Skip to main content

Chip Kelly's desire for more control led to his unraveling as coach of Eagles

Chip Kelly's first two seasons as head coach of the Eagles went relatively well—a division title in Year 1 and 10 wins in Year 2. But in Year 3, Kelly wanted more control. And that's where it all fell apart. 

“The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.”— Lao Tzu

Chip Kelly spent two seasons as the Philadelphia Eagles' head coach before the organization handed him control of personnel decisions. He didn't even make it a full calendar year in his new, more powerful role.

The Eagles announced Tuesday that they had dismissed Kelly, a rather surprising precursor to “Black Monday,” the day following the conclusion of the NFL regular season, which typically brings with it a rash of firings.

Philadelphia Eagles release head coach Chip Kelly

“We are a good football team and we believe these steps will help make us a great team,” Eagles CEO Jeffrey Lurie said in a statement on Jan. 2, 2015, when he announced that Kelly's role would increase. “That step—from good to great—is the most difficult one for any organization to make. To do that, sometimes you have to step back and really look hard at where you are today and what you want to become.”

Rather than maintain the status quo under which he had led the Eagles to back-to-back 10–6 seasons, though, Kelly went all-in on revamping the roster as he saw fit. His most high-profile moves included trading LeSean McCoy to the Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso, signing DeMarco Murray as McCoy's main replacement, trading for QB Sam Bradford and handing CB Byron Maxwell a $63 million contract.

All backfired, to varying degrees.

As a result the Eagles slumped to their current record of 6–9, and they were eliminated from playoff contention in a 38–24 home loss to Washington last week.

“My job has never changed,” Kelly said just this past Monday. “To say I’m the head coach and general manager, I’m not the general manager. I don’t negotiate contracts. I don’t do any of that stuff. I just have the say of who’s on the 90-man roster as opposed to the 53-man roster.”

Howie Roseman, the man pushed from the GM job so Kelly could grab a firmer hold, stayed on with the team and maintained some of his former duties. But deny it as he might, the movement this past off-season, designed to push Philadelphia over the top in a wide-open NFC East, was spearheaded by Kelly and his hand-chosen VP of player personnel, Ed Marynowitz.

Derrick Johnson discusses the turnaround of the unheralded Chiefs

So when the Eagles skidded this year, upper management found itself stuck. Could Kelly's control over personnel be reduced without Kelly being removed as the head coach?

The answer was a resounding no. Almost certain to be shown the door soon as well is Bill Davis, the Eagles' defensive coordinator, who deservedly bore the brunt of much criticism throughout this 2015 season. Philadelphia currently ranks 28th in points allowed and 30th in yards, but it has coughed up 38 points or more four times since Week 11.

Kelly's offense was, to a large degree, supposed to override any issues elsewhere. Few, if any, coaches have arrived on the NFL scene commanding the level of hype Kelly did when he jumped from Oregon to Philadelphia. He was viewed as a revolutionary figure for a league that can be lethargic to change. His up-tempo, spread offense was expected to take the league by storm (even though some elements of that offense arrived before he did). His commitment to the realm of sports science certainly moved the needle around the league.

There was evidence out of the chute that it all could work as planned, too. Kelly claimed an NFC East crown his first season, all while somehow generating brilliance out of quarterback Nick Foles.

Last season wasn't all that bad, either. Kelly finagled another 10 wins, despite eight starts from Mark Sanchez, a massive regression by Foles and the league's second-worst pass defense.

But Kelly wanted more. He wanted to call the shots off the field and on, so the Eagles gave him his wish. And that's where it all went wrong.

Year in review: 10 controversies that defined the NFL and wishes for 2016

The ending to this chapter of Kelly's NFL story may have been far, far different had he limited himself strictly to coaching—or if the Eagles had done so. Instead, Kelly attempted to find the magic formula in the hardest possible way: tossing money around in free agency. Rare are the occasions when that approach pays off, and it obviously did not here. 

Why this is at all unexpected boils down to his prestige as a coach and his limited tenure in charge of personnel. Kelly insisted all along that he had a plan, but the Eagles jumped ship before giving him a second shot at implementing it. There will be many teams, college and pro, calling to see if Kelly the coach wants another go at it.

This time around, Chip Kelly The GM (or whatever it is he wanted to be called) got caught in way over his head.