State Of The Eagles: Breaking Down The Chip Kelly Experiment And Looking Ahead

It’s finally over, thank God. The Eagles season came to a close this Sunday following a 35-30 win in a meaningless game against the just-as-hapless New York Giants in the Meadowlands. The conclusion of the game marked the end of a chapter of Eagles history and the start of a new one, hopefully one that will wipe the Chip Kelly era out of people’s minds like it was Rocky V. Let’s break down the past, present, and future of a once proud franchise, a franchise desperate for answers on how to get back to their winning ways that seem like eons ago.

The Eagles hired Chip Kelly three years ago after it was clear that it was time for the Andy Reid era to come to a close. Despite Reid leading the birds to multiple conference championship games and even a Superbowl, his inability to get over the hump followed by mediocre seasons and then a dismal 4-12 campaign was the final straw. There was no ill will, but it was clear that both parties needed a change of scenery and a fresh start. The Eagles hired Chip Kelly, who was one of the hottest names at the time because of how he transformed the Oregon Ducks into a perennial national powerhouse, with it’s prolific and unique offense that operated at breakneck speed that some believed could revolutionize the way the game is played. This isn’t an exaggeration, Kelly’s uptempo offense and unique coaching methods made some seriously believe he could literally change the game to some degree. At the time, it wasn’t a surefire bet that Kelly’s success would translate to the NFL, but above all else he was hired because of his “football mind”, someone who just really knew the game and dedicated all his time and energy to the sport. That was why he was such a hot commodity coming out of Oregon. There was a belief that even if his team wasn’t putting up 50 points a game, he would figure something out and adapt because of his deep understanding of the game and manic work and study ethic.

Despite going 4-12 the year before, Kelly didn’t inherit a bad team, at all. After starting 1-3, the Eagles finished the season 10-6, good enough to win the division. They lost to the Saints in a close first round game but hey, not a bad start at all for a coach with virtually no NFL experience. People were excited, things were looking up. The Eagles had a coach committed to bringing a winning culture (more on that in just a bit) and attitude to Philly and the results backed it up on the field.

Following that year, something strange happened in the offseason. The Eagles cut star wide receiver DeSean Jackson after having over 80 catches and 1300+ yards. Why? There was no real explanation, just speculation that his attitude and perhaps demeanor didn’t fall in line with the kind of culture Chip Kelly was trying to instill in the locker room. Sounds kind of crazy doesn’t it? Especially after a great year? No big scandal, or suspension, just “rumors”, whispers of “gang affiliations” and such. In retrospect it really was pretty crazy. At the time, Chip Kelly was perceived as a potential guru since he just lead us to the playoffs in his first year. We thought we could be even better if we did things Chip’s way. Philadelphia wasn’t crazy for buying into the hype, at the time it made sense, even if we still had our lingering reservations about the whole thing.

The next season the Eagles went 10-6 again, however this time that wasn’t good enough for a playoff spot. Nick Foles was the starting quarterback after lighting it up the previous season, but got hurt and the team wasn’t able to overcome with Mark Sanchez. This was the offseason where things got weird. 10-6 wasn’t terrible by any means, just a little disappointing after making the playoffs the previous year. During the offseason Chip Kelly met with owner Jeffrey Lurie to discuss his role and responsibilities as head coach. Kelly wasn’t satisfied with just calling the plays, he wanted to be the general manager and pick the players too, have complete control over the roster. Despite only having two years of NFL experience, Kelly was given what he wanted. People were behind it. The reasoning was that Kelly had a vision and that (then current) GM Howie Roseman was holding him back from taking that vision to the next level. Nobody knew Chip Kelly’s system like Chip Kelly, so shouldn’t he ultimately be the one who decides on player personnel? Again, hindsight is 20/20 but at the time one could justify it. Philadelphia was all in with Chip Kelly.

Then Chip Kelly traded away one of the best running backs in LeSean McCoy for Kiko Alonso, a former Oregon linebacker who was coming off tearing an ACL for the second time and only had one full year in the NFL prior to that. Again, in Chip we trust. It was bold, but there was an aura of confidence around the Philadelphia area. Chip being the offensive minded guy he is could certainly find a replacement to carry the rock and he got a great talent on defense in the process. Keep calm and in Chip we trust.

