PHILADELPHIA – There’s a misconception among many Eagles fans that team owner Jeffrey Lurie doesn’t care about winning as long as his NFL team makes lots and lots of money, which it does. But those fans are dead wrong, because Lurie already knows what it’s like to be rich, but he doesn’t know what it feels like to be a champion.
So, there’s no question Lurie wants to win even more than the most die-hard fan. The problem is the way he goes about it – Lurie doesn’t just want to win, he also wants to win his way. And that means working outside the box and having the old I’m-smarter-than-the-average-bear approach.
Lurie did that when he made his first coaching hire, Ray Rhodes in 1994. Rhodes was a successful defensive coordinator who had worked with great teams in San Francisco and he dazzled Lurie with his enthusiasm and tough talk. But Rhodes was one of the worst coaching disasters in Eagles history, even though he went to the playoffs in his first season (just like somebody else we know).
Then Lurie went outside the box again when he hired Andy Reid, an anonymous assistant with Green Bay who had never even been a coordinator at any level. But Lurie was blown away by Reid’s meticulous and massive notebook and his amazing attention to detail. That, of course, was a terrific choice as Reid led the Eagles to the most successful stretch in team history. But Reid’s teams never took that final step and won the Super Bowl championship that Lurie so desperately wants. Things fell apart at the end – although not nearly as badly as they did under Rhodes – and nobody was surprised when Lurie reluctantly decided to part ways with the man who ran his team for more than a decade.
That leads us to Chip Kelly. Once again, Lurie was seduced by somebody who promised to be different. It wasn’t enough for the owner to hire a good coach – he wanted somebody who would revolutionize the sport, and Kelly seemed like the perfect choice with his up-tempo offense and unorthodox approach to practice and even small things like the loud music that was played at practice and the smoothies that were custom-made for the players.
And then, after a promising start, it all fell apart.
“It was clear that this was an important decision that had to be made,” Lurie said. “This was really a three-year evaluation of where we were heading, what is the trajectory, what is the progress or lack thereof and what did I anticipate for the foreseeable future. And that’s why the decision was made.”
And the decision was made because when Lurie answered those questions in his own mind, “The end result was mediocrity,’’ he said.
In retrospect, Lurie should have gone after Arizona coach Bruce Arians, who was available and who would have jumped at the chance to coach the Eagles. But that was a safe and boring choice, and that wasn’t good enough for the owner. He wanted someone who would shake things up in the NFL and Kelly was his man. But then Lurie made the same mistake he made with Rhodes and Reid – he gave Kelly control over personnel matters and he botched it.
“It was a bold choice and we knew there were some potential pitfalls,” Lurie said of his decision to give Kelly absolute power. “I wanted to make Chip accountable for everything he wanted to have happen. And one of the ways to make him accountable was to have him make those decisions, because that is what he insisted on decisively doing. So if you want to make those decisions, be accountable for them, and that’s the direction it took.
“There was a risk involved in allowing Chip to have that kind of say over player transactions.” Lurie added. “However, you know, risk-reward. Sometimes the risks don’t work, and this case, it didn’t work.”
So far, nothing the owner has done has worked, at least not if the only thing that matters is winning a Super Bowl, as it should be for a man who once promised to win multiple championships. So, make no mistake about it, Jeffrey Lurie wants to win. He just doesn’t know how.