At the end of the season, you said Howie was your GM. What happened?
I changed my mind. What we do at the end of every season, which is why it’s probably not the greatest idea to talk about things in the visitor’s locker room after the final game, we sit down and have real serious conversations with all of the senior people. We were one of three teams in the NFC to have double-digit wins twice in a row. But that’s not what we’re about. And I think you all know that. That’s not what our goal is.
We really sat down and were as self-analytical as you could possibly be. After thinking about it, I just thought the best way to align ourselves was to try to do this in a relatively rational, seamless way with Chip taking scouting and integrating it into every aspect of the operation in terms of making it seamless with on-field performance and sports science and all that.
There was a vision that I wanted to support. It’s easy to say, well, you had it going well and you already said you were going to stick to the status quo. But I don’t think that’s the best way to operate. You learn after the season exactly how you might become better. And it was worth taking that alternative structure and acting on it.
Chip said it was your call. But was it all your call?
Yeah, it was all my call. I’ve lived through a lot of divisional championships, a lot of playoff appearances, a lot of final four appearances. But our goal is further than that. We want to deliver a Super Bowl. Sometimes, maybe I’m influenced by the notion that it’s very difficult to get from good to great. And you’ve got to take some serious looks at yourself when you want to try to take that step. It’s a gamble to try to go from good to great because you could go from good to mediocre with changes. But I decided it was important enough to adopt the vision and philosophy of integrating the scouting with the coaching on a daily basis.
So removing Howie was not Chip’s idea?
Chip had a vision of exactly how we could get from good to great. And I thought it was a really sound vision. He’s a very bright guy. He’s all about football. He’s all about wanting to win big. It made so much sense.
When we hired Chip, his style of play is very different than what we had before. It’s a power spread offense and it’s a 3-4 defense. And we were not organized and designed in that way. We had outstanding young finesse and fast players. Really good at that. Over two years, we had to understand where we were at. Were we going to maximize Chip Kelly’s vision and system or we were going to counteract it and not try to maximize having Chip and what he and his staff were bringing to the organization.
I’m an owner that tends to absolutely be supportive of a coach and his vision if it’s a real sharp and smart vision. I really believe in that. As an owner, you have a choice. Do you want to adopt a vision that you think is real sharp and real cutting edge and could get you from good to great – has a chance – or do you want to just say the organization is not about that and we’re not going to try to adopt a new coaching philosophy and vision.
So this is Chip’s vision?
Chip had a vision of how to get from good to great. This was an improvement on what we had.
So removing Howie as GM was part of Chip’s vision?
Having a seamless scouting and coaching enterprise was really what Chip’s vision was. He felt he could be maximized best with a senior personnel executive that was of his choosing. And of course with my approval. I thought it was important to back him on that. It’s a different form and structure than we’ve had and that most organizations have in the NFL because it’s so tied to a particular series of requirements and modes of play.
Why take Howie out of the personnel evaluation process when on December 28 you said his 2012 draft was so productive?
Howie is a very valuable member of the organization. He’s a very sharp guy. I feel we have three people that I can truly rely on and that are excellent at what they do. That includes Ed Marynowitz. You’re talking about Howie who helped recruit Ed and was responsible for Ed coming to the Eagles. Terrific young evaluator.
You said you were streamlining the organization three years ago when Joe Banner stepped down and you had just two people at the top. Now you have three. How is that streamlining?
No, no. This is very streamlined now. This is even more streamlined. There’s no question that the coach has the final say and this is the most streamlined you could be.
On December 31, Tom Gamble was fired. What changed in those two days between Tom losing his job and Howie being demoted?
Completely unrelated. Totally unrelated. I wish Tom all the best. I hope he thrives in San Francisco. We’ve moved on and hopefully he’s moved on.
Were you not happy with the job Gamble had done while he was here
I think you have to decide who is going to be the best fits for the organization. I think it’s best that we all move on on that one.
Is there a risk in giving the head coach this much personnel control?
I think there’s a risk no matter how you structure it. The only model to me that correlates with big success in the NFL is having a Hall of Fame franchise quarterback. You can put any system around that player and you can rationalize that structure. No matter what other structure you pick in the NFL, whether it’s the structure the Patriots have and Seattle has and other teams. That’s fine. You can have a system like Green Bay has and Baltimore has. That’s fine. There’s no perfect structure. You have to always figure out how to maximize the people you have. And don’t think structure is the answer. It’s people. And try to manage and maximize the people you have. Try to pick the best head coach you can, the best evaluators your can. Don’t put your feather on structure because the best structure is a franchise quarterback who is going to play for 10-15 years for your franchise.
