My question as the talk radio flames burn hotter is, if not Chip Kelly, then who? Or whom, even.
Suddenly there are hot takes from everywhere suggesting Kelly and the Eagles are at some sort of point of no return. This is not obvious to most of us who cover the team and talk to the players and coaches every day, but it doesn’t absolutely have to be -- one thing I’ve learned in 25 years as a beat writer in two sports is that sometimes situations are clearer from far away than they are viewed close up.
Two huge variables are in play: Jeffrey Lurie hasn’t said anything as the season has wandered astray, his most recent remarks just before the opener are all we have. Back then, the owner was Kelly’s biggest booster, Lurie unequivocally endorsing Kelly’s leadership style, his offseason moves, the whole Chip enchilada.
Also, Kelly talks to no one. Nobody – at least no one in a position to talk to reporters – knows the guy. We don’t know, in private moments, if he’s thinking strictly about the personnel mistakes he wants to correct this offseason, or if he has agent David Dunn trying to broker a deal that will get Kelly out of here as soon as possible.
Kelly is unreadable.
When the Andy Reid era unraveled, it was evident pretty early that 2012 was going to be Andy’s last lap. We all knew the Eagles coveted Kelly as his replacement. Lurie had a well-thought out plan to bring in someone he thought would create a culture and build an enduring program, as Reid did, somebody who was more than the hot offensive or defensive coordinator of the moment.
I’m still not sure Lurie was wrong in his choice. It could be that Kelly just needs to figure out the quarterback thing better this offseason, somehow, and all will be well. But even if Lurie was wrong, what does he do now? How does he walk back all that “program-builder,” “innovator” rhetoric and, three years later, hire the coordinator of the moment? Who the hell even IS the coordinator of the moment? Who does the hiring, Howie Roseman?
This is Lurie from the week before the 2015 season opened: “He’s an excellent coach in this league. There’s no question about it. He doesn’t need to prove anything,” Lurie said. “He’s a builder of a roster, culture builder, he’s everything that I think we all thought when we interviewed him, and more.”
I just don’t see Lurie working this way, but it might not be entirely his decision to make. The Adam Schefter Sirius radio interview Tuesday that really got this snowball rolling alluded to the sides being tired of each other. I am very eager to hear, after being given everything he wanted since his arrival, what the heck Chip might have the chutzpah to be tired of, other than a large and snarky media corps.
There is that, though. Maybe you recall the story I wrote last summer, after Kelly’s sitdown session with beat writers. The thing from that session that most astonished and perplexed me was his contention that he bears the burden of dealing with more media than anyone, for no good reason – when reporters tried to tell the coach, who really should have known this by 2015, that there probably is no market this size in the league where people care so much more about the football team than anything else, he didn’t want to hear it. Kelly actually said he thought there were just as many rabid fans in Kansas City, but for some unfathomable reason, there are way more reporters here.
Kansas City, as I noted in the story, is the nation’s 29th-largest market. Philadelphia ranks sixth. This also is not the laid-back Midwest.
One of the few things we do know about Kelly is that he hates dealing with intrusive media, was personally affronted when a guy from Philadelphia Magazine knocked on his and his parents' doors in New Hampshire last offseason.
The perception among the media covering the team is that just about every detail of media access is more difficult now. At least one outlet that sought to cover the Eagles on a day-to-day basis was denied access. An Eagles spokesman said this was due to space constraints, and not because of any sort of direction from Kelly. (This is a revision of the original passage.)
Is handling a big group of reporters a deal-breaker? Seriously?
I don’t really believe Kelly is out of answers to what ails the Eagles and wants to leave. There are always unhappy players when you lose, but I don’t believe anonymous agent gossip about the whole team tiring of Kelly’s methods. I don’t believe Lurie is eager to pull the plug. Kelly has been given the power to reconfigure the scouting staff, hire a personnel director. Every day dozens of anonymous staffers brought in over the past few years scurry around NovaCare, in charge of monitoring this or that or maybe making the smoothies smooth, who knows? But undoing the Kelly transformation will be quite an undertaking, for somebody.
But losing is a cancer, and its effects are as unpredictable as the real thing. Lose enough, players will revolt. Lose enough, Kelly will run out of ideas. Lose enough, Lurie will have to swallow all his chirpy, forward-thinking ,look-how-smart-we-are rhetoric and admit he must go in another direction.
But one of the things I need to see before I start believing the countdown is real is some indication of what that direction might be.