Chip Kelly Update: Year in Review (Take One)

Nick Foles meets the press

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.

Southern Philly Blog

Dave Mangels

Southern Philly Blog

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?

Fly Birds Fly!

Mark Saltveit

Fly Birds, Fly!

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

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Mark Saltveit

Mark Saltveit

Mark Saltveit is a writer, skimboarder and dad who runs the website Taoish.org. He is the author of, "The Tao of Chip Kelly: Lessons from America's Most Successful Coach" (2013) and has written for Bleeding Green Nation (an Eagles blog), the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the Oregonian, Harvard Magazine, and Warp Weft and Way, an academic blog of Chinese philosophy. Mark is a Portland native, a professional standup comedian and the World Palindrome Champion.

  • Chippah

    Nice article. But one thing I’d point out is the hiring did come as a surprise. As you said Chip turned down the job which made almost everyone in the media and fan base take him off the list of candidates, except Howie and Jeff Lurie. Yes Chip was expected to test the NFL at some point but the reasoning he gave for staying made it seem like he’d wait at least one more year.

    What do you think the offseason priorities are for Chip improving as an NFL coach and learning from his rookie season?

    Any thoughts on personnel moves to move the team closer to what Chip envisions?

    • Mark Saltveit

      First, I’ll concede the Chip hiring was a surprise — certainly to me it was — but that’s no reason to predict it’s failure. I don’t think we’ve ever found out for sure why he did that dance, but my guess is that he was holding out for control over personnel — which he admitted he had at a mid-season press conference. Apparently GM Howie Roseman handles money negotiations, but Chip has the final word on who they pick in the draft, or pursue in free agency.

      Offseason moves — I try to avoid the endlesss wheel spinning discussions, but have no reason to disagree with the general consensus among sportswriters which is 1) pass rushing OLB 2) 1 or more safeties 3) kicker 4) cornerback OR WR (where Cooper and Maclin are both free agents).

      For Chip, he has a very strong base of support among the players, fans and team management, and his (modified) schemes seem to work very well at the NFL level. In-game strategy, the challenge flag system, and replacing his excellent QB coach Lazor and his asst. linebackers coach Chinander are high on the to-do list.

      • Anders

        Actually Chip has input on 53 roster,draft and FA, but it is Roseman who finds the players based on what Kelly has said he is looking for.

        • Dan

          I suspect that Chip might have a bit more input than that.

          • Anders

            That is what Chip and Roseman have been telling. Chip tells what kind of players he wants in both size, mental, style of play etc. and then it is Roseman’s job to find them and sign/draft them.
            On the 53 man roster, Roseman is of course following what Chip wants unless it makes two players are pretty equal, but one costs a lot less.

            Kelly have said he do not want to have anything to do with contract side of things (and therefor he can say he wants a player all he wants, but if Roseman cant or do not want to pay, Kelly wont get him) and only wants focus on scouting and coaching.

      • Dan

        I’d add the four minute offense to that – and for that matter, the team maybe needs to work on its 8 or 10 minute offense as well. For the most part, the offense looked very good when they got to the line of scrimmage quickly in 4 minute offense situations, and let the clock run down before snapping. Hoping to see much more of that next year.