Chip Kelly came to the Philadelphia Eagles, hyped as one of the most innovative football minds on the planet. He was supposed to revolutionize the NFL.
Instead he became just the next coach — in a long line of coaches — to get undone by his own ego.
In hindsight, Kelly wasn’t a terrible head coach. He had two 10-win seasons, he won a division title, and won more games than he lost.
But it was his lack of vision, his inability to adapt, and his ego-driven search for power that ultimately set him up to fail.
Less than three full seasons into his tenure, Kelly is gone. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie had seen enough, officially pulling the plug on Tuesday night.
Kelly came into the NFL full of panache. The Eagles won 10 games in his first season with the club. They won the NFC East division and made it to the playoffs.
They were fast and fresh. They were hard to defend. The players got personalized smoothies after every practice. They were healthy and energetic because of Kelly’s passion towards sports science. They were the new wave.
Hell, even Nick Foles had a career season.
But then everyone else caught up.
In the NFL, coaches are too smart and too advanced. Eventually they figure out the wonky schemes. And from there, Kelly never seemed to adapt.
The offensive productivity declined every year Kelly was with the Eagles. Philadelphia finished No. 1 in yards per play in 2013, No. 11 in 2014, and had dropped all the way down to No. 26 in 2015.
And that beautiful rapid-fire, up-tempo system began to hurt the defence. They were on the field for too many snaps because the offence wasn’t extending drives or milking the clock.
“You can hurry up all you want,” Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said last season after Seattle held Philadelphia to a season-low offensive total. “But if you can’t get yards and you can’t complete passes, it’s just quick three-and-outs.”
It became an unsustainable system because Kelly didn’t have the proper players to make it work at the pro level.
And that again brings us back to ego. What’s the old line from John Dalberg-Acton?
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Kelly, like so many failed college coaches in the past, believed he was bigger than the organization. He thought his system could succeed in spite of talent. Yet, he didn’t deliver.
First, he got rid of receiver and fan favourite DeSean Jackson following the 2013 season. The team lost its signature speed on the outside and one of the most electric players in the sport. The offence still fared well the following year, but Kelly was unsatisfied.
He wanted more. He needed full personnel control. He didn’t need general manager Howie Roseman anymore. He was bigger and smarter. He needed to make his imprint on the roster.
The team didn’t make the playoffs in 2014 and it was going to be Kelly’s show now.
He pushed Roseman into a business role. He took over the general manager’s duties in an attempt to overhaul the team but as he gained more power, he made more and more mistakes.
Under his watch, the Eagles dismantled a winning team.
He traded LeSean McCoy for Kiko Alonso and the former Buffalo Bills linebacker had an awful season. He treated franchise icons like they were nothing and discarded them.
He let receiver Jeremy Maclin walk and couldn’t replace him.
He traded for former No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford at quarterback and the offence took a huge step back.
He paid former Seattle cornerback Byron Maxwell huge money in free agency, who had one of the worst coverage grades of any player in the NFL this season.
He signed the reigning offensive player of the year, DeMarco Murray, and yet the Eagles couldn’t find a role for him in their offence.
None of the moves worked. He went all-in and came up empty. Chip Kelly the GM buried Chip Kelly the coach.
The Eagles regressed even further than they ever could have imagined in 2015. That’s why the Eagles came to their decision today.
The club was a popular Super Bowl pick heading into the season but under Kelly’s watch, the roster barely contended in an excuse of a division.
Gone were the once promising core of Maclin, Jackson, and McCoy and left was a group of players without an identity. A team that no longer had a bread and butter. It became a broken locker room that didn’t trust their boss anymore and that became clear through their play on the field.
Kelly couldn’t help himself — most coaches can’t. He wanted to pick out his own ingredients and cook the meal, but in the end the food tasted terrible.
Now he’s out of work and he might be gone from the NFL forever.
What a fall from grace.