussed through the years but he did offer a few tidbits on things that he's gleaned from their time together. Kelly said he has observed practices and taken some of the drills and how the Patriots do them and added many of them to his plans.

“I’ve observed how they practice and what they do," Kelly said. "There’s a lot of drills that they do and how they do things. It’s one of the things, I spent two years when we were in Philly we would practice against them. So, we spent three days with them and a lot of things we do organizationally from a practice standpoint I got from coach.”

When their teams meet this week, it will be only the second time Kelly and Belichick have been on opposite sidelines since Kelly came to the NFL in 2013. The other meeting came last year, as Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles pulled off a surprising 35-28 victory at New England in Week 13.

Over the years, the relationship has only grown, and Belichick and Kelly still get together at NFL events like the scouting combine. Their football conversations can focus on the smallest of details, but those are the things that can make a difference in an NFL game.

“You’re always just trying to find an advantage because everything is so close," Kelly said. "So, how can you maximize what you have for your players and how can you try to gain a yard here or a play here or an advantage in certain situations?"