The Eagles fired Chip Kelly, an abrupt conclusion to a three-year relationship that began with imagination and ended with blown personnel calls. Here’s what went down, and what might be next. Plus reader email
The easy way to think—and the way I really want to think after the Eagles fired Chip Kelly Tuesday night—is this: No way you fire a potential great NFL head coach after three years.
And that's the way I still feel, as I file this column just after midnight Wednesday, with time to digest this stunning move. Kelly was potentially great, an innovator in a league of followers. Was he great now? Absolutely not. He blew two huge personnel calls this year, overpaying DeMarco Murray and paying a pedestrian cornerback, Byron Maxwell, $10.5 million a year on the theory that “we needed a corner and he was the best guy and this is what the market rate was.” No. Dumb. You don't pay BMW prices for a Camry. You wait until the market shakes out and you sign Brandon Flowers or Tramon Williams. But Kelly would have learned that, in time. Heck, he probably already knew it now.
Before we delve into the stunning firing of Kelly (and don't let the cognoscenti fool you; this was a stunning move to even those around the Eagles), let me tell you the three things about the story that I do know as Wednesday dawns:
1. Tennessee, with Marcus Mariota, was not in play for Kelly. I talked to someone with knowledge of the Titans’ thinking Tuesday night who said the team “absolutely” was not waiting for Kelly, and had not been actively discussing acquiring Kelly from the Eagles for a high draft choice. One reason: Marcus Mariota likes Kelly but is not dependent on him for NFL success. Now, that doesn't mean the Titans won't sniff around Kelly now that he is a free agent. But the Titans weren’t waiting for him to be free.
2. Owner Jeffrey Lurie wanted to reshape the front office, and Kelly didn't want to give up any personnel freedom. Lurie saw some of the wasted money and cap space and figured he had to do something about it. Kelly disagreed. That was the crux of the issue—Lurie wanted to change course with personnel, which makes sense, and Kelly did not.
3. Lurie wanted to do this now, so he could be in play for some of the top coordinators who will be coaching candidates. Interesting what the source with Tennessee knowledge said to me: “If Lurie fires Chip now, obviously it means he wasn't going to be able to get something going with the Titans.” Right. And that's a big deal. Everyone will ask today, “Why didn't the Eagles try to get something from Tennessee if they knew they were dumping Kelly?” And they could have gotten something minor for Kelly—but would it have been worth the sideshow? No. With the Titans not in play for Kelly, Lurie simply had to do what he felt was best for his team, which started with firing Kelly and starting over with a full cadre of candidates for the job from around the NFL.
In the few hours since the firing, we've heard all about Kelly's issues. The building didn't like him. The players tolerated him but didn't love him. His personnel moves mostly stunk. (I do not buy that he had problems with minority players. Maybe some he didn't keep didn't like him, but there is no evidence to suggest he was a racist or treated minority players different from white players.)
So now I think back. To Chuck Noll, 12-30 in his first three seasons, who was despised by franchise quarterback Terry Bradshaw early—and disliked for most of their time together. To Bill Belichick, who ran off Bernie Kosar and was 20-28 in his first three years in Cleveland and who was affected by more than just the quarterback. And now Kelly, 26-21 in his first three seasons, fired with one game left. Not comparing Kelly to what two four-time Super Bowl champs accomplished in football, but simply making this point: How do you know the future? How do you know which coaches will survive the early potholes to make greatness happen? You don't. Just as I don't know if Kelly would have ever been great in Philly, or will be great in his second go-round wherever.
Finally, I leave you with this: Jeffrey Lurie has been the poster boy for patience in the NFL. He kept an ill-equipped Ray Rhodes after a four-win season, and he kept Andy Reid for 14 years, and Reid never won a Super Bowl. Lurie is a patient man. But he wasn't patient with Kelly. Lurie knew something. Something happened that was untenable, and Lurie acted. I don't like it, but I’m not in his shoes. We'll see how it works. For those saying the Eagles will be fine with the best coordinator or best young coaching phenom ... cool. But remember: Chip Kelly was as imaginative a coach as has come into the NFL in years. We're seeing a different game now, with lots of deep passing and an emphasis on the strong-armed quarterbacks. Kelly recognized that. He was on the verge of making Sam Bradford realize his potential.
But something happened. A few things, maybe. And as with Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco last year, and Belichick with the Jets in 2000, a coach leaves early, with potential gains lost. I count this as one of the truly great missed opportunities in my 32 seasons covering the NFL. This should have worked. And because it didn't, a storied franchise starts from scratch, and a great college coach might go the Steve Spurrier route. Sad.
Now for your email...
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I think the decision to kick off in overtime was stupid. If the Patriots really did have a better chance to score by kicking off to start the OT period, why wouldn’t the same logic apply during the game? After Belichick won the toss at the start of the game he chose (as always) to defer to the second half, but at the start of the second half why didn’t he choose to kick off if this was more likely to result in a score?
