I hate to brag, but in the heat of the rumor frenzy surrounding Chip Kelly’s possible exit from University of Oregon and ascension to the NFL I knew he would land in Philadelphia. They have so many offensive weapons. It’s a beautiful city. They aren’t a sad sack franchise in the midst of an overhaul, like Jacksonville. NCAA investigations were heating up in Eugene. It just seemed too easy.
But now for the real test, can he win?
The stories of the college coaching legends turned NFL washout are easy to recall: Nick Saban, Dennis Erickson, Lou Holtz, Pete Carroll (part I). They all seemed to have the secret to success until they got onto the biggest stage in America. Kelly, however, can find hope in former Pac-12 rivals Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll (part II). Which list Kelly finds himself on depends on a few key factors.
An underachieving team
Despite their 4-12 record, the Eagles weren’t a terrible team last year. A few bad breaks, some crucial injuries and a city-wide loss of faith in Andy Reid all helped to declaw an Eagles team that contained a heap of talent.
When Chip Kelly signed on as head coach he did the equivalent of buying an undervalued stock. Even if he isn’t able to transform the whole concept of NFL offense in one year, he should still be able to improve the team’s record if he can avoid a few bad bounces and busted knees.
Chip Kelly was brought to Philadelphia for one reason: to put points on the board. In Philly he’s found a capable cast of players to pile those points on. LeSean McCoy will be eager to bounce back from his injury-marred 2012 season, especially considering the high expectations heaped on him after an excellent 2011 season.
McCoy isn’t the only one seeking a little redemption in Kelly’s offense. Michael Vick also battled injury (and the ticking career clock) in 2012. Other than a few weeks of gaudy fantasy football stats, he was never really able to attain the kind of consistent success that would qualify him for redemption in the eyes of fans. He seems physically fit (he famously outran LeSean McCoy in a 40- yard dash) and perfectly suited to Kelly’s run and gun offense.
Add in a scary receiver like Desean Jackson and there are a lot of raw materials for Chip Kelly to work with.
Sure, adjusting to the pace and grind of the NFL can be daunting for a coach, but a few college coaches have been able to turn their in-depth knowledge of college talent (and former college stars) into paydirt on the field. Coming out of USC, Pete Carroll was able to grab a ton of amazing talent out of the Pac-12 rubbish bin to fuel the Seahawks (including Stanford alumni Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin, and former OSU Beaver Brandon Browner). He didn’t just get lucky. He’d seen those guys on the field, not just in scouting video, and knew what they were capable of. Hopefully Kelly will be able to coax some of the same young talent to help balance the Eagles aging lineup.
Still, with all of the experience and success Chip Kelly has accumulated in Eugene, his transition to the pros will not be without hardship. Here, briefly, are a few of the hurdles he’ll have to overcome.
NFL rosters are set at 53. College teams have the luxury of keeping eighty or more eager bodies around. A smaller team means Chip Kelly will have a harder time keeping his players fresh while running as many offensive plays as possible. This concern means even more when considering the punishment of a season in the NFL and the (relatively) advanced age of Michael Vick.
When Chip Kelly coached at U of O he was the highest paid guy out there. He was also the only paid guy out there. The economic future of his athletes depended on them getting playing time from the all-powerful coach. In Philadelphia, that will change. He’ll be dealing with adult men with adult egos and ridiculous pay-checks. It will be interesting to see how he handles this change in dynamic, especially considering notorious problem child Desean Jackson and the recent racist remarks of Riley Cooper.
All the preparation and talent in the world can’t protect you against old fashioned bum luck. Just ask Bobby Petrino. In 2007 he was sitting in Chip Kelly’s spot. After some masterful seasons at Louisville, he was expected to take the NFL by storm with the Atlanta Falcons, led by a superstar named Michael Vick. One dog-fighting conviction and eleven losses later, Petrino ducked back into the NCAA without even completing a full NFL season.
In truth, no one can say they know what’s in store for Chip Kelly and the Eagles. It may be a Super Bowl, it may be fans throwing boos and batteries. My best guess, though, is that Kelly will go something like 9-7, narrowly missing the playoffs, but putting together a solid season.