Eagles' Kelly hire neither bold nor risky

Posted: January 18, 2013

THE RHETORIC no longer is about gold standards and Super Bowls. Jeffrey Lurie is too far gone for that now, too mired in his own missteps and missed opportunities to even attempt to repackage that pitch in a different wrapper, a different coach, a different era.

Now the hard sell is about relevance, in a town whose oblong-shaped DNA has been mutated by the unfulfilled promise and lack of meaningful success that has marked Lurie's ownership, particularly the last 4 years. We might still not be a baseball town first, but the decadelong rise of the Phillies into contenders and champions has served as an unflattering profile to Lurie's acumen as an owner, no matter how often he smiles and claims otherwise.

This is the context to Thursday's press conference, when Chip Kelly is introduced as Lurie's third head coach, the successor to Andy Reid and an era of great promise and flawed infrastructure and flawed on-field design. There is some irony that in his final season, Reid's offense averaged 17.5 points a game, 29th in the league.

And 32 points fewer than Kelly's Oregon team averaged.

I keep hearing that this is some risky move, hiring the 49-year-old Kelly. That the Eagles are being bold in hiring a head coach from a major college program who has won 46 of the 53 games his teams have played in over the last 4 years.

You know what Jim Harbaugh's record was in the 4 years he coached at Stanford? Try 29 wins, 21 losses. You know Pete Carroll's record at USC in the 4 years preceding his move to Seattle? It was 43-9. Greg Schiano was 30-21 at Rutgers in the 4 years before he went to Tampa Bay.

This is not bold. This is not a risky move. Risky is hiring a quarterbacks coach away from a team coached by an innovative offensive mind, the way Lurie and Joe Banner did when they tabbed Reid in 1999. I keep hearing that Gus Bradley shouldn't get the credit for Seattle's defense because Carroll is the head coach. How is that any different than Reid's role with the Packers under Mike Holmgren?

Risky is making a guy like that your head coach. Bold would have been hiring Bradley, which they apparently were willing to do had Kelly not reconsidered. He did, so they grabbed him. And if he doesn't work out? Well, he wasn't meant to coach in the pros, the way Steve Spurrier wasn't meant to. But right now, there were a slew of NFL teams willing to bet that he will. Could we say that about Bradley, or Mike McCoy, or even Doug Marrone?

Kelly's offense is bold. Maybe that's the confusion. There is this premise that it will not work in the bruising, unforgiving NFL, and that it is - or he is - incapable of adjustments. What's odd about this is Kelly's desirability as an NFL coach this season came as much from New England's success in using parts of it as it did from the Ducks' 12-1 record and thrashing of opponents. There also is this premise that it can work only with a speedy quarterback, not Nick Foles. Again, Tom Brady is a lot of things, but speedy isn't one of them.

The truth is Kelly is Lurie's safest bet, at least from a public-relations standpoint. When the NFL season ended, Kelly was the most coveted coach out there. The Bills interviewed him, the Browns interviewed him, the Eagles did, too. He apparently had a few more lined up when he withdrew from NFL coaching searches back on Jan. 6.

What changed his mind? More money? More control? Reporters who have covered him in Oregon were all over the airwaves Wednesday, arguing that Kelly is motivated by control more than cash. Kelly ran everything at Oregon, had Nike's Phil Knight as an ally, called every shot. While the possibly imminent NCAA sanctions would have muted that, he would have ridden it out without much loss of power.

Given that he looks up to and listens to New England coach Bill Belichick, is it not a natural conclusion that he would seek the same type of autonomy that has marked the Patriots' coach's success?

There was a time when people believed Scott Pioli had as much to do with that success as Belichick. There was a time when people believed Romeo Crennel, and Charlie Weis, played a big part in his success. Lately it's all because of Tom Brady. Except that when Brady went down in 2008, Matt Cassel - who had never started a game in college or the pros - led New England to an 11-5 record.

Ask people in Kansas City how that it is even possible.

It will be interesting to see how the narrative plays out here, whether Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman coordinate or clash. Whether his offense needs lots of tinkering or just a little, whether he will become a pioneer or a footnote.

We know only this: Either way, he will make a big splash. And after more than a decade of fool's gold and unfulfilled promise, that's the best Jeffrey Lurie has to offer right now.


Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

Columns: philly.com/

SamDonnellon

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