Eagles president Smolenski gave winning sales pitch to Kelly

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Don Smolenski was brought to Eagles brass' meeting with Chip Kelly to sell him on the culture of the organization.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Don Smolenski was brought to Eagles brass' meeting with Chip Kelly to sell him on the culture of the organization.
Posted: January 18, 2013

AS THE EAGLES trudged through a dozen interviews, it made sense that owner Jeffrey Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman examined each of the head-coach applicants.

But . . . Don Smolenski?

The money guy? The marathoner?

The soccer fan?

Certainly, Smolenski, the team president, would have to be made privy to the preferred candidates. After all, as a former accountant and the team's former chief financial officer, Smolenski relishes disbursing the finances.

But did he need to have a seat at the conference table in the suite at the Four Seasons in Scottsdale, Ariz.?

Did he need to be a part of that 9-hour conversation that so riveted the foursome that they never even hit the snack tray in the kitchenette?

Didn't Smolenski have a training run to make?

Some beans to count?

As it turns out, Smolenski's frank and earnest persona might have helped pry Chip Kelly from his cozy nest in Eugene, Ore.

Like a true mother duck, Kelly's greatest misgiving about leaving Oregon lay in his desertion of the players he repeatedly claimed to love.

He did not want to abandon a place where he worked among so many good people . . .

Unless it was to land somewhere where there were people just as good. Lurie brought Smolenski along, in part, to give Chip Kelly a taste of the workplace.

It worked.

"In meeting with these three guys, it was very evident to me, it's an iconic franchise with a passionate, passionate owner and great, great people in this company. That's the thing that struck me," Kelly said. "I've always coached and I've always been involved in this game because of the people. I knew what this place was all about, and it's where I wanted to be."

Of course, the Three Amigos cannot account for the whole enchilada.

That was part of Smolenski's job.

"He is the best seller of the culture of the franchise. The best," Lurie explained. "In the past 14 years, he's been CFO, chief operating officer, and now president. He's been in every top role. Anyone wants to talk about what it's like to work in the culture of the Eagles, he's the best to explain it."

As it turns out, Kelly - who never even coached at an NCAA powerhouse, much less in the NFL - wanted exactly that. What kind of person would be parking next to him at the NovaCare Complex, eating lunch at his elbow?

He found a fine example in Smolenski, who enjoyed nearly equal billing.

Kelly met one-on-one with Lurie for a while, which is to be expected.

Kelly then chatted alone with Roseman about personnel and salary caps and roles in evaluation, which made sense.

Then he turned to Smolenski.

The seller.

In their private meeting, Smolenski sold Kelly hard.

"My role," Smolenski said, "was to talk about the city and the fans. How valuable our fans are. What football means in this city. For the coach and the team to walk into the sold-out passionate, loud, energetic, enthusiastic, totally supportive crowd."

Smolenski also assured Kelly that, while the Eagles' marketing and community relations wings might rob him of some valuable time, they would enhance the team's goal of consistent winning.

"I had to provide a perspective on what the organization was like, to talk about the collaborative nature between business and football," Smolenski said. "To talk about how the focus here is coach-centric; providing all the resources for the coach and the football team to win."

Kelly landed in Philadelphia on Wednesday evening. He spent part of Thursday morning settling in.

"Every person I've met in the last about [18] hours since I've been here has been nothing short of amazing," Kelly said.

It is a relief . . . and a responsibility.

Kelly has dealt with boosters since he began coaching in college, most recently, Oregon uber-booster Phil Knight, the Nike chairman, whose presence in Kelly's life prepared him for life as an NFL brand.

"His relationship with Phil Knight was very helpful. He understands that success of Nike benefited him," Smolenski said. "For us to convey that our philosophy, and the relationships that we have - whether it's with season ticketholders, or club seatholders, our suite owners, our corporate partners - those resources only go one place. Back into the team. He got that.

"Those resources could help him acquire a player, help him acquire a coach, help him acquire a trainer. A nutritionist."

Or a paycheck.

Asked whether the Eagles had already ordered the thousands of visors they expect to sell - Kelly sports visors like Bill Belichick wears hoodies - Smolenski laughed.

"I haven't had a chance to ask coach if that's really what he prefers to wear, or just what they wanted him to wear at Oregon," Smolenski said. "I don't want to be so presumptuous."

That visor with the big, green "O" always had a little, green swoosh on the left temple. Coincidentally, perhaps, Nike is an official NFL brand.

Yes, Chip Kelly understands marketing.

"At one point," Smolenski said, "he equated Mr. Knight to being an owner."

A candid acknowledgement.

Made to the most unlikely guy in the room.


Email: hayesm@phillynews.com

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