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Eagles Fans – and Press – Welcome Chip Kelly

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Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan has covered and commented on the Delaware sports scene for more than 30 years, everything from amateur recreation leagues and high schools to local colleges and the Philadelphia professional teams. He’s been voted Delaware Sportswriter of the Year multiple times and currently covers the Philadelphia Eagles for CBSSports.com and teaches creative writing courses at Wilmington University.

The Eagles finally know who their coach will be, but they still don’t know who his assistants will be, what kind of offense and defense he will run and, perhaps most importantly of all, who his quarterback will be.

Chip Kelly signed a five-year contract to become coach of the Eagles on Thursday and then addressed a packed press conference at the team’s training facility in South Philadelphia. Kelly, who wore a black Eagles polo shirt to the press conference instead of a suit, was engaging and witty – at different times he referenced Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortez and the movie “Smokey and the Bandit’’ – but he didn’t really reveal what he will do and with whom he will do it.

“It’s a real exciting time for me,’’ Kelly said after being introduced by Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie “The passion of this franchise was very, very evident. It was a difficult decision for me [to leave the University of Oregon], but this is a special situation.

“I knew this was the place for me,’’ Kelly added. “I just needed to find a way to do it the right way.’’

Kelly, 49, initially met with the Eagles – Lurie, team president Don Smolenski and general manager Howie Roseman – on Jan. 8 in Scottsdale, Ariz., where Kelly was preparing his Oregon team to play in the Fiesta Bowl. They met for more than eight hours and soon afterward Kelly announced his decision to remain at Oregon.

But he did leave the door open a crack and the more he thought about coaching the Eagles the wider that crack became. So, Kelly had a representative contact the Eagles again and Lurie and Co. – who were poised to hire Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley – jumped at the chance to make Kelly the 21st coach in Eagles history and their fourth since Lurie purchased the team in 1994.

“It’s been an excellent process, a carefully, targeted process,’’ Lurie said. “As I said early on, the whole key was to try to find the right leader, not make the fastest decision. We studied Chip for a long, long time and everything we’d ever heard was so true.”

Most of the questions at Thursday’s press conference weren’t about Kelly himself as much as what kind of system he will play and who will play it, especially at quarterback. And he said nothing has been decided about any of those situations.

Here are some of the topics that came up and Kelly’s response to them:

On moving up to the NFL, where he has no experience: “Football is football, and this is football at its highest level. But it’s still the game of football. It’s still X’s and O’s. … It’s about putting together a great coaching staff and having great players.”

On whether the high-octane offense he ran at Oregon will work in the NFL: “I’m not married to anything. It’s not about style, it’s about substance. Whether it’s high school football or college football or NFL football, it’s still a personnel-driven operation and we still have to figure out what tools we have in our toolbox. … I’m an equal-opportunity scorer.”

On whether he will have final say on personnel matters: “It’s got to be a collaboration. No one person can do it all. I coach football – I’m not a general manager. I don’t want all these different titles. I have no delusions. I just want to coach football.”

On whether quarterbacks Nick Foles and Michael Vick fit into his plans for 2013 and beyond: “I’m going to look at all the personnel. I have no preconceived notions. … Nothing is on the board right now and nothing is off the board.”

Kelly did praise both quarterbacks and he had a chance to see Foles up close and personal. Kelly played against Foles in 2011 when the QB was at Arizona, and Foles had a big day even though Oregon rolled to a 56-31 victory. Foles completed 34 of 57 passes for 398 yards and three touchdowns, but what impressed Kelly the most was Foles’ toughness.

“We hit him as many times as we could hit him and he just kept getting up and making plays,’’ Kelly said. “He’s tough, he’s accurate and I’m excited about that.”

If Eagles fans have one concern about Kelly, it’s his lack of NFL experience and the lack of success that college coaches have had in the NFL in recent years. That includes Nick Saban, who has won four NCAA championships at LSU and Alabama, but only lasted two seasons in the NFL, going 15-17 with the Miami Dolphins. And the last NFL coach who never played or coached in the league was Mike Riley, who left Oregon State for the San Diego Chargers in 1999 and had a record of 14-34 in three seasons before he was fired.

But NFL Network analyst Mike Lombardi, a former Eagles personnel executive, said Eagles fans should be focused on Kelly’s proven positives and not his potential negatives.

“He is a very successful coach, he is a very smart coach and he is a very analytical coach,’’ Lombardi said. “He is going to take the success he had – and he studies the pro game – and he is going to apply to the pro game.

“I think his ideas of what he does at Oregon will always come into the NFL, but they won’t necessarily be the offense,’’ Lombardi added. “ Anyone who says ‘Well, Chip Kelly’s offense won’t work in the NFL,’ they really don’t know Chip Kelly as a person. Chip Kelly is very smart, he is very analytical, and he will adapt to the pro game and his talents as a leader will take over as head coach.”

And former New Hampshire head coach Bill Bowles – who was Kelly’s boss from 1994-98 – said Kelly is flexible and won’t try to pound a square college peg into a round NFL hole.

“He’s bright enough to know you have to match your offense with the talent you have,’’ Bowles said. “Not all coaches have that — the ability to make changes or adaptations, and the foresight to analyze and evaluate the personnel you have and create the best offense for your personnel.”

Contact Kevin Noonan at knoonan32@aol.com.

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