Patrick Causey, on Twitter @pcausey3
I’m writing this post in-between chasing two sick toddlers around, so it won’t be the most coherent article I’ve written. But I wanted to get some thoughts down on the Chip Kelly move and what it means for the Eagles franchise moving forward.
Kelly the GM Played a Huge Role in This
I was against vesting this much power in Chip Kelly from the start (read here), because giving a head coach this much control rarely works out, especially when that coach is an NFL neophyte. As I wrote back in January, for every Bill Belichick, there are 10+ coaches that could not handle the joint responsibility of building the team and coaching it.
My concern became exasperated when Kelly’s personnel moves started rivaling those made by the Daniel Snyder led Washington Redskins of the early and mid 2000s. Paying DeMarco Murray and Byron Maxwell like top five players in their respective positions were mistakes before the ink dried on their contracts. Murray was an aging running back (yes, 27 is old for a RB) coming off a historic usage rate. Maxwell was a good number two option at cornerback whose physical limitations were masked by playing along side three All Pros in the secondary. Expecting them to validate their contracts was a fool’s errand. Not resigning Jeremy Maclin, trading LeSean McCoy for Kiko Alonso, and signing Miles Austin, all hastened Kelly’s departure from the Birds.
The moves that he did not make to shore up the interior of the offensive line — for nearly three damn seasons — proved to be especially problematic. For an offense predicated on establishing the inside zone run, relying on two career backup guards seemed like managerial malpractice.
But perhaps Kelly’s biggest mistake was his misallocation of resources. To Kelly’s credit, he used some of the limited resources at his disposal to address holes on the team: quarterback and the secondary, primarily. But Kelly created new holes at wide receiver and running back and filled them with substandard parts. By focusing on areas of strength, it robbed him of the opportunity to shore up the offensive line. The net effect of this misguided approach was a team going from 20-12 to 6-10 or 7-9, and was a chief reason for Kelly no longer being in charge of the Eagles.
But Kelly the Coach and Person also Played a Part in His Demise
Tommy Lawlor was prophetic this morning when he discussed how Kelly failed to build sustainable relationships inside the NovaCare complex, a critical but often overlooked aspect of coaching. That view was confirmed by Jeffrey Lurie, who took a thinly veiled shot at Kelly for failing on the interpersonal relationship front, not only with his team, but also the city:
In a sad twist of irony, the coach that obsessed over building and maintaining a positive culture failed to grasp his central role in fostering it.
And of course, Kelly failed on the X’s and O’s at times as well. He never got away from his constant pace on offense, which led to too many mental errors and wore down his defense. And in his effort to simplify the offense for Bradford — who was still recovering from knee surgery and learning the Eagles system — he became too predictable. Gone were the days Kelly’s phrenetic pace was married with packaged plays to create an offense that seemed destined for greatness. As Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com (formerly Grantland.com) described following Kelly’s debut win over the Washington Redskins three year’s ago:
“Those packaged plays represent the newest form of option football. The Eagles aren’t just running the read-option like Washington did a year ago. They’re running the read-option, plus a bubble screen on the outside, plus a stick route up the seam, and they’re doing it all on the same play. Naysayers and read-option doom-mongerers miss the point; even if there was some simple way to defeat the read-option (and there’s not), all you would accomplish in doing that would be to open up advantageous situations for the receivers on the outside of the field. You can try and try and try to stop everything in these situations, but you’re going to find it awfully difficult to stop three plays at once if you don’t know what’s coming.”
The over simplification of his offense, coupled with his player personnel mistakes, had a ripple down effect on the entire offense. Unable to establish the inside zone run — the one area DeMarco Murray was supposed to excel — the Eagles became far too lateral in their rushing attack. And the passing concepts became boiled down to the simplest terms, with Kelly abandoning packaged plays in order to make things easier on Bradford. The scaled down attack created easy pickings for defensive coordinators, and Kelly did not have enough talent to adjust thanks to his personnel blunders .
Had Kelly adjusted in time — slowed the hell down, expanded the playbook, adjusted his play calling and formations — it might have changed the outcome of the Eagles season. He didn’t. At least not fast enough for his players or Lurie. So here we are.
