There’s been precious little good news in Philadelphia sports lately, so I guess Delaware Valley fans should be grateful to Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, who just showed Chip Kelly the door.
The best news of Kelly’s firing is that it was exactly that: a firing. Not a “mutual parting of ways” or any other nonsense; Lurie did not let his failed experiment slink away with any dignity intact. Kelly can’t shop himself around as someone who was just too good or cool or whatever for his office at The Link. Unfortunately, that slight whiff of failure will probably not be enough to keep this fraud from getting another high-profile and lucrative job.
Yes, I said fraud. I was willing to give Kelly the benefit of the doubt after his first two years in Philly. Mostly, that was about charges against him claiming that Kelly was racist. The evidence for that charge remains ephemeral; what is quite concrete is the evidence that Kelly took a good team and made it objectively worse.
His 10-6 record with his first Eagles team grew not just out of Kelly’s coaching and offensive system, but also from the efforts of many of the players Andy Reid left behind. The winning record Kelly’s second year was the same, but was not good enough to get the team into the playoffs. It’s a truism that in a “constant churn” situation like the NFL, if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. Running in place is not good enough; so it made sense that Kelly wanted to make big changes to the roster, and he did so before this season.
The result? A bad team, one that was humiliated on Thanksgiving by a Detroit team that’s not exactly the second coming Lombardi’s Packers. I was tempted to write a post after that fiasco calling for Kelly to be fired, but I held back, because I want the DFR to be more rational and analytical than your average sports radio caller. But there’s even more evidence now–leaving aside the freak Philly’s freak victory over the Patriots a few weeks back–including the sad spectacle of the Eagles getting their asses kicked on Saturday night by a Redskins team that is just a week and a half away from getting stomped in a wild card game. The verdict was in: out with Kelly.
No problem there. But the disappointing thing is the reaction to this firing. A lot of the chatter seems to be sounding in the direction that Kelly will be a hot commodity once the ax falls on a half a dozen or more NFL coaches once the season ends on Sunday. If you’re a fan of one of the teams about to have a job opening, you’d better hope Kelly is not heading your way, because the long-range view says that, for all the flash and dash Kelly’s teams have waved in front of fans’ eyes, their record of accomplishment shows precious little real achievement.
At Oregon, Kelly used his crazy offensive schemes–as well as Nike’s money–to build a scoring power. His Ducks won lots of games, including Pac-12 championships, and made it to a National Championship game (which Oregon lost). But a lot of that success happened during a period when the conference was, arguably, in a down cycle. Even so, Kelly’s Ducks had a bad habit of losing to Stanford, taking defeats in 2009 and 2012.
The significance of that fact? Those Cardinal teams had Andrew Luck, played a more fundamental offense than the carnival shows so popular in the college game these days–in other words, a pro-style offense–and succeeded largely on tremendous defense. Which is to say, Stanford was a prototype of the kinds of good teams Kelly would face as coach of an NFL team. And they got the upper hand on him two out of four times. The Ducks’–and Kelly’s–feathered, textured, shiny-helmeted circus looked like the reinvention of something against over-matched college teams; but put them on the field against a good, pro-style team, and things tended to go differently.
Think too of Kelly’s players from Oregon; how many have had an impact in the NFL? Where is LaMichael James these days? Kenjon Barner, anyone? Even if you give Kelly credit for Marcus Mariota–arguably, current Oregon coach Mark Helfrich deserves that nod–that’s not necessarily an A grade on the report card. Mariota was outplayed in a major way by Jameis Winston this season, and the Titans are back in the running for a very high draft pick this off-season.
The mention of Mariota also calls to mind another apology for Kelly that’s making the rounds: that in Philadelphia he never had the quarterback who was a perfect fit for his system. Perhaps, but how quickly everyone has forgotten how good Nick Foles actually was in 2013 with the Eagles. Had he not been injured last season, perhaps the team would have made the playoffs, and things would be very different now. Perhaps. The bottom line is, Kelly had a quarterback who was performing very well for him when he was on the field–and he traded him away for a giant question mark (Sam Bradford).
And this barely even considers trading away LeSean McCoy and badly misusing DeMarco Murray.
The evidence seems clear: there’s a lot of snake oil in Kelly’s supposed offensive wizardry, an elixir that works some fine illusions against unprepared college kids, but that has been dissected and revealed in the pros. Kelly may be able to head back to school and live a little longer on his showmanship–but if someone’s fool enough to hand him the direction of another NFL franchise, that person will wind up in the same position Jeffrey Lurie is in today: ruing his former decision, and wondering if his next decision will be good enough to undo the damage.