By Joe Darrah
The NFL’s “Black Monday” is now a few days in our rearview and the only thing certain as the Philadelphia Eagles continue their abruptly needed search for a new head coach is that we’ll never really know if Chip Kelly, and his system, and his culture, and his personality, and his philosophies, could have been productive here long-term. And, as it turns out, the only person more shortsighted on his assessment of Kelly than those among the Philadelphia fanbase who had been clamoring for him to be let go is in fact the team’s owner. Even more concerning about Jeffrey Lurie’s firing of Kelly, in what ultimately will render the use of the word “era” in Philly as it relates to the always in-one-way-or-the-other hyped coach irrelevant, is that he hypocritically let Chip loose for many of the same type of behaviors he practiced in his own dealings with front-office personnel. Of course, as the owner Lurie is free to do as he pleases. It doesn’t mean that how he’s conducted himself has been smart. It absolutely appears it was more of an emotional decision more so than a business decision. At any rate, it was unfair.
How could it not be? It was not even a year ago that Lurie talked publicly and adamantly about the challenges that existed for this franchise in trying to get from “good” to “great” and the commitment that he had to, not to mention the belief that he professed to have in, Chip Kelly to get the team there. Too bad that he didn’t have enough guts to see that through. (And when I say that, I don’t necessarily mean Lurie had to honor the full life of the originally signed contract. I do mean at least beyond Week 16 of the one and only unsuccessful year the coach had over three seasons. More aptly, I mean beyond the one season in which he had authority over all player personnel.)
Despite the critics being steadfast in voicing their opinions/concerns that Kelly’s style was never a good fit because most of his success (which includes managing the franchise’s two highest scoring offenses of all time in 2014 and 2013, respectively) came with more players inherited than he recruited, the truth of the matter is that what we are really left with is a bunch of unknowns.
For instance, we’ll never really know if Kelly would have made as many sweeping changes during the last offseason had he believed their was any chance he would be given his outright release had his moves not resulted in a playoff appearance in 2015. Who knows? Nobody can say for sure.
That said, it’s not as if the campaign was quite the rabid disaster that many have haphazardly tried to make it out to be. At least, not from an offensive standpoint—even when considering that the NFL is currently a “passing league.” The unit (with 377 points scored on the year), ranks 13th in points in franchise history. Not saying that’s anything to particularly boast about, but it’s not the dumpster fire some made it out to be and, to put things into further perspective, it represents more output scoring than six Eagle offenses under former head coach Andy Reid. The Eagles offense in 2015 also topped the likes of Green Bay, Minnesota, Denver and Houston (all playoff teams) and Jacksonville, Detroit, Indianapolis, Chicago, St. Louis and San Diego (all teams that did not make the playoffs and did not fire their head coaches despite rumors surrounding each). Though the 2015 Eagles defense did allow the second most points ever in team history, certainly not a feather in Chip’s cap and a problem that impacted the offense’s statistical performance as well.
Still, even when acknowledging that the NFC East was not what anyone could call an impressive division in the NFL (there are so few of them actually left, by the way), Kelly and his team’s performance wasn’t nearly as “disastrous,” to use a word commonly heard in this town this year, than as many as at least 11 teams in the league — some of which haven’t given up on their longer-tenured, non-Super Bowl-winning coaches. Some of which (ok, one) gave out extensions to coaching staff members! And, yes, while this team (you know which one) did have one more win than the Eagles and go more weeks without its starting (and all-world) quarterback (you know who he is) it also had legitimate championship aspirations and expectations that came no where close to being realized.
Unfortunately for Kelly, that’s what this all really comes down to. Well, that and his supposed request to have Mr. Kris Kringle Lurie’s holiday (Can I say Christmas here?) party scheduled for a less practice-intensive Friday as opposed to that week’s busy Monday. That’s because, more than with anything else in life it seems, timing and expectations — no matter how unrealistic at the time they may be — can mean everything when it comes to professional sports. Too bad for Kelly that as we begin 2016 he’s not a basketball, baseball or hockey “guy.” Had he been, he would have landed in Philadelphia at the most opportune of times when there’s seemingly no expiration date put in place for the rebuilding of those programs.
