Chip Kelly went 26-21 in three seasons with the Eagles.
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In the end, Chip Kelly didn’t flame out as quickly as his offense ran plays.
But the final implosion was far more spectacular.
The announcement of Kelly’s "release" as Philadelphia’s head coach Tuesday night was a polite way of saying he was canned by an owner (Jeff Lurie) who lacked confidence that he could get the team back on the winning track in 2016.
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Nobody could blame Lurie for feeling this way.
Lurie gave Kelly the keys to the Eagles kingdom only to see such faith get destroyed by a series of disastrous offseason personnel moves. A team that won 10 games in each of Kelly’s first two seasons slipped to 6-9 this season with an uncertain future ahead.
ESPN reported that Kelly balked when Lurie wanted to strip him of that personnel power, which led to the firing five days before Philadelphia’s season finale against the New York Giants.
Kelly now joins a list of other successful college head coaches who flopped in the NFL. His failure stems largely from the same problem that doomed others like Nick Saban, Greg Schiano, Bobby Petrino, Butch Davis and Rich Brooks.
The lack of a franchise quarterback.
Kelly made the playoffs his first season with Nick Foles as his starter after Michael Vick got injured. In retrospect, the success of the Eagles and Foles (27 touchdowns and two interceptions) stemmed primarily from the opposition’s difficulty in stopping an unorthodox offensive system.
Just like with the run-and-shoot, wildcat and other gimmick schemes that once had defensive coordinators on their heels, NFL coaches eventually figured out how to defuse what Kelly was running. Foles struggled in 2014 until landing on injured reserve midway through the season and was a disaster after being traded last March to St. Louis. He now rides the bench as journeyman Case Keenum starts and will likely be traded or released during the offseason.
Empowered to shape the roster after general manager Howie Roseman was stripped of personnel power last January, Kelly decided that Sam Bradford was the right fit to run what basically became an ugly hybrid of the up-tempo attack Kelly ran at Oregon.
It should be noted that Kelly knew his NFL history. During a training camp visit, Kelly told me he was trying to avoid the same fate as Saban and Co. by gambling that Bradford could avoid the injury problems that had derailed his NFL career and once again become the elite passer his team was lacking.
As it turned out, Bradford’s medical issues were the least of his worries.
Whatever it was that Kelly was trying to run this season wasn’t working. The Eagles couldn’t rush well. They couldn’t pass well. And while the defense was improved, the strain of spending more time on the field than any other NFL team for a third straight year (34-plus minutes per game on the average) took its toll as the season unfolded.
Kelly never replaced DeSean Jackson as a deep threat following the wide receiver’s release in the 2014 offseason, which allowed defenses to concentrate more on stopping other aspects of Philadelphia’s offense. The signing of ex-Dallas running back DeMarco Murray was among the biggest busts in franchise history, as the NFL’s 2014 rushing leader was a horrible fit stylistically for what Kelly expects from his running backs. The offensive line crumbled when Kelly released both first-team guards (Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans) without finding comparable starters.
Kelly may get another chance elsewhere to prove he can win in the NFL. Tennessee has a head-coaching vacancy and the quarterback (Marcus Mariota) that Kelly flourished with at Oregon before bolting to the Eagles. Kelly also could garner interest from a college program willing to fire its current head coach to bring him in with a mega-contract.
Whatever happens, it won’t be with the squad that Kelly left in shambles.