Kelly: No Eagle Eye for Talent

In less than three years, Chip Kelly has already managed to do what it took Andy Reid more than a decade to accomplish – he got the fans to turn against him.

It’s not quite effigy-burning time, but it’s clear that Kelly’s honeymoon with the infamous Philly boo-birds is over. The venom directed at the Eagles coach after Sunday’s crushing 28-point defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team that won two games last season, was as nasty as anything Reid faced, or any former Eagles coach we can think of. (We weren’t around the team when Joe “Joe Must Go!” Kuharich was coach in the 1960s).

That’s a direct contrast to the love directed at Kelly when he was hired by Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie in 2013. At the time, Kelly was the hottest coaching prospect out there after running an innovative and highly-successful program at Oregon, and every NFL team with an opening wooed him. Kelly turned them all down and accepted the Eagles job, which many fans took as a compliment to their team and their city.

Hey, he could have picked any team he wanted, and he chose ours…

That love grew in leaps and bounds during Kelly’s first season. He started off with a bang, unleashing his no-huddle offense on the Washington Redskins in the opener and winning big. The Eagles, who won just three games the previous season under Reid, won 10 in Kelly’s inaugural season and, more importantly, his team won NFC East and the playoff berth that went with it.

The Eagles lost in the first round and then didn’t make the playoffs in 2014, even though they had the same record as the year before, 10-6. It was disappointing, but the Kelly love-fest was still going strong as the Eagles appeared to be ready to dominate the division.

Then it all changed, mainly because the power changed hands.

Kelly was given more and more authority until Lurie made it official and promoted him to general manager as well as coach. We don’t have to list the number of good players Kelly got rid of, or the number of not-so-good players he’s brought in to replace them – you’ve heard and seen it all before. More and more fans became unhappy with Kelly’s ham-handed discarding of productive and popular players, although most of them were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt with the changes he was making.

Well, at least they were at the beginning of this season. Now, not so much.

What fans once thought of as innovative they now see as just a gimmick that, like so many gimmicks, doesn’t work in the NFL on a long-term basis. Remember the run-and-gun offense (or, as former Eagles coach Buddy Ryan called it, the chuck-and-duck)? More recently, it was the Wildcat offense that was supposed to revolutionize the game and almost every team tried to install some version of it. Now, almost none of them do.

That’s because systems and gimmicks don’t win games, not to mention championships – it’s all about the talent on the field, not the talent in the coaches’ booth. Coaches, of course, don’t see it that way, at least NFL coaches. And coaches in the NFL have much more of an impact than the coach or manager of any other sport, since they design and call the plays and so much preparation goes into game-planning during the week.

But it wasn’t the West Coast offense that won all of those championships for the San Francisco 49ers — it was Joe Montana and Jerry Rice and Ronnie Lott and Steve Young and the 49ers’ other stars. And even though everyone acknowledges that New England’s Bill Belichick is a great coach, the Patriots have all those Super Bowl rings because of quarterback Tom Brady.

Now Kelly is discovering that it doesn’t matter how quickly you run plays or how many smoothies you drink or how many hours you sleep at night – it’s about talent, and if his first year as general manager is any indication, he’s not a good judge of it, at least not at the NFL level.

That’s why Lincoln Financial Field was almost empty midway through the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to a team that was the worst in the league in 2014. The fans leaving those expensive seats weren’t yelling or shaking their fists in the air – they were sullen and mostly silent. And, as the Eagles are finding out, there are worse things than angry fans, and that’s fans that just don’t care anymore.

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