A reason for downcast Philly fans to feel good about new Eagles head coach Chip Kelly

Posted: January 22, 2013

TO A REGION lately capped by the knees of Andrew Bynum and Chase Utley, dismayed by the failings of Andy Reid and Michael Vick, and held hostage by the egos of Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr, Chip Kelly at least offers hope.

He is an uncertain light at the end of what is a short but very dark tunnel. Largely without pedigree - he never coached in the NFL, never coached a team covered by a major media market, ran an emerging college program for just four seasons - Kelly landed in Philadelphia last week in full glow.

He received showers of praise for his dynamic, if unorthodox, offensive system. There was glee for his caustic wit. He might not be better than Andy Reid, but he sure is different.

In this moment, in this climate, different is better.

Anything is better.

"I liked Andy Reid, and I'm glad things worked out for him, but Chip Kelly has definitely brought some energy with him," said college sports junkie and Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, now the longest-tenured pro coach in town.

Kelly has yet to cement his coaching staff. He has not committed to a style of defense: 4-3 or 3-4. He might not choose a quarterback for months.

In short, Eagles fans have no idea what they're getting.

They just know they're not getting more Big Red.

After a 14-year run of competence and arrogance, Reid's ultimate legacy will be impotence. Like the 10 coaches before him, Reid failed to win a Super Bowl. Unlike the 10 coaches before him, he alienated a fan base desperate to embrace him.

In a market that includes nearly four decades of failure by the Flyers, unfathomable depths of irrelevance by the Phillies and sometimes illusory successes by the Sixers, Reid and Jeffrey Lurie - with their habit of premature, grandiose, self-congratulatory statements - stand as a trademark for futility.

Chip Kelly, glib and clever, can change the brand.

In fairness, remarkably, Reid took the city's first step toward the precipice of frustration when, to the delight of many, he traded Donovan McNabb.

After 11 seasons of imperfect play, McNabb had earned the designation as a quarterback who simply could not win the biggest games. As such, Reid traded him to the Redskins and trusted young Kevin Kolb and resurrected Michael Vick to push the Eagles one step further.

Reid gave McNabb top-flight receivers just twice in his career: 2004 and 2009. McNabb's best seasons as a passer were 2004 and 2009.

Trading McNabb saved money and gave Kolb his shot. Kolb lasted five starts, and was traded. Vick had 34 starts, many of them disastrous, and proved fragile.

Reid is gone. Vick, at a $15.5 million price tag, assuredly will follow. Next up, Cliff Lee.

He embodied the great hope for the city's baseball fans, still elated from the 2008 World Series win but souring somewhat after a subsequent World Series loss and an upset in the NLCS in 2010. Lee revitalized the faithful when, as the market's finest free agent, he chose to return to the Phillies instead of taking the Yankees' superior offer. He produced a Cy Young-worthy year in 2011 . . . but in Game 2 of the Division Series, he lost a 4-0 lead to the Cardinals, who won the series over a Phillies team fatally flawed at the plate.

The Phillies' playoff upset coincided with the NBA lockout, which, in a more passionate pro basketball city, might have caused considerable consternation.

But, hey, the Flyers had finally acquired a Franchise Goalie. Well . . .

By the Winter Classic, Ilya Bryzgalov had played his way onto the bench and talked his way into the doghouse. Star defenseman Chris Pronger lay in a concussion limbo, which likely will end his career.

The Flyers' playoff run fizzled in the second round. They then watched as top forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, traded in the offseason as the team reconfigured itself, hefted the Stanley Cup in Los Angeles.


In the meantime, spring training began. Sort of.

Ryan Howard, the epicenter of the Phillies' franchise, had ruptured his Achilles' tendon on the final play of that 2011 playoff series. Complications from that injury delayed his return until the middle of 2012.

Simultaneously, the mysterious and chronic knee issues endured by teammate Chase Utley kept the second baseman out of the lineup, too. Combined with bullpen ineptness and injuries to starters, the Phillies foundered through the first 3 months and finished at .500.

Amid all of the injuries and all of the losing, the Sixers perked up their ears and made a gutty run to the seventh game of the second round of the playoffs. Young point guard Jrue Holiday took over leadership of the team; to the degree that the club felt secure in rebuilding the franchise around him.

They traded Andre Iguodala, an All-Star and an Olympian, but a constantly brooding presence. They allowed scoring guards Lou Williams and Jodie Meeks to walk.

They received Andrew Bynum, a talented young center with worrisome knees, and veteran guard Jason Richardson in return for Iguodala. They supported themselves with role players Dorell Wright and Nick Young.

After Monday night's game, Bynum's knees will have kept him off the court for the team's first 41 of 82 regular-season games, with little hope of him playing even 30 games. Wright and Young have been maddeningly inconsistent.

Since November, showing the wear from a dozen high-mileage seasons, Richardson is shooting 37.6 percent from the field, is making just 26 percent of his three-pointers and is scoring 9.0 points per game.

The Sixers went 10-6 in November. They are 7-17 since. They haven't seen .500 in a month.

The Sixers entered their swoon just as the consternation of losing a full NHL season to the bullheaded Bettman and Fehr became more and more likely (it was averted in the 11th hour), and just when the Eagles' season officially was pronounced dead.

It was a dark, dark December.

Except for that glimmer, far away, in Eugene.

December was when the name "Chip Kelly" as Reid's successor fell from the lips of the well-connected.

December was when the debate about the wisdom of implementing his "blur" offense in the NFL began. Fans in Pennsylvania watched the Fiesta Bowl like it was Penn State vs. Pitt.

December was when Kelly's credentials underwent examination; when his desire to leave his protected college nest for the exposed outcrop of the NFL was plumbed.

It is when the name "Chip Kelly" came to mean "hope" for Philadelphia.

Email: hayesm@phillynews.com

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