Then this past season happened. I’m not going to detail every move because I’d rather discuss the future than recap the past. You know what happened. Long story short, Chip signed a bunch of new players, drafted some encouraging young guys, and the whole thing just crashed and burned to the ground like it was set ablaze by a pyromaniac comic book villain. DeMarco Murray (the league’s leading rusher from the year before) was brought in to replace LeSean and couldn’t get going, at all. Byron Maxwell was brought in to help the secondary and even though they knew they probably overpaid for him, he didn’t even come close to the difference maker they needed. Poor production from draft picks (besides Jordan Hicks, who got hurt) and an aging and just out of it offensive line all were big factors in the flub. The one bright spot was Sam Bradford. The injury prone quarterback was brought in to lead the offense and while there were many questions about his durability, he took a shaky start and actually played pretty well down the stretch, despite not getting much help at all from his receivers. Still, the season was a wreck and STILL they had a chance to make the playoffs because the NFC East was dreadful but they were eliminated once again by DeSean Jackson and the Redskins in a primetime drubbing at home.

Jeffrey Lurie had enough. Kelly was fired before the Eagles even played their final game of the season. The Chip Kelly era was officially over, a massive failure. I would still defend the hiring, it was a bold move but his perceived football knowledge and passion for the game is something you want in your head coach. Apparently his people skills were hard for players to connect to. In the end it just wasn’t working, simple as that. It was the right move, once you lose control of a locker room it’s nearly impossible to get back. It’s time to start yet another chapter in Eagles history.

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Now the Eagles are back with Howie Roseman as the GM and are in need of a head coach. There are a lot of potential candidates out there and this decision will most likely have a significant long term impact on the team either way, good or bad. Let’s take a look at some of the names that are floating around out there:

Sean Payton: I think this would be a fantastic acquisition. While he’s struggled with the Saints of late I think it really comes down to him needing a change of scenery, just like Andy Reid did. He’s a great offensive mind who has shown he can really bring a quarterback along and get the most out of his skill position players. He won a Super Bowl. He’s an outside the box thinker that can rejuvenate this team and salvage some of the promising talent that remains on the roster. However, there’s two potential problems. First, he’s still under contract with the Saints and the Eagles might have to trade for him. It’s rumored that it would take a second round pick to acquire him, which is something the Eagles don’t have this year. Second, Payton could want a great deal of control over the team, similarly to Chip Kelly. Ownership might be hesitant to award that to someone seeing how that just went with Chip but this is a little different. Payton is a proven winner and has much more NFL experience and a history of successes. If it’s feasible to get him, Sean Payton would be an exciting and promising head coach for the foreseeable future.

Adam Gase: Gase has grown on me immensely recently. If you look at his resume, it’s just stacked. The current offensive coordinator is young and if successful could be the Eagles head coach for a long, long time. He was able to take Jay Cutler (who has a reputation for being difficult to deal with) and have him deliver a career year. He’s worked his way up around the league and has commanded a great deal of respect around the league. TheEagles have talent on this offense and Gase could be able to get production from it. However, he’s still young and has no head coaching experience which is risky. It could be a Josh McDaniels type situation where he doesn’t cut it and goes back to being a coordinator.  Still, I guess I’d support this because his track record has been darn good and if he’s ready to take the next step then whoever gets him will get a great foundation for years to come.

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Doug Pederson: The current OC for the Chiefs is an Andy Reid guy and was actually on the Eagles coaching staff before as a quality control coach and then as the quarterbacks coach. He’s been doing a remarkable job with the Chiefs who are scalding hot right now going into the playoffs. In his one year as Eagles head coach the team amassed 6386 total yards with Mike Vick and Vince Young leading the way. He played in the league as a quarterback himself. This would be a solid move, but do you really want an Andy Reid guy after all those years? I’d support it I just think the Eagles need a fresh start and some new ideas. If he can bring back the Andy Reid esque glory days though, then it would be totally worth it, just have to consider if the risk outweighs what the other candidates can bring to the table.