Instead, Kelly had the unfortunate burden of, having consumed his life with the game of football, made his way to a franchise that hasn’t won a championship in the now half-century-long Super Bowl era and had further bared the weight of trying to win in a town unwilling to wait for anything more than an immediate path to an NFL title. Making the playoffs as a rookie head coach with what was very easily arguably the NFC’s worst team a year prior, while losing in the postseason only due to a last-second field goal when leading the game? Inconsequential. Managing 10 more wins the following season with a first-place schedule despite losing his starting quarterback for the second half of the season (with a 6-2 record at the time)? No matter. Not when the Sixers, Phillies and Flyers have been busy sucking what would evidently become all the sports-related goodwill out of everyone with their promises to take their time building for a future that may eventually come. And not when you have an owner who’s too afraid to stand by his own risk-taking actions.
No, for Kelly it was always seemed to be “win now, or else”— except of course for that vote of confidence he got from his boss, not to mention Lurie’s own radical reshuffling of the front office — despite his having taken over a team that was not only significantly flawed but had previously quit on the organization’s winningest coach in Reid.
And for two seasons, win he did – at a clip (20-12) that eclipsed the likes Reid (16-16; though Reid’s years two and three were strides ahead of his first-year win total of five) and mimicked Reid’s predecessor Ray Rhodes, the only other head coach to be hired by Lurie who oddly enough only won six games in his third season (with a tie) and was given a fourth season on the job despite the regression from 10 wins the two prior years. That performance also betters the likes of Bill Belichick (can’t stand the sight of him), who won a combined 13 games during his first two years in the league with the Cleveland Browns and even that rat-bastard’s mentor Bill Parcells (12-19-1), both of whom are considered innovators much like Kelly was coming out of the collegiate ranks. Commonly regarded as innovators themselves, Belichick and Parcells, like Kelly, were quick to make drastic, controversial moves with popular players after joining their teams. Parcells benched quarterback Phil Simms leading into his first season in charge, a 3-12-1 nightmare. Bernie Kosar, one of the most popular players to this day ever in Cleveland would go on to be outright released by the team’s former dirt-bag owner after a long spat with Belichick.
Even when taking into account Chip’s one-game-short third season, which moved his win/loss mark to 26-21, his win total still surpasses Belichick’s 20-28 mark through three years as well as Parcells’ mark of 22-25-1, although Parcells did make the playoffs in his third season with a 10-6 record. (Timing really can be everything when it comes to playoff-making math).
Now, because of Lurie’s rare display of unloyalty and panic, he and this organization have to get lucky with their next coach. Even more lucky than they did with Kelly, who, everything else aside, at the very least came in and capably performed not only as a rookie coach in the league but in an always tough environment of following a program’s winningest coach.
Yes, he made mistakes along the way, some of them glaring. So has each and every successful and unsuccessful coach that’s ever been hired in this league – regardless of where they had previously came from, be it an NFL pedigree, college, high school or clown college.
But even with his faults — in particular his willingness to allow the offensive line to suffer an immense lack of talent due (at least in part) to personality conflicts and his stubbornness to realize that his risky one-year quarterback proposition had little chance of success not only behind said O-line but due to a wide receiver corps composed of a couple ham-and-eggers and a few hopeful prospects — he at least deserved the chance to dig out of the hole. A hole that is only as deep as two games worse than the team that won the division this year.
What is clear is this: Kelly won’t go down as the worst coach in this team’s history, much to the chagrin of the quick-to-jump-to-the-keyboard-pundits of this social media rush-to-get-my-opinions-known time that we live in. He’s not even the worst coach out of the last four who’ve held the position in Philadelphia. (Here’s looking at you, Richie the K.) Heck, he’s not even the worst coach in the NFL this season or the downtrodden division in which he played for the lead in just two weeks ago.
If Lurie gets lucky with a lower-risk, more-experienced guy to sit at the helm — and his luck is running out with the Saints keeping Sean Payton (Perhaps Lovie Smith is a play?) — a lot of this may be moot. However, if he takes a higher risk (say, Josh McDaniels, who too made some sketchy player decisions and had personality conflicts during his first head coaching go-round in Denver) and things do not revert quickly back to success will he find himself in a position to have to retain someone if for no other reason than you can’t have a coaching carousel that starts spinning again after one or even two years at this point. At the time of this writing, the organization is reportedly planning a second interview with Chicago offensive coordinator Adam Gase.
That’s the spot he’s put himself and this team in. But now that Howie Roseman is done polishing off all those Lombardi Trophies he had stashed away and has more free time to help replace the guy he helped seek out and hire, the culture should be cool.