Lane Johnson calls Chip Kelly a dictator

Posted: December 31, 2015

BY ALL RIGHTS, Lane Johnson should be Chip Kelly's greatest ally.

Johnson is not a disaffected castoff casually lobbing oblique accusations of racism. The right tackle is Chip Kelly's first draft pick, a cornerstone of the team, young, capable and utterly fearless.

Johnson also is pathologically honest; a chronic truth teller; the George Washington of Eagles players. Kelly's three-year stint is indefensible for a straight shooter such as Johnson.

On Wednesday, he shot Kelly straight through the heart.

"Maybe the ego got in the way," Johnson said. "Too much power. Control. Not being human about things; not working together, with the team, instead of being a dictator."

Johnson said Kelly's assumption of general-manager duties in January after his successful "power struggle" with former GM Howie Roseman created anxiety felt from the front office through the locker room.

"Just a lot of tension up there that didn't need to happen," Johnson said, "because when you throw it up there, it does trickle down to the team, and the team knows what's going on . . . We always knew there was a little bit of tension - knew it wasn't just sunshine and rainbows."

This was the kindest of Johnson's assessments.

He said Kelly ignored complaints of overwork in practice. He excoriated Kelly's "Machine Gun" scheme as too taxing, especially for big, every-down linemen such as himself. More than anything, Johnson cast Kelly as an autocrat unable to alter his vision and unwilling to accept input from players.

Johnson painted a picture of paranoia, a locker room where criticism and complaint would be met with the punishment of marginalization and, eventually, unemployment.

Kelly preached a culture of self-sacrifice and professionalism, but he created a culture in which players and assistant coaches did not dare question anything, lest they be sent away as stars DeSean Jackson, Shady McCoy and Jeremy Maclin were.

Kelly created a culture of . . . fear?

"To be honest, yeah," Johnson said. "We'd tell our position coaches, but I don't know if it ever leaves that room . . . Maybe there was an intimidation factor . . . After Shady and all those guys were (subtracted), it opened up some eyes."

In this fetid culture, the Eagles stumbled to a 6-9 record, lost five of their last seven games, four of them blowouts. Exasperated and embarrassed, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie fired Kelly on Tuesday night.

On Wednesday, Johnson sat on the ledge where players are issued their socks and jocks and, ran his big hand over his freshly shaved head - there was one bloody nick - and laid bare just how tyrannical Kelly's despotic rule had grown in the last 11 months.

Johnson said that Lurie met with the team Wednesday morning and promised to hire "somebody that's willing to collaborate with the players. Have a family, that moves toward one direction."

Johnson hopes that direction is away from Kelly's tempo. Johnson confirmed what ex-Eagles cornerback Cary Williams said early in 2014: Chippah runs his guys too hard.

"Get back to a more traditional style of offense," Johnson said. "I've been running this tempo (bleep) since college. I'm pretty damned tired. It takes a toll on you. You do it over a period of time, a lot of guys in this league aren't going to last . . . Bigger guys, it's harder on your joints. A lot of pounding. Your hips. Your back. All you're doing is torquing all day."

He could have been talking about Jason Peters, his 32-year-old bookend at left tackle who has fought thigh, back and ankle injuries in his third season in Kelly's offense. Peters has been heroic this season, even fighting through practices he should be missing.

"Practice here is pretty much the same, from (voluntary springtime) OTAs through training camp to the end of the season," Johnson said. "No other guys in the league go from April through the end of the season. It takes a toll on you. At the end of the year, I feel like I'm going to fall apart."

Johnson called Kelly a "brilliant coach," but even then qualified the statement. Asking grown men from the ages of 22 to 35 to perform over 17 weeks the same way growing men from 18 to 22 perform over 13 weeks is ridiculous, Johnson said, and he hoped Kelly would finally figure that out.

"It's a learning process. Making the transition from college to the NFL is tough. It's different. If you're set in your ways, maybe closed-minded, not willing to change, it's going to rub people the wrong way," said Johnson, who referenced another monumental NFL failure: "Just like Nick Saban. He went to the pros, and tried to do the same thing with professional athletes he did with college kids."

Notably, there was a vacuum of leadership in the locker room Wednesday. Veterans such as Peters, Jason Kelce, Malcolm Jenkins and Fletcher Cox did not make themselves available during Wednesday's charged media availability, when nerves were raw and the team needed a forthright voice.

Johnson provided it alone.


hayesm@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @inkstainedretch

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