With that said, I would not have fired Kelly
It is hard to say with any degree of certainty that Lurie made a mistake firing Chip Kelly because it is impossible to know what truly was going on inside the NovaCare Complex. Yes, stories are trickling out that Kelly was a benevolent dictator. But these stories should be taken with a giant grain of salt, because they provide executives and players a convenient excuse for not holding up their end of the bargain. So without that firsthand account, we are left to draw imperfect conclusions based on imperfect information.
But that said, this just feels like the wrong decision. Yes, Kelly had an ego the size of Texas and was difficult to deal with. But name me one NFL coach who isn’t.
Tom Coughlin was nicknamed “Tyrannical Tom” because he was controlling, hypercritical and had arbitrary requirements like making players wear suits on game day, keep short haircuts, and arrive five minutes early to meetings.
Bill Belichick had alienated the veteran players, the hyper-loyal fans, and the media in Cleveland because of his smugness and inability to connect. Upon firing Belichick, Art Modell said he might have stayed in Cleveland if he had never hired Bellichick: “I was sold a bill of goods on Belichick. To Bill, everything was like the Normandy invasion. I couldn’t talk to him during practice because he was coaching. I really believe that much of the disdain and abuse I received was because of the feelings the media and the public had for Bill. Every day I thought it would change, that he would be more pleasant to people. He never did and it hurt all of us terribly.”
Josh McDaniels, the Patriots offensive coordinator being linked to the Eagles by some, had an oversized ego that made Chip Kelly look like Mother Theresa. Consider this story from former Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist:
“Shortly after Josh McDaniels moved into his office at Dove Valley, he called in Cutler and his agent, Bus Cook, for a closed-door meeting. The story goes that McDaniels began with a 20-minute dissertation of his resume, how he’d worked his way up the ranks in New England to become Bill Belichick‘s right-hand man with the offense and how the team would have been nowhere the year before without his tutelage of backup Matt Cassel. He continued on with justification of his hiring by Bowlen.
After the perplexing recitation of accomplishments, McDaniels suddenly shifted gears.
He began to bash and berate Cutler and his game to the tune of a verbal flogging neither had ever witnessed. The expletive-laden diatribe went on for a few minutes, after which Cook stood up and told Cutler they were leaving. As they walked down the long hallway past Bowlen’s office, Cutler turned to Bus and said, “Get me out of here. I don’t care how you do it.”
Boiled down, every coach has flaws. The most successful ones are able to overcome their flaws and succeed despite them. And once the coach starts winning, the ego — which was so problematic during dire times — becomes much more bearable.
While Kelly did not adjust quickly enough this year, I thought he deserved at least one season to prove that he was capable of adjusting. Because make no mistake, Chip Kelly was a good coach. Winning 20 games in your first two years is not an easy thing to do, especially when you do not have a franchise caliber quarterback.
And while this season was undoubtedly a disappointment, Kelly’s record in his first three seasons compared favorably to NFL coaching greats:
- Chip Kelly: 26-21
- Sean Payton: 25-23
- Bill Belichick: 20-28
- Chuck Noll: 12-30
- Pete Carroll: 25-23
Obviously, winning 26 games in his first three years does not mean that Kelly will turn out better than these coaches. But finding a head coach capable of enjoying the level of success that Kelly achieved is no small order. And the Eagles kicked him to the curb without affording him the opportunity to learn from his mistakes.
Firing Chip Kelly wasn’t the only option available. While it might not have been accepted, or even preferred, Lurie could have offered Kelly the opportunity to stay on as head coach without the personnel control. Or, he could have brought in a senior advisor much like the Sixers did with Jerry Colangelo. He could have at least tried these things before pulling the trigger. But Lurie acknowledged that he did neither of those things, and only time will tell if he was right.
From my perspective, it seems that Lurie’s desperation to win a Super Bowl and refusal to part ways with Roseman is leading to rash decisions. And firing Chip Kelly three years in is chief among them.
