For Cowboys' Kiffin, there's no escaping Kelly
Monte Kiffin's honeymoon with the Dallas Cowboys was cut short Wednesday morning when Chip Kelly was named the new head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. Kiffin had escaped college football in late November after his defenses were repeatedly shredded in the Pac-12.
But what Kelly's Oregon teams did to USC over the past three years was pretty frightening. In losing two of three games to the Ducks, Kiffin's defenses gave up an average of 50 points and 601 yards. In a loss to Oregon this past November, the Trojans gave up 730 yards and 62 points. It's a huge reason why the soon-to-be 73-year-old decided to pursue opportunities in the NFL.
Kiffin knew in taking the Cowboys job that he'd have to play against Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III twice a year, but it's not like Mike Shanahan's trying to play hurry-up every possession. Now, Kiffin has to face Kelly's offense twice each season. You would think that familiarity might give him some type of advantage … until you watch the tape of those three games.
It's impossible to know whether Kelly's spread offense will work in the NFL, but you can't deny that he's one of the brightest minds in the game. With all the openings this offseason, Kelly is the splashiest hire. He's the perfect elixir for an Andy Reid era that ended in miserable fashion. The presence of Kelly will force opposing defensive coordinators to prepare for a read-option that is largely unfamiliar to the NFL. But with the success of Griffin, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick, this seems like the right time for Kelly to make his move. The Eagles have been awful the past two seasons, but they do have some offensive weapons in DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy.
The most pressing issue for Kelly will be choosing a starting quarterback. He has to decide quickly whether to keep Michael Vick because he has a $3 million vesting option that would kick in Feb. 5. The most likely scenario is to release Vick and begin next season with Austin product Nick Foles, who had his moments in 2012. Kelly is very familiar with Foles because he played against him three times when the quarterback was at Arizona.
I think it has to bother Jerry Jones to see the Eagles getting so much attention over this hire. It makes the probable promotion of Bill Callahan to play-caller sound even less exciting. Kelly's hire owned the news cycle Wednesday until the bizarre Manti Te'o story broke on Deadspin. But Jones is keenly aware of what the Eagles are trying to accomplish. He said several times that he was in "awe" of what Griffin and the Redskins did to the Cowboys on Thanksgiving. And then Rob Ryan's defense couldn't even slow down the Redskins when Griffin was playing on one good leg in Week 17. That probably contributed to Ryan's firing more than anything.
So many teams in the league are cleaning house this offseason. But Jones is cleaning house on behalf of his head coach. I believe Jerry's almost trying to humiliate Jason Garrett into quitting, but it's not going to happen. If the Eagles flourish right away under Kelly, it will only turn up the heat on Garrett. Jerry will be watching closely to see if a college coach can make the jump to the NFL. He had a lot of success with Jimmy Johnson, but since then he's never been particularly interested in hiring a head coach straight from the college ranks. If Kelly's successful, look for Jones to identify and possibly hire a college coach for the 2013 season (David Shawn, anyone?).
Jones has turned Jason Garrett into a lame-duck head coach going into 2013, and that's why there's no margin for error. The latest bit of drama involves Garrett's older brother John looking to catch on with another NFL team or perhaps at Delaware. It's likely that Jason has been asked to find another spot for his brother, in part because former second-round pick Martellus Bennett finally showed promise with the New York Giants this past season.
But once again it's important to note that Callahan, the man who oversaw the Cowboys' pitiful running game and coached the offensive line, will likely be asked to call plays in 2013. This is not the type of change that will inspire a doubting fan base.
No, you have to leave that sort of thing up to the Eagles. They are taking a risk on a coach who was working at New Hampshire only six years ago. This is not a man with NFL skins on the wall. Bill Belichick, Nick Saban, Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh all had serious NFL ties before they took jobs. Kelly's coming into this cold, and that might be a good thing for the Eagles organization. He has no preconceived notions about how things are supposed to be. Kelly is an innovator who wants to prove himself in the NFL.
It could turn out to be a bust, but there seems to be a lot more upside than anything that's happening at Valley Ranch, where the Cowboys are running a recycling program. The Kelly hire sent a message throughout the league, but it probably resonated most with the Cowboys' legendary defensive-coach-in-residence.
There's no escaping the Oregon offense.