Howie’s lifelong ambition was to be an NFL personnel guy. You’ve taken that away from him. How is his demeanor?
Howie has been great. He’s been with us for 15-16 years and grown with the organization and is as selfless as you can be. He just wants to win. And that’s all Chip wants to do. That’s all we all want to do. You can talk all you want about structure and final say. What any organization worth their salt wants to do is try to get the players that the coaches need and try to make sound decisions, manage the salary cap so you’re not sacrificing the future for present decisions. Be smart about it and focus primarily on the draft, except in situations where you can take advantage of the free agency market.
Why was it not seamless with Howie?
It wasn’t Howie. It was much more Chip’s requirement to have sort of a football guy that he was comfortable with in terms of helping him day to day, minute by minute. We all recognize the value in an organization today, you’d better have somebody that can really manage the cap well, negotiate well, execute the plans well, and at the same time, evaluate well and be tied at the hip with the coach in terms of evaluation.
So Howie isn’t really a football guy then?
That may have been the interpretation. But I don’t think any of us really see it.
Why did you give him a contract extension and more money?
He’s a very valuable member of the organization.
Was there any concern about giving so much power to a man with so little NFL experience?
No. You think it through very much. He’s bright. He’s hard-working. He’s obsessed with football. This man is all about winning. It doesn’t matter to him the public perception of a trade or the intention of where he’s coming from or trying to read in between the lines. He’s all about football and making us better. And that’s what you want in a coach as an owner.
You’ve had a lot of turnover in your front office in recent years
Sure you’d like to have the same people work for you forever. But you also have to be analytical about who you have and what their strengths and weaknesses are. The NFL is a people business. We went through some changes in terms of free agency and trades. I have to tell you, as an owner who’s been in it for a while, you’re a fan first but also an owner. It’s very, very difficult to trade players you’re very, very fond of. It’s almost easier for someone in the organization who’s newer to be bolder than you would be. I think I recognized that weakness in myself. I think it’s always better to allow those that are really studying it and less, at times, emotionally connected (make the decisions). You grow up with the players you bring in through the draft. I can’t tell you how difficult it is to trade a LeSean McCoy or a wonderful young man like Nick Foles. I talked to Trent Cole the other day for a long time. Todd Herremans was one of the toughest guys we’ve ever had. Jason Avant last year. The two things that are hardest about owning a team is when you get attached to the players because of what they’ve done for you and the city. And the second is losses.
Did last year’s draft indicate to you that there wasn’t that seamlessness you were looking for between Howie and Chip?
No. It’s much more in the training of the scouting staff by the coaches in terms of exactly what is needed. It’s so defined in Chip’s system. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s incredibly detailed, both psychologically, athletically. In so many categories. In order to really maximize Chip, I think this was the best way to go.
Was Chip held back previously from doing some of the things he’s done this offseason?
That’s a great question. You’d have to ask Chip. But I think what he did the first two years was adapt to what we had. We had some excellent young players. We had double-digit wins both years. Did an outstanding coaching job. I think he was testing himself to see how far he could go with what he had. But there was always the sense that in shifting to both a 3-4 defense and much more of a power spread offense that he prefers, that we didn’t have exactly the players that could maximize him.
In attracting Chip, I wanted him to be able to come to the NFL and get the best out of him. That’s what an owner needs to try to do. You don’t want to say, here’s the NFL. Adapt to it. You want to bring in somebody who’s innovative, sharp, hard-working, selfless about trying to become a really good team and support that.
I remember having these conversations with Bill Walsh when I first came into the league. In terms of when you have someone you very much respect in terms of what they’re all about and it’s different than what you’ve been doing, you’ve got a decision to make. Do you want to make him adapt to it, or do you want to say, ‘No, we have a better way and let’s try it out.’
Is Chip making all of these offseason moves?
Most of the decisions of whether to try to make these moves are Chip’s. Backed by player personnel, backed by everybody. And it’s not easy to pull the trigger.
All these changes, it’s reminiscent of 2011. How concerned were you based on history of something like that happening again?
There’s not that many players. These are excellent young players that you hope will stay healthy and they’ll be really good players. However, it is a concern. But when you’re trying to go from good to great, you’ve got to take some gambles. You’ve got to take chances. Yes, there’s a chance that bringing in a running back that doesn’t know what we’re all about will not be as productive as LeSean. But you have to make that judgment. You’ve got to take chances to be great. We’re not interested in being predictable in terms of what we do in player personnel. We have to be not risk-averse. And sometimes trades are the best way to accomplish that. It’s not easy to trade the young quarterback you’re developing who had a terrific year the year before and got hurt last year. But you have to go on your evaluations.