Lurie should have fired Roseman
Speaking of which, if Lurie was intent on cleaning house, he should have fired Howie Roseman as well. Instead, he is putting Roseman back in charge of the personnel department, albeit under a loosely defined structure that requires more collaboration.
Looking back over Roseman’s track record as GM yields a mix bag of results. He had a role — albeit an undefined one — in the disastrous 2010 and 2011 drafts. But he also played a large part in the 2012 and 2013 drafts, which were resounding successes by most measures. And as a friend of the blog @sunset_shazz stated yesterday:
But my issue with Roseman is not so much his track record in selecting and acquiring players. Limiting your focus only on that half of the equation ignores the critical role that fostering a stable and healthy environment in the front office plays in the success of an NFL franchise. In other words, it would be like judging Kelly solely on his wins and loses and not his ability to connect with his players.
Both elements are important, and it is becoming harder to ignore that Roseman utterly fails in the latter regard. As Mark Eckel of NJ.com reported, Kelly played a key roll in Kelly’s firing: “According to several league sources, the firings have Roseman’s fingerprints all over it…“I can’t believe it,” a long-time executive for an Eagles rival said when told of Kelly’s firing. “They did what? Are you serious? No, you’re kidding right? You can’t be serious.” When he finally realized it wasn’t a joke, he put the onus on the former and probably future general manager. “Howie got him,” the executive said. “He won. It took him some time, but he got to the owner, and he won. That’s just amazing. What is Lurie thinking? That place is just out of control.”
Kelly and Marynowitz join a long list of executives and coaches shown the door after clashing with Roseman: Reid, Banner, Louis Riddick, Tom Gamble, to name a few. According to a report from CSNPhilly’s Reuben Frank, this is because Lurie sees Roseman as “a messiah” who “can do no wrong.” Add to it the comments from Louis Riddick, who lambasted Roseman for creating a “toxic environment” inside the NovaCare Complex, and it is easy to see why the Eagles have had such a hard time sustaining any modicum of consistency since Roseman has ascended to power.
Suffice it to say, unless and until Roseman is removed from there, permanently, we should expect more of the same turmoil with the Eagles.
Finding a New Coach Won’t be easy
I talked about this on Twitter earlier this morning, but the Eagles are a less than attractive option right now for top head coaching candidates. Consider the following:
- The quarterback position is a mess;
- The aforementioned Howie Roseman front-office drama;
- They lack a second round pick;
- Their cap situation is less than ideal, with significant money owed to Byron Maxwell and DeMarco Murray next year; and
- They will likely be competing with the following openings, all of whom have good quarterbacks in place: Titans (Mariota), Colts (Luck), Chargers (Rivers), Giants (Manning).
Add all of this up, and I will not be shocked if the Eagles are left standing at the alter by their preferred coaching candidate. Right now, the Eagles just aren’t an attractive destination, and that fact is made worse by the other, likely more desirable jobs that are available.
Do not expect Bradford back
A final thought: if Kelly was staying with the Eagles, I thought there was an 85% chance that Sam Bradford would be back next season as well. Kelly invested heavily to acquire Bradford, and spoke glowingly of his quarterback’s progress over the last few weeks.
But now? The waters are completely muddy on this issue.
Like Kelly, the new coach might be enamored with Bradford’s skill set. He might look around the league, see a dearth of quality options in free agency and the draft, and decide to re-sign Bradford until he can draft his guy.
But new coaches in the NFL are notorious for bringing in “their guys” (no, Kelly wasn’t the only coach who abided by this philosophy), and that usually starts at the quarterback position. And with the Eagles teetering close to a top 10 pick, I think there is a good chance that we see Bradford plying his trade somewhere else (Houston? Cleveland? San Francisco?), and the Eagles turning to the draft to solidify the quarterback position.
And while I still need more time to go through the tape of quarterback prospects, one name to keep an eye on is California’s Jared Goff. He has struggled at times this season with his consistency, but he is also capable of turning in eye-popping performances, like his 6 touchdown game in a win over the Air Force:
But I digress. We can talk quarterback later. For now, we are left wondering if Lurie made the right move. And what could have been if Kelly was given more of an opportunity to succeed.