Chip Kelly’s football world is crashing around him and it’s hard to feel sorry for the Eagles coach and general manager, since he’s the one who created that world. He’s failing for the first time in his career, and if he wants to discover why all he has to do is look in the mirror.
The Eagles are 1-3 going into Sunday’s game against New Orleans, and the natives are restless. As most Eagles fans know, Kelly won a power struggle with former general manager Howie Roseman during the offseason and his prize was complete control over personnel decisions. And Kelly didn’t waste much time. The coach who got rid of Pro Bowl wide receiver DeSean Jackson after his first season with the Eagles really got down to business after his second season. Kelly released, traded or didn’t re-sign four more Pro Bowl players – wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, running back LeSean McCoy, quarterback Nick Foles and guard Evan Mathis. And the players he got to replace them have not come close to playing at a Pro Bow level, although it hasn’t totally been their faults.
Worse, Kelly the general manager seemed to forget the most basic premise of football, no matter what the level – it all starts up front. His first-ever draft pick with the Eagles was tackle Lane Johnson, but he hasn’t drafted another offensive lineman since. And this past off-season Kelly didn’t sign any veteran o-linemen, even though he knew he was going to eventually cut both of his starting guards and replace them with journeymen who are lucky to be in the NFL. Kelly also knew Jason Peters, his All-Pro left tackle, was getting older and more injury-prone, and there was little or no depth in reserve.
Instead, Kelly didn’t re-sign Maclin – after all, it was just money – and used his first-round pick on another receiver, Nelson Agholor. Maybe Agholor will end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday, but Kelly dumped two pretty good receivers in Jackson and Maclin and then used two high draft picks on guys who play the same position, Jordan Matthews and Agholor, respectively – picks that could have been used to shore up the offensive line.
That’s why it was interesting when Kelly said on Monday, less than 24 hours after the 24-20 loss to Washington, that everyone should keep the faith because the 2013 Eagles started off 1-3 and ended up winning the division. Uh, Chip, the only problem with that theory is you got rid of all the players who sparked that 7-1 second half that won NFC East.
By the way, it’s not just unhappy fans in the Delaware Valley who are grousing about Kelly. Even national television commentators are wondering about the coach/general manager and his master plan for the Eagles.
NFL Network’s Heath Evans, who played 10 seasons in the NFL: “Can it be fixed? Player-wise, yes. Coach-wise? It appears to me that they’re coaching things that just don’t work.’’
Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, who said the Eagles are the No. 1 disappointment in the NFL so far this season: “Chip Kelly overestimated a few things and/or people. … Stunning how bad the offensive line looks, not to mention the man it’s protecting.’’
NFL Network’s LaDainian Tomlinson, a former NFL MVP and five-time Pro Bowler: “They’re still trying to find their identities with these guys. I don’t think this is the right personnel for Chip Kelly’s offense.”
Not the right personnel? How can that be, since Chip Kelly is in charge of personnel now? The whole point of making those deals was that the new players fit his system and his culture better than the old ones.
But, as Kelly has said more than once, it’s the players’ fault. He didn’t come right out and say that, of course, but he sure suggested it strongly. As annoying as it used to be to hear Andy Reid say every week that he needed to put his players in better positions to succeed (by the way, Big Red is also 1-3, so apparently he’s still having trouble with that), at least he took responsibility for his team’s failures. Kelly made it clear that the players are to blame, not him. He’s constantly harped on the we’re-not-executing theme during his press conferences and the inference is clear – the coaches are doing their jobs by coming up with good game plans and correct play calls, but the Eagles are losing because the players are not executing that game plan. Gee whiz, if they’d just do what we tell them…
And Kelly hasn’t helped his cause with the Philly faithful, because Eagles fans can sense his smugness, which comes from succeeding in a big way everywhere he’s been – until now. He took over a bad team and turned it around immediately, albeit mostly with Andy Reid’s players, and then he started to tear up the roster – only 11 players on the Eagles’ 53-man roster were here before Kelly, and only four on offense – tight end Brent Celek, tackle Jason Peters, wide receiver Riley Cooper and guard Dennis Kelly.
We’ve always gotten the feeling that Kelly won’t be happy until every player on the roster is his. Well, almost all of them are now. And how’s that working out for you?