Just our gut: Chip Kelly, Bill O'Brien most appealing to Eagles

Posted: January 03, 2013

WHAT FOLLOWS is based not upon somebody whispering in my ear. It is more about body language, and tone of voice, and reading between the lines, and understanding the history. It falls somewhere between an educated guess and a gut instinct.

This: that Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie likely wants either Chip Kelly or Bill O'Brien to be his next head coach.

To understand why, it is best to begin with a statistic. It is a rather arcane number, to be honest. It isn't in the box score and people do not quote it very often. Whether or not it computes to winning in the NFL is open to debate. More than anything, it suggests a stylistic choice.

This number: offensive plays per game.

The New England Patriots led the NFL in plays this season with 1,191. That is 16 percent above the NFL average. In the last 3 weeks, though, the Pats have begun to rev up their offense in a way that the NFL might never have seen. Maybe they were just getting better at it over time, or maybe they waited to unfurl the thing in its full fury until right before the start of the playoffs, but over the last three games their play total has been a full 25 percent above the league average.

Every team has a no-huddle option. The Eagles played pretty fast overall under Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg, and they often found their way out of offensive doldrums over the years by going with a strategic no-huddle series or two. But playing fast as a consistent philosophy - as the essence of an offense's DNA - has only been a college thing before this. An NFL team has not stuck with it, not really.

Now, though, here come Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the fellas. They are in the vanguard here. If there are two things that Lurie respects in the NFL, it is the Patriots - the entire franchise, from owner Robert Kraft on down - and it is offensive innovation. And if this is where the league is headed, not only is Lurie going to want to be in on it - he said more than once on Monday that he wants a guy who will anticipate what defenses do as a counter and who leads the next round of innovation, too.

With that, two names: Kelly and O'Brien.

As everybody knows, Kelly's attack at the University of Oregon is an amalgam of a spread offense and a high-tempo offense. Whether or not NFL quarterbacks can handle the spread option stuff is a question. Whether or not big, middle-aged offensive linemen can consistently handle the high-tempo stuff is another question. Belichick, though, thinks the hurry-up element is valuable - and that is going to be enough for Lurie.

The way that the Patriots learned the hurry-up is interesting, too. According to reporting done by the Boston Globe, Kelly and O'Brien go way back to when they were college coaches - Kelly at New Hampshire, O'Brien at Brown. When Kelly got to Oregon and began to really push the tempo, O'Brien invited him to New England to talk about the concept. There were a couple of visits, and, eventually, Belichick got involved and bought in.

The Patriots began to go at a higher tempo in 2011, when O'Brien was their offensive coordinator. They have pushed it farther now - and, for the first time in forever, the whole league is playing a bit faster, and some teams are playing a lot faster, and New England is leading the way.

So, Kelly and O'Brien. Other than competition from other teams - including old pal Joe Banner in Cleveland - there is a complication for both of them, of course: Kelly has no NFL experience; O'Brien might not want to leave, besides the fact that he has a buyout on his Penn State contract that is reported to be north of $9 million. But by this logic, they are the names that make the most sense. (Current New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels also would make sense, but he reportedly is not interested in a head-coaching job at this time.)

Other names? Bruce Arians has been a winner, and was a rock this year for Indianapolis when head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia - and the Colts play fast. Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy also plays pretty fast but, even more than that, he has won games by playing fast, by playing slow, or by playing Tebow - and that kind of coach-'em-up versatility is an underappreciated skill.

But it comes back, still, to Kelly and O'Brien. In the Eagles' endless pursuit of the Patriots, they make the most sense.

Philadelphia Eagles hire Chip Kelly as next head coach.


Email: hofmanr@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @theidlerich

Columns: philly.com/

RichHofmann

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