Innovative Kelly is roll of dice
New Eagles coach moves needle, but will college system get lost in translation?
Here's what you're walking into, Chip Kelly. On Tuesday, a Philadelphia television station had a helicopter follow the car that carried Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley from the airport to Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie's house.
You just became the most high-profile person in a city that has two 24-hour sports talk radio stations, one 24-hour all-sports television station, and dozens of reporters who compete daily for every scrap of a scoop about your team, your players, your schemes and your life. You are now the CEO of a franchise that has won zero Lombardi trophies and has a fiery, demanding fan base that is understandably impatient. And you replace the most successful head coach in franchise history, who was fired basically for not winning a Super Bowl.
You must succeed in an environment in which you've never worked, not as a player, an assistant, a coordinator or a ball boy. You must become a leader of men, not a recruiter and coach of kids, and you must adjust quickly. When players in the National Football League sniff a fraud, they turn on him immediately. Lurie probably gave you a fat, lengthy contract, but the players won't be so accommodating.
In short, you must fix the Eagles' roster, the turnover-prone offense, the porous defense, the quarterback -- whoever he might be -- and the heads of those players who will remain. They have been the biggest jokes in the NFL for two straight seasons, and they have remained convinced that their talent and skills were way better than the record showed.
The Eagles' traveling triumvirate of Lurie, general manager Howie Roseman and president Don Smolenski was undoubtedly overjoyed that Kelly did an about-face and agreed to leave Oregon to coach the Eagles. Kelly was the guy they wanted. He was the target from the jump. He is a sexy hire who created a stir not only in the NFL but across the sporting landscape. The Eagles' hiring Kelly deemed Lance Armstrong yesterday's news.
Kelly isn't Rob Chudzinski or Doug Marrone or Marc Trestman. Kelly moves the needle.
But Kelly is a risk. He has zero NFL coaching experience. He has been an innovator in college, an offensive guru on whom even the wizard Bill Belichick relies for inspiration, but he has run a system that, while hot right now in the NFL, defensive coaches will adjust to this offseason. The pistol and the read option are fads that won't last because the quarterbacks are put at too much risk.
"Just because it's been a year and a half doesn't mean it's going to become the wave of the NFL," one NFL head coach told me recently. "I don't think that's going to happen. It's about those guys that can swing that ball down the field, really about spacing and throwing the ball. It travels a lot faster in the air 40 yards than it does on feet."
Kelly's Oregon teams have played at breakneck speed and befuddled even one of the best defensive minds in the game, Monte Kiffin, but the Ducks never won a national championship. They went 2-2 in bowl games. They couldn't beat Stanford this season.
And let's face it: College coaches who jump to the NFL rarely cut it. The past is littered with flameouts -- Steve Spurrier, Bobby Petrino and Nick Saban, to name a few.
A college coach in a pro town with an extremely knowledgeable and demanding fan base bathed in history? Lurie and Roseman better be right.
Because if this doesn't work -- and I'm not saying it won't, but there is reason to doubt it will -- it will prove once and for all that the Eagles are no gold standard, as Lurie once famously said. And it will be obvious that neither Lurie nor Roseman knows what he's doing and that the franchise's run of five NFC title games was due to either former head coach Andy Reid, former defensive coordinator Jim Johnson or former president Joe Banner, or all three.
If this doesn't work, Lurie will be forced to start over. He has thrown all his support behind Roseman, because he really didn't have another choice. Banner is gone, off rebuilding the Cleveland Browns in ways that seem eerily similar to how he built Lurie's Eagles. Reid is gone, off rebuilding the Kansas City Chiefs in ways that seem eerily similar to how he built Lurie's Eagles.
Roseman was the only holdover from the Eagles' past success. He was the only one Lurie had left. Lurie has absolved Roseman of the 2010 and 2011 drafts that produced one bust after another, saying Roseman was the best talent evaluator inside the Eagles' practice facility and intimating that either Banner or Reid was to blame for past draft mistakes.
But Lurie won't be able to absolve Roseman if Kelly falls flat. He will have to start over -- again. This hire is all on Roseman. Lurie likes to say he isn't "risk averse," and this is a risk.
If Kelly adjusts, if he finds a quarterback, if he is the innovative, creative coach of a super-fast offense that wins Philadelphia its first Lombardi trophy, he will go down as the greatest sports figure ever in a town that has had its share. If he doesn't, the fans will run him and the general manager out of town and hope the owner will follow.
This is the environment into which you step, Chip Kelly. Time's yours.