The football world was delivered a not-really-but-still-kind-of shock when the Philadelphia Eagles fired their now disgraced head coach Chip Kelly on Tuesday, finishing his record at 6-9 for the season. Judging by the reaction of players across the league, I’d say that most people are pretty content with the Eagles’ decision.
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”
— Emmanuel Acho (@thEMANacho) December 30, 2015
— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) December 30, 2015
If you really don’t care about Kelly or the Eagles, feel free to scroll to the bottom of the page and view my three worst coaching performances of the week per usual. However, if you do – let’s begin talking about what went right and wrong during his short stint in Philadelphia.
Inheriting the Eagles was no easy task. The Andy Reid-coached team started 3-1 only to finish 1-11 through the rest of the 2012 season and had an offense ranked No. 25 in the NFL per Football Outsiders’ defense-adjusted value over average. Their most well known offensive players at the time, quarterback Michael Vick and running back LeSean McCoy were oft-injured and frequently contributing the team’s problems with ball control. What proceeded to happen in terms of offensive development – what Kelly’s specialty is – was incredible (or at least before the team collapsed in 2015, but more on that later).
Although different statistics disagree about whether the Eagles improved from 2013 to 2014, the initial improvement of Philadelphia’s offense remains undeniable. A lot of credit has to be given to Kelly for developing talent among the Eagles offensive line during that era, with players like Jason Peters, Evan Mathis and Jason Kelce creating arguably best left side of an offensive line during those two seasons. This undeniably played a role in McCoy’s breakout year in 2013, when he led the league’s best rushing attack. That was also when he ran for over 1,600 yards and routinely made defenders the subjects of several Vines posted throughout that season.
Perhaps more impressive was how Kelly’s offenses succeeded regardless of the quarterbacks running it. Think about it for a moment – these are high-level offenses that were spearheaded by Nick Foles, Michael Vick, Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley at various points. If you want to look at an overall record, Kelly went 20-12 during the two regular seasons with those quarterbacks. While W-L records are certainly not an absolute indicator of performance, wasn’t their success greater return on value than you’d expect from an average head coach?
While Foles has to be given credit for throwing only two interceptions throughout his 2013 season, one amazing stretch doesn’t make him a sure-fire Hall of Fame quarterback, as seen by how back to Earth guys like him and Josh McCown have fallen. If anything, Kelly deserves credit for putting Foles in a position to succeed and making his numbers look like they came from the best quarterback in NFL history.
There’s no doubt that Kelly’s tremendous understanding of football Xs and Os also translated well to the NFL. Kelly’s hurry-up and read-option concepts, though now they seem flawed in retrospect, are still used quite often across the league and hugely influential. Dismissing them as gimmicky is foolish considering their initial success and still widespread impact.
Most impressively, Kelly was also one of the few coaches around the NFL that was willing to play aggressively when it mattered. Out of all the teams from the last three seasons, the Eagles were the most efficient converters on fourth and short (defined as by needing two yards or less) when the game was within one possession. Judging by their differential between going for it vs. kicking a field goal or punting, they are also the team most willing to go for it. Extending those parameters to judging their rate of success on non-punt and non-field goal plays, the Eagles succeeded on their fourth down attempts at just about 78.5 percent out of 14 attempts.
Obviously going for it doesn’t immediately make you Bill Walsh, but Kelly’s relative assertiveness and confidence in his offense should be emulated, not ignored. It was just another undeniable part of his brilliant in-game awareness. As for out of the game, well…let’s talk about that.
Alas – behind every genius is apparently a tyrant waiting to blow up. By this point, Kelly has practically entered the “Tyson Zone” as an NFL head coach: where almost every rumor about the kind of guy he is in a locker room is immediately thought of as true.
I can’t really say for sure about the veracity of each individual rumor, since obviously no one outside of people in the locker room can truly confirm, deny or make any factual statement about Kelly’s behavior on their own. However, because conjecture is always fun, here’s a compilation of tweets regarding Kelly that I found pertinent, bizarre or comical.
I can now say with confidence that Chip Kelly is racist
— Jonny is Online (@jonny_is_good) December 30, 2015
— Shannyn Bertolino (@shannynbert_07) December 30, 2015
Former Eagles player on Chip Kelly: “Those guys in that locker room almost universally despised him.” https://t.co/2cPHY0TIin
— Billy Penn (@billy_penn) December 30, 2015
When Chip Kelly starts talking about practice in the locker room later….. pic.twitter.com/CVC1wnqoyI
— Patrik Walker (@VoiceOfTheStar) November 26, 2015
I’m personally on the skeptical side of whether Kelly is an overt racist or whether his team “quit” on him on the football field. These seem more like narratives and catch-all explanations, but the very fact of their existence demonstrates some level of truth in illustrating a clear conflict between Kelly and the rest of the organization. Which brings me into Kelly’s biggest Achilles heel.
Professional coaches can be brilliant in terms of in-game tactical decision making, motivating their players to succeed, and developing talent on the roster, but having all of those qualities does not necessarily mean you will be a great general manager or front office figure. When Kelly became the Eagles’ head of football operations, he proceeded to lead one of the most blunder-filled offseasons you will ever see from an organization.
Take trading McCoy for young linebacker Kiko Alonzo. While the former Eagles running back and Kelly apparently didn’t get along very well, replacing him with DeMarco Murray, a similiarly-aged running back with experience running through man and not zone blocking offensive lines, made no sense from a scheme or fit standpoint and was a pointlessly lateral move – especially because of Murray’s $40 million, including a guaranteed $18 million, contract.
Also consider trading Foles for former No. 1 pick Sam Bradford. While talent certainly can help a team go from wild-card level to being Super Bowl contenders, continuity and consistent development of players is important as well. Foles regressed during 2014 in comparison to his video game-like 2013 season and the Eagles saw relative success without him when he was hurt, but trading him for a quarterback like Bradford, with a huge injury problem of his own, was also low-reward and high-risk.
In addition to these moves, Kelly also released two other starters from the Eagles’ roster in wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and star guard Mathis, as well as right guard Todd Herremans. Replacing four starters on a solid offense is not easy – and the results weren’t pretty.
Now, at the end of his tenure, the Eagles are No. 27 status in offensive defense-adjusted value over average this season, scoring only 22.6 points per game. Despite Kelly’s well-earned reputation as an offensive mastermind, there’s no denying how his gaping flaws in managing personnel have turned an otherwise effective offense into a mediocre one. Ultimately, his inability to fix the mess he made was his downfall. Now here’s one of my favorite troll account tweets, though I hate to admit that I thought it was real for a split second before I saw the name.
#Eagles sources told me that former coach Chip Kelly made special teams players hold lighter fluid in their mouths during run throughs.
— Ian Rapoport (@trillballins) December 30, 2015
The Three Worst Decisions of Last Weekend
3. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick trades a dollar for 90 cents by kicking in OT, gives his money away by not going for two points while down 17-12 after a touchdown.
2. Miami Dolphins coach Dan Campbell elects to kick field goals on two fourth and two situations – forced to unsuccessfully go for it while down 18-12 on fourth and five, loses game.
1. Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn forgets how to call a two-minute drill, does two short passes from the Atlanta 1 only to call a halftime running play.