Sean McDermott: Another former Eagles coach, this one was in Philly for a long time. The Eagles were his first job away from his college and he was here all the way until he was fired in 2010 as the teams D Coordinator. Since, he has been the defensive coordinator for the Panthers who have been extremely tough on defense over the past few years. Finishing up the year 15-1, the Panthers D is one of the key reasons to their historic year. Additionally, McDermott has hinted that he wants to be here. He also seems to have a lot of local support. Still, this would scare me. I don’t know exactly why but he struggled here. Sure he was younger and has probably gained a ton of knowledge since but those dark days of defense still linger in my mind. He’s young, no head coaching experience. I also wonder how much of the Panthers success on D is attributed to him and not defensive minded head coach Ron Rivera. If the Eagles reach out to McDermott, I will get on board with it. I just have a gut feeling that there are better candidates than him available this year.

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Duce Staley: A fan favorite running back for the Eagles and current coach of said position, the birds already interviewed Staley to be their head coach. It would appear to be a formality and just a respectful conversation but it’s probably not realistic to think he’ll be the head coach next year. Having said that, I’d love for him to stick around,hopefully finding a spot on next years coaching regime.

Pat Shurmur: Shurmur finished the year as the interim head coach after Chip was fired. Previously, he was the Offensive Coordinator under Chip Kelly. It was interesting to see how the team exploded for 35 points in the final game with him calling the shots. Shurmur has had a failed head coaching tenure before with the Browns and that’s tough to hold against somebody. Having said that, Shurmur doesn’t figure to be a serious candidate to take over full head coaching duties for the following season.

John Harbaugh: If John Harbaugh became available he would instantly become my number one choice to be the next head coach. The problem is that he probably won’t be available. The Ravens had a forgettable year but they don’t appear to be considering firing him, which is probably the right call. It’s wishful thinking, but as of now this is a Hail Mary, and not one being thrown by Aaron Rodgers.

Teryl Austin: This is my secret underdog that I’m rooting for. Currently the D Coordinator for the Lions, Austin has impressed recently. The reason I like this guy is that he had a tough job this season, being in charge of a defense that lost its best player in Ndamakong Suh. They still faired alright this year, despite missing the post season. They almost beat the Packers twice and the most impressive part to me was how they played hard even though they were already eliminated from the playoffs. That says a lot. Austin would bring a tough, defensive mind to Philly with no former ties to the Birds. His resume is impressive and has been a part of Super Bowl winning units. I’m not saying this is definitely the guy the Eagles should hire, I’m saying he is an intriguing candidate worthy of the teams due diligence.

Dirk Koetter: The Eagles are reported to have interviewed or plan on interviewing Koetter. He spent this past season as the Buccaneers Offensive Coordinator. His work with rookie Jameis Winston was impressive, especially their demolishing of the Eagles this year. He has a lot of experience in football at different levels of play but I just don’t think his resume stacks up to the other available candidates.

Hue Jackson: Jackson has been the Offensive Coordinator in Cincinnati since Jay Gruden left to torment the Eagles. He’s done great in that role and has a wealth of football experience under his belt. He even did well as the Raiders OC and was promoted to their head coach and went 8-8, not terrible for Oakland standards. He was still fired and eventually made his way to Cincinnati. He’s definitely worth interviewing and investigating, although right now he seems totally focused on his teams playoff game.

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John Gruden/ Bill Cowher/ Brian Billick/ Mike Shanahan: All these guys have rings and all these guys are long shots. Shanahan has been linked to some openings but the Eagles do not appear to be one of them. I’d love to see the Eagles throw a fat bag of money at John Gruden. I just want to see some passion back in Philadelphia football and you know Gruden brings that. It’s unlikely he walks away from his current dream gig at ESPN though. Brian Billick called the Eagles vacancy the most attractive but I’m not sure if he’s a candidate to return to coaching. Bill Cowher? Who knows.

What does it all mean? While it’s frustrating to be back to square one, I must say I’m excited for a new chapter. There are some great names on this list that have a lot of potential for continued success as an NFL head coach. Once a coach is hired, then we can start evaluating the roster, seeing who stays and who goes. When a coach is picked, we’ll have a better idea of the direction this team is headed and the steps it will take to get there. There is a lot of pressure to hire the right guy, and even with the failed experiment with Chip Kelly I have enough confidence in Eagles management to make a sound decision this time around.

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