—Mike A., Yellowknife, NT, Canada
Because the kickoff that starts the second half isn’t overtime. You would never choose to have potentially one fewer possession in the course of a regular game. Every game is not the same. I would guess that in about 90 percent of the games that Bill Belichick has coached, he would choose to receive the ball to start overtime if given a choice. This game was different because the Jets were consistently getting to Tom Brady and making it difficult for him to make plays in the passing game. The New England offensive line was beat up, and for most of the fourth quarter Brady was struggling to get his offense going. I know you can point to the 66-yard touchdown drive that Brady executed to tie the game with two minutes to go. I understand that. But on this drive Brady needed two fourth-down conversions to keep it going, and there was a sense of desperation to what ended up as New England’s only touchdown drive of the game. If you take the ball in overtime, you are counting on driving the ball the length of the field for a touchdown. I don’t know how you would watch that game and have a lot of confidence in the Patriots’ ability to drive the length of the field for a touchdown. However, if you kick off and force the Jets to punt—as they did on their last three possessions of the fourth quarter—then you would take the ball and need only a field goal to win. Seeing that you have probably the most trustworthy kicker in the NFL, that’s a gamble that I would take under these circumstances.
MANNING’S TREATMENT BY THE MEDIA
Why do you think the media has treated Peyton Manning so much differently than they did Tom Brady? The Brady accusations came right after their blowout win. Before anyone heard the details, people were calling for the Pats to forfeit their Super Bowl spot, crying on TV, pleading with Brady to just admit he was guilty, and launching a multimillion-dollar investigation and lawsuit. After the HGH story came out with Manning, the same media said they believed Manning, didn't think he would lie and attacked the news network that put out the story. Why were reactions so diametrically opposed?
—Jason B., Boston
I think the stories are pretty different. There were NFL officials on the ground in New England on the day of the AFC Championship Game when this controversy was born. These NFL people obviously found some legs to this story immediately. The next day the NFL wrote a letter to the Patriots informing them that there was an official investigation into the footballs used at the game. Let’s compare that to the Manning story. NFL officials learned about the accusations by a news network that reported that four years ago HGH was reportedly sent to Peyton Manning’s wife. There were no NFL officials on the ground in Indianapolis or in Florida four years ago investigating this. The NFL found out about it when the rest of us found out about it. Secondly, the Brady allegations concern a football game in January 2015 in which the fairness of the competition was in question. The allegations involving Manning are that his wife received HGH—not that he used HGH. There may be dots to connect. And if the dots are connected and Manning is found to have used HGH, then obviously it is a very serious story. We don’t know that yet. That’s why I think the two stories are different.
SOMETHING ODD IN MANNING ALLEGATIONS
I find it interesting that Manning did not address his wife’s involvement (or lack thereof), except to say that her medical issues were private. I agree, but I would expect that his anger and willingness to sue over defamation would at least elicit a defense of his wife’s name. I'm not a PR expert, and perhaps it is irrelevant, but it struck me as odd after reading (multiple) stories about the situation.
—Kelly M., Hamilton, Mont.
When I talked to Manning, he said stridently that his wife’s medical records and/or treatment are private and he would not get into discussing them. I don’t find that to be strange at all. There may come a point, if Manning is determined to open the door into his life even further, that he or his wife will discuss the charges that HGH was sent to her. But I don’t find it incriminating that he chooses to keep his wife’s medical affairs private.
SEAHAWKS STREAK OVER
The Seahawks failed to take a lead against the Rams on Sunday. That ended their 62-game streak holding a lead in a game. That streak is amazing to me—even the great teams over the years come out and lay eggs every once in awhile. It's a hard streak to look up, and I'm curious to know how long the streak is for the second place team in that category? The consistency that team had shown over the years is incredible. Sixty-two games is three-and-a-half seasons. While the stat doesn't necessarily translate to wins, it certainly deserves more attention than it got.
I agree. I think it is significant. I have no idea what other teams have done over time that would even be comparable. Hats off to Pete Carroll for fielding a team that—and this is what the streak says to me—comes out ready to play every week.
PATS UPSET TOO?
You get regular reader grief for being pro-Patriots, often praising them at the top of your column. You missed an opportunity to show balanced coverage by including their loss to the Jets in your football upsets. How can you mention losses by Panthers, Steelers, and Seahawks (your Fine Fifteen No. 1, No. 4, and No. 5 teams of last week), and omit the Pats (No. 2) loss to the Jets (your No. 10)?
The Jets are a team that pressures the quarterback as well as any team in football, and a team that had won four games in a row, playing at home in a game it desperately needed against a team with an injury-plagued offensive line. Do you consider it a tremendous upset for that team to beat the Patriots? I don’t. I get that you would call it an upset, but circumstances surrounding the game say to me that although I would have picked New England to win the game, I didn’t find it that surprising that the Jets won it.
BOLDIN’S FIRST CATCH
You mentioned that Boldin’s 1,000th catch occurred this week at Detroit. Did you know his first game in the NFL was against Detroit? Catch No. 1 and No. 1,000 against the same team! That first game he played, he exploded onto the scene with more than 200 yards receiving. He was dynamic and a beast on the field. You just knew he was going to have an illustrious career.
I appreciate you pointing that out. Thank you. It adds another level of intrigue to the connection between Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. As I wrote Monday, both men, who were teammates in Arizona, have played 185 games. Both very recently passed the 1,000-catch plateau. And both caught their first and thousandth balls on the road in the same place: Fitzgerald at St. Louis, Boldin at Detroit. Thanks a lot for making me realize that.
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