On the whole, it's better in Philadelphia

Posted: February 14, 2014

TWITTER WAS hilarious late into the night of Jan. 4, 2013. That was the night the Cleveland Browns interviewed Chip Kelly for their head-coaching position. A 2-hour dinner stretched for 7 hours, as jokes about the menu and whatever bounced back and forth. It was the Eagles' worst nightmare, being played out amid cyber wisecracks and pseudo-reporting (as if someone had planted a microphone in the table's floral centerpiece): After everything, what if Joe Banner could steal Chip Kelly away from Jeffrey Lurie?

We all know what happened. Kelly left the meeting with Banner and the Browns' people without a deal. He met for 9 hours with the Eagles the next day. The day after that, the Browns pulled out. Kelly turned down the Eagles, went home to Oregon, then changed his mind as the Eagles were on the verge of hiring Gus Bradley. For his part, Kelly said the Browns were never really in the mix. Banner, meanwhile, ended up with someone named Rob Chudzinski.

Now, just a little more than a year later, Chud is gone, Banner is gone, and the Browns have assumed their customary position - they wear the laughingstock so well. All of that has happened while Lurie has presided over a rebirth, with plenty of evidence in the first year under Kelly that optimism is, at the very least, warranted.

It is impossible not to notice how so many lives turned upon that single moment in time - but to fixate on that is to do the overall reality a bit of an injustice.

The overall reality: Lurie is the better owner and Philadelphia is the better place to work.

After it all happened, Banner did his best to spin the whole thing around Kelly's indecision. He was quoted by Sports Illustrated's Peter King on themmqb.com, as saying: "We removed ourselves from the process. We really liked Chip. He's intriguing, a very different thinker, and very smart. But you could see he was uncertain what he wanted to do. He may be in Philadelphia 10 years or longer and have a terrific career. But the fact he committed to Tampa Bay last year, backed out, then seemed all year to be leaning toward going to the NFL, then being so uncertain with us, we just felt it was too big a gamble. If there was no ambivalence, we may have offered him the job."

Again, though, Kelly has said that he would not have taken it, that after all of the conversation, the choice came down to Oregon or Philadelphia. From an outsider looking in, the choice was between two places whose leaders (booster Phil Knight is Oregon's de facto leader) created atmospheres where success was possible.

Kelly ultimately came to a place that could pay him and that would support him. That is the definition of good ownership in one sentence. Lurie has been in the NFL business for nearly 20 years now, and that is his reputation, and it is deserved.

His first coaching hire was Ray Rhodes. And if Rhodes ended up being a mistake because he created such an emotionally charged culture, with all of the ups and downs, he did make the playoffs twice. Lurie's biggest early executive hire was Banner - who did more to get the franchise a new stadium and practice facility than anyone, and who schooled the rest of the NFL on the salary cap and gave the Eagles years of financial advantage as a result.

Then came Andy Reid. To deny his success is to deny reality - but to say he stayed too long is fair. His most severe critics would have fired him after 10 years instead of 14. Most people would have fired him after 12 years, or certainly 13. If you want to say that those last couple of years - plus all of the intrigue involving Banner and protege Howie Roseman - are on Lurie, that's accurate.

But those last couple of years are part of what make the Eagles an attractive place to work, and Lurie a respected owner. The coach is such a vital hire in the NFL, much more than in any other sport, and you need to be able to attract the best people - and anybody who was thinking about coaching the Eagles knew Lurie would have his back because of the way he had Andy's back.

Hiring the right coach is the most important function of an NFL owner - that and making sure there is money to spend where needed, money to support the coach's vision. It is the best thing Lurie does, a thought just reinforced by the latest performance of the Cleveland follies.


On Twitter: @theidlerich

Blog: philly.com/DNL

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