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By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS)—This time everyone knew who was there sitting up on the dais being introduced as the new head coach of the Eagles, unlike 14 years ago when a little-known assistant named Andy Reid stood there with Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie.
That announcement came as a little surprise. So too, in a way, did this proclamation when Lurie publicly introduced former Oregon coach Chip Kelly as the Eagles’ 21st head coach in franchise history on Thursday at the NovaCare Complex.
Kelly was believed to be out of the picture, after he said he was returning to Oregon after a nine-hour interview on January 5 with the Eagles during the search process. But through dogged determination from Eagles’ general manager Howie Roseman, the Eagles got their number-one candidate to replace Reid.
It’s a monumental, crossroads choice what direction the Eagles will take. Out-of-the-box thinking garnered them Reid, a strong choice who departed after 14 seasons as the winningest coach in franchise history.
But one thing was missing from the Reid years—a Super Bowl Vince Lombardi trophy. It remains the one quest Lurie and the Eagles have never achieved.
Though questions hover over the hire.
Can Kelly’s innovative, rapid-fire offense work at the NFL level? Will his demanding personality be accepted by the Eagles players? Will he stay with Nick Foles as the Eagles’ starting quarterback, or go with someone else? Will Kelly be able to adjust to the NFL, since he has no NFL coaching or playing experience?
Kelly certainly curried instant favor with the assembled media, using quick, witty responses, and seemed to be sincere in how he’s going to handle the myriad problems rebuilding the 4-12 Eagles, one of the youngest teams in the NFL that woefully underachieved over the last two years, finishing a combined 12-20.
“It’s a really exciting time for me, it was a difficult decision, but when I first met with Jeffrey, [team president] Don [Smolenski] and Howie in Phoenix, the passion for this franchise was very, very evident to me,” Kelly said. “It’s a special situation. It’s an iconic franchise, with a passionate, passionate owner and great people in this company. That’s the thing that struck me.
“I probably took a long time with this decision, probably a lot longer than some other people wanted me to take, but I’ve coached and been involved with this game because of the people. I knew what this place was all about, and it’s where I wanted to be. But I love my players, and we had a great culture at Oregon, and for me, it was knowns versus unknowns. It was very, very difficult to leave a bunch of men that I truly love and respect. I knew this was the place for me. It was just figuring out a way to do this the right way. The game of football to me is always about relationships, and the game of football to me is about people. I had great people at Oregon and it took a special situation for me to leave.”
Kelly said he’s aware of the Eagles’ fervent fanbase. He quipped he knows the second-most important bowl, besides the Super Bowl, is the Wing Bowl in Philadelphia. Kelly thanked Reid, who gave Kelly some input on the Eagles’ organization. He’s aware of the history, and the tradition, and said the Eagles were not only one of the top organizations in football—but in all of sports.
Reid gave Kelly some simple advice—that was to be himself.
Kelly also feels confident he can make the kind of adjustments needed to be a successful NFL coach.
“Football is football—and this is football at its highest level, it’s about putting together a great coaching staff, having a great organization behind you, and having great players,” Kelly said. “Ultimately, whether it’s in high school football, college football or professional football, it’s a personnel driven operation. I know, in the experience I’ve had, it’s about figuring out any way we can to put our players in the best situation where they have an opportunity to be successful. That’s what this game comes down to. Are there a lot more cameras around, yup. But that’s what this deal is all about. It’s still the game of football.”
Kelly said he’s in the process of putting together a staff, and has begun making phone calls. He didn’t rule out the possibility of revamping the Eagles’ 4-3 defensive alignment to a 3-4 approach. He’s also very familiar with Foles, playing against him in the Pac-12. Kelly said there is a difference between the perception of his offensive scheme, and the reality. The perception is that Oregon ran its quarterback all of the time, and Kelly corrected that, saying that wasn’t the case.
Kelly stressed he likes durability in a quarterback. He said he would analyze everyone on the Eagles. The offense will be “tailored to who’s playing,” he said. “In terms of Nick, I know him, because we played against him. I’m a huge fan of his. He’s tough, and it’s an attribute that I think a lot of people don’t understand of how hard it is, and what toughness means to the quarterback spot. We hit him just as many times as we could hit him, and he just kept getting up and making plays. He completed a 13-yard pass left handed once against us. I remember standing on the sideline shaking my head, going, I don’t know what we have to do to stop him. He’s a competitor and he’s accurate, and I’m excited about that.”
Where does Michael Vick fit?
Kelly didn’t dismiss the possibility of Vick returning, either.
“We’re going to look at everything we can do to put the best product on the field,” Kelly said. “There’s nothing on the board right now, nothing off the board right now. There’s nobody ruled in, nobody ruled out at this point in time.”
By the end of last season, many Eagles were finger-pointing. A malaise gripped this team with many questioning many others about their attitude, especially after the dog effort in the last game against the New York Giants. Kelly vowed everyone is starting with a clean slate. His message is simple—one goal, and that’s to get to the Super Bowl.
“We’re going to find a bunch of like-minded individuals that understand that the game of football is played by everybody, the best team wins,” Kelly said. “We’re going to surround ourselves with the best team. I’m all in. I think it was Cortez that burned the boats. I burned the boats. I’m not going back [to college], so I’m an NFL coach and this is where I want to be. I made the jump and I’m here.”
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.