News stories aren’t really the first draft of history — they’re snapshots that someone can go through later and use to piece together what happened. No, it’s year end review articles like this one that are the real first draft. Please leave your edits and corrections in the comments.
Chip Kelly was hired by the Philadelphia Eagles exactly one year ago yesterday, on January 16, 2013. It wasn’t exactly a surprise; his outrageous success with the Oregon Ducks made him a top line candidate for NFL openings, and he had had extensive negotiations with Tampa Bay and Cleveland — and even walked away from the Eagles job once — before he finally made the jump to the big league.
Still, there were many skeptics. Dozens of football pundits wrote him off as another Steve Spurrier or Bobby Petrino, a college offense trickster who neglected defense and was too cute and clever for NFL opponents. Kelly needed a special kind of mobile quarterback to run his read option, you see, and pro linebackers were so big and fast they they would cripple his QB very soon. RGIII was their exhibit A – knocked out of the playoffs before the end of his first year as a running quarterback. Like Spurrier, they said, he’d last a year or two and crawl back to college with his tail between his legs. If he was lucky, he might get the job at USC or Texas.
A year later, Kelly has proven these critics wrong, if not idiotic. There were so many naysayers with quickly discredited “hot takes” dancing just out of the edge of memory in various forgotten tweets and blog posts, that a mini-genre has popped up of “I told you so” websites that collect these word flops. The best is by Dave Mangels, an avid Eagles fan exiled to Atlanta. At his blog, Southern Philly, he has an invaluable resource called “College Boy” that collects the most ridiculous.
Here are a few lowlights. The crowning glory, courtesy of NFL.com, is Heath Evans’ decisive pronouncement: “I am going on the record calling Chip Kelly one of the worst hires in pro football history.” When did he come to this stark opinion? After weeks or months of careful analysis? No. TWO HOURS after Kelly’s hiring was announced.
His ridiculous rationale started with the “fact” that “Kelly had the biggest recruiting advantage ever known to a college coach.” No wonder he had such an edge on Alabama and USC and Stanford, when he out-recruited those schools year after year, right? No need for the Eagles playoff drive and NFC East championship to refute this tripe; it was ripped apart by 2:00pm the same day courtesy of Jason Kirk on SB Nation.
Dan Graziano, who covers the NFC East for ESPN (with a clear New York Giants bias), has the most entries in this archive of absurdity. On June 13th, a full month before the first rookie showed up early to training camp, he wrote “I promise Eagles fans this: Someday, you will have a QB who makes you say, ‘I can’t believe we tried to talk ourselves into Nick Foles!'”
Here’s a quick recap of Foles’ season: 27 touchdowns against two interceptions, and a Pro Bowl berth in his second year of pro ball. He threw 7 TDs in one game against Oakland, which earned him a spot in the Hall of Fame by the end of that week, and led the NFL in passer rating at 119.2 — the third highest in NFL history, and better than Tom Brady has ever done.
The whole web site is worth reading. Even Cleveland writer Terry Pluto — who put together the hilarious book “Loose Balls,” an oral history of the American Basketball Association’s wildest days — fell victim. After Chip walked away from the Cleveland Browns head coaching job — a decision that looks especially brilliant today, as the Browns struggle to find anyone willing to take on that miserable position — Pluto wrote “Cleveland Browns better off without Chip Kelly.” How did that work out for you, Browns fans?
Enough gloating. This has turned out to be less of draft history and more of a refutation of bad future predictions. Maybe that’s the real first draft of history, wiping out the ludicrous narratives of the past.
The Eagles had a very good year. Not perfect. They have a lot of work to do in the off-season, but every indication is that things are on the right track and moving up.
Top Photo by Mark Saltveit