In the end, it was Chip Kelly’s inept people skills that cost him his job. His offense was predictable, his defense about to give up 6,000 yards for a third straight season. But, more than anything, the coach’s disdain for connecting with the people who worked for him (and for whom he worked) is what prompted Jeff Lurie to abandon Chip.
Lurie didn’t come right out and say that in Wednesday’s packed news conference after firing Kelly the evening before with one game left in a dismal season. But the Eagles owner sure brought you there with a wink and some telling quotes.
His next coach, Lurie said, will be someone who “will open their heart to players and everyone else you want to achieve peak performance.”
Kelly’s replacement, said Lurie, must value “collaboration, trust, respect and flexibility.”
In short, the anti-Chip. Of course, based on Lurie’s new prerequisites, Bill Belichick need not apply either.
Kelly’s failure at personal relationships within the NovaCare Center was well known. I don’t think it’s fair to use the cliché that he lost the locker room, but it is accurate that he never engendered that deep loyalty that coaches like Dick Vermeil and, yes, Andy Reid gain from their players. Even millionaires want to feel a little love, and the departed Brandon Boykin wasn’t the only player stung when the coach would pass by in the hallway without saying hello.
Kelly treated his players like replaceable commodities which, in truth, they are in the corporate NFL. But everyone needs a little stroking once in a while, from your starting safety to the kid running out the water bottles during practice. Kelly had no inclination for any of that human touch.
Lurie spoke Wednesday of looking for a “state of leadership that respects emotional intelligence.” Boiling that language down from Brandeis University PhD-speak, what he’s simply saying is that players’ opinions – and feelings – matter in today’s NFL.
Kelly’s hubris led him to believe he could be the mastermind of an NFL franchise – not just as coach, but as personnel director, general manager (a job he denied having), head nutritionist, sleep monitor, and Grand Imperial Oz. Offices were moved, people banished, rooms physically altered at the NovaCare Center to suit his whims. Second opinions were not sought.
Kelly grabbed absolute power with the New Year’s Eve 2014 coup, wresting control of all personnel from Howie Roseman. It’s a bad idea to give total authority to most any coach, let alone one with just two seasons in the NFL, and for that, Lurie deserves a lot of blame for this current mess. He suggested Wednesday that he will be reluctant to go that route again.
Of course, everyone knows what happened back in March. Lesean McCoy was traded to Buffalo for a linebacker who plays like Peewee Herman. DeMarco Murray was signed in what seemed to be an unplanned panic move. If the $40 million Kelly threw to Murray seemed an overpayment, one can only imagine what Lurie thought as he wrote a $63 million check for CB Byron Maxwell.
WR Jeremy Maclin was allowed to walk – a year after Kelly pushed out DeSean Jackson, the Eagles’ other dangerous wide receiver. Their replacement? Former Cowboy has-been Miles Austin.
Nick Foles was swapped for Sam Bradford – a deal that doesn’t seem bad until you add in Bradford’s $13 million paycheck, his impending free agency and the second rounder the Eagles tossed back to St. Louis in the deal.
I forget if the mantra was supposed to be culture beats scheme, or the other way around. But I know this: Talent beats either of them. And suddenly, talent had left the building.
Kelly the GM’s off-field mistakes only were compounded by Kelly the Coach’s failures as the 2015 regular season unfolded.
Inexplicably, he never adapted his scheme to fit the personnel he brought in. It starts with the immobile Bradford, who’s had two knee surgeries, trying to direct Chip’s read-option offense. And it was more apparent with Murray, who had won the NFL rushing title in Dallas last year by slamming between the tackles. For most of this season – until Kelly quit on Murray altogether – the coach’s rush-play repertoire was mostly having Murray get the ball from a standing start and try to run around the edge before being dragged down behind the line. It never fit, and it never worked.
Kelly continued to swear by his hyper-speed offensive scheme, even after opponents caught on and kept up. The idea – initially successful — was that the league’s-fastest tempo would baffle defenses, wear them out, catch them in changes. But once experienced NFL coordinators figured out the gimmick, the downside of rapid tempo was revealed. Kelly’s offense became simplistic, repetitive and – as opponents often pointed out — easy to predict.
More disturbing, the Eagles regressed this season – at everything. The simplest of tasks, like handoffs, became a challenge. Blocking assignments. Play formations. Holding onto the ball. Tackling, most obviously. As the fundamentals failed, it became apparent that Kelly would have to take a hard look at how he had prepared his team for the season. Perhaps it didn’t make sense to blare music so loudly at practice that players could not hear their position coaches’ instructions.
And so now, he’s gone. Who knows how long it will take to undo the mess left behind, with bad contracts, gaping talent holes and complete uncertainty at quarterback?
It’s now up to Lurie to clean the mess he helped create. And I doubt that Eagles fans are much encouraged that former GM Roseman has regained the title of executive vice president of football operations. Lurie, Roseman and team president Don Smolenski make up the small committee looking for a new coach.
Lurie insisted Wednesday that he has no pre-conceptions of what he’s looking for in a new coach. Offensive or defensive background. Pro or college experience. New guy or retread.
That committee of three, of course, is the same one that picked Kelly three years ago. “I would define it as a bold choice,” Lurie said in defense. “It was risk vs. reward, and sometimes the risk doesn’t work.”
Regardless of who the next coach is, the rebuild would appear to take years. But Reid took the team from 3-13 to 11-5 and a playoff win in two seasons. Kelly inherited a 4-12 squad and went 10-6 as a rookie. So, you never know.
The shame is, I still believe Kelly could be an excellent NFL coach. The guy has a brilliant mind and unquenchable thirst. In hindsight, don’t dismiss that he went 19-9 to start his NFL career before dropping off the cliff with a 7-12 finish. Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick are two coaches who learned from their errors and went on to win Super Bowls elsewhere. For the sake of Philadelphia’s sanity, let’s just all hope it doesn’t happen for Kelly in Tennessee paired with Marcus Mariota.