In the wake of the firings of Chip Kelly and personnel man Ed Marynowitz, Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie will wrestle with the question of why he chose to invest so much power in the coach who had just two years of NFL coaching experience. And then Lurie will have to answer why he decided to blow it up after just one season -- one season in which Kelly made profound changes to the team's roster to suit the style of play he preferred and in which they failed.
When the Eaglesmade their shocking announcement Tuesday, it was fair to wonder what had precipitated the unusual timing. The Eagles get a jump on looking at future candidates -- and Howie Roseman, who had wielded personnel power until Kelly's palace coup last offseason, will be involved in the search for Kelly's replacement. It's a delicious turn of events for students of NFL team politics. But to fire a coach with just one game remaining in the season is odd, to say the least. It's even stranger when that coach's hiring was considered a coup, particularly for an owner like Lurie, who has a reputation for being patient and is not prone to knee-jerk decisions.
Lurie will offer an explanation Wednesday at a news conference. But it's difficult to fault him entirely for this fiasco. Kelly arrived from Oregon labeled as an innovator, a change agent who might reshape how the NFL played offensive football, practiced and provided nutrition to players. For two seasons, it seemed to work. The Eagles went from a four-win season in Andy Reid's final injury-riddled campaign in Philadelphia to 10 wins under Kelly after little roster turnover. It's lost on no one that Kelly is unemployed while Reid presides over one of the hottest teams in the league, the Kansas City Chiefs.
The mistake in Philadelphia came just after the 2014 season ended, and Lurie can be blamed for giving Kelly absolute power. It was Kelly, acting as general manager, who ultimately failed Kelly, the head coach, a construction that has ended badly for many other coaches this side of Bill Belichick. Kelly's teams won 10 games in each of his first two years, making the playoffs in the first year, and his sped-up offense was a source or fascination and, in some quarters, derision. Each year under Kelly, the Eagles' offensive production declined by some metrics. In his first season, the Eagles led the league in yards per play. By 2015, it collapsed to 26th, an indication that the NFL had caught up to his fast-paced offense. Perhaps even more glaring is that Kelly's defense was near the bottom of the league in each of his three years, likely a sign that an offense so fast exposed the defense to too much time of the field -- a vulnerability of Kelly's system that was questioned from his first day in Philly.
Still, Kelly will be judged by the 2015 season, the year that Kelly's roster redesign came to fruition. While there will be plenty of questions about whether Kelly's style of play can work longterm in the NFL -- a likely consideration among owners looking to seek him out for their own coaching vacancies -- it will be his prodigious personnel moves that will be long-scrutinized.
During the offseason, Lurie explained his decision to give Kelly the de facto role of general manager by saying that Kelly had a vision of how to get the Eagles to go from good to great. Instead, they went backwards.
This season, there was no DeSean Jackson. No LeSean McCoy. No Jeremy Maclin. No Evan Mathis. All of these players have been shed since Kelly arrived. There was DeMarco Murray, who was little used. There was Kiko Alonso, who entirely disappeared. There was his acquisition of Sam Bradford, who did not fit the model of a running quarterback that Kelly's system needed to thrive. And most recently, there were consecutive blowout losses with the NFC East title at stake -- both at home with fans streaming to the exits long before the final snap.
And now there is a sub-.500 season.
What happens now will provide one of the most fascinating storylines of the offseason. There are already two other teams who have fired their head coaches and one of them happens to employ the young quarterback, Marcus Mariota, with whom Kelly enjoyed so much success at Oregon. Might Kelly, who has said in recent weeks that he does not want to return to college, find a soft landing at Tennessee? Perhaps the stars align perfectly for Kelly, who had tried to move into position to draft Mariota last spring. But the NFL is a small world and owners and executives compare notes with their counterparts. They, of all people, will get to the bottom of Kelly's Philadelphia flameout. And Lurie, who once wowed the league by wooing Kelly, is forced to look for his next head coach far earlier than he imagined he ever would.
Lurie, at least, might have learned an important lesson. Bill Parcells' famous quote about wanting to shop for the groceries if he has to cook the meal remains a classic explanation of why coaches crave the power to shape a roster that, ultimately, decides their fate. But for the Eagles, Kelly was such a bad shopper, the ingredients never fit the recipe. Lurie apparently decided there was no saving it. Now, he's left to clean up the mess.