There was an opportunity to do an upside gamble with an outstanding young quarterback who you hope can become healthier throughout his career. It is so hard to find a franchise quarterback. It sets the ceiling on what you have as a team. Do you want to take upside gambles or not? You have to make that decision.
Are there safeguards to make sure Chip is here long-term and sees this plan through?
Everything is just a normal situation. Nothing is different with Chip than any other coach in the NFL. They’re accountable. They’re responsible. The beauty of the NFL is that you succeed on merit. And you fail on not being able to succeed. We’re all in it together. But just as a philosophical thing as an owner, you’ve got to make a decision. Do you want to be bold in your choice of a coach? Do you want to hire somebody who is not a bold choice? Do you want to hire some who you really respect their intelligence and work ethic and all that? And do you want to support them fully? That doesn’t mean blindly. That means give them the most resources possible. Be sound about your future salary cap management so you’re never sacrificing the future for any short-term decisions. Basically say to the world and your fans, I support Chip Kelly. I support what he’s all about. And give him the best chance to succeed.
You had mentioned Chip’s vision. Surely that wasn’t the same vision he shared with you when you and Howie were trying to hire him in 2013?
It evolves. He learns in the league for two years He didn’t know the kind of players he was (getting). I think he was pleasantly surprised at the talent that we had. When most people didn’t think we were going to be a playoff team and win the division his first year, that’s what happened. The nice thing with Chip is we all want the same thing. Our whole way of looking at is not to be satisfied with just 10-6, 10-6. It’s to try and go for it. And you have to take risks to do that. It’s worth it to take the risk. We’ve won so many division championships and playoff games. It’s just not worth it not to take the risk.
The biggest issue in the NFL, as we all know, is can you get a franchise quarterback. OK, well, if Sam were healthy and followed that rookie of the year season (by staying healthy and playing well), there’d be no chance to trade for him. You have to take risks when you can. They may not work. Or it may work. But that’s what you have to do.
When you made the move to put Chip in complete charge, what made you confident Howie would handle it professionally?
Just knowing Howie. He’s so selfless. He just wants to participate. He’s so valuable to us. I can’t go through (all) the ways. He was very valuable in choosing a coach. Very valuable in recruiting Ed Marynowitz. And he continues to be. Always seek for the best for the organization.
Did Chip, Howie and Tom Gamble all have a good working relationship? Or were there tensions that you had to deal with?
No, I didn’t have to deal with anything. Everyone’s professional. It’s not a soap opera. Everyone’s professional. Do you need to work with your best friend? No. I’ve never wanted to do that.
When Chip was trading Nick and LeSean and not re-signing Jeremy Maclin and releasing Trent Cole and Todd Herremans, did you ever go up to him and say, ‘Chip, are you sure you know what you’re doing?’
Of course. We had long talks about it. These are usually decisions that are weeks and weeks leading up to it. Not all of the time. But we’d been talking about Sam for a month or so. We had been talking about the asset value of LeSean for a long time because he wasn’t the style of runner that Chip prefers, but a great player.
One of the things I appreciate about Chips is, during free agency, there are moments when you’re not going to be able to sign everyone you want. Do you adapt quickly? Do you find that there’s another player at another position that you hadn’t intended to spend your resources on? Or do you sit back and say, we have to get the second best player at that position? Big drop-down, but we better fill that position. I’m not in favor of that approach. I think you have to take advantage of what your resources are and spend it on players that mean something, that can make a difference. You adapt quickly. It’s like being on the floor of Wall Street. And the sad part is you’re dealing with people’s lives, which I take really seriously. It’s not easy to talk to Nick Foles for a long time or LeSean or Trent Cole. Guys that devoted their lives to us and are wonderful people.
You’ve given final say to other head coaches and it didn’t produce a championship. Why do you think it’s going to be different this time?
I don’t know. I think I tried to make the best choice I could in a head coach. I felt Chip was the most exciting candidate out there. I think he brought something that was refreshing and innovative, but also really well-grounded and smart. He’s so much about all football all the time. He’s somebody who thinks not only outside the box, but he really thinks it through. He really studies things. These aren’t flippant decisions of a head coach. These are very studied decisions. He watched Sam Bradford hundreds of times. Talked to every coach he ever had. This is well-researched. It wouldn’t satisfy me if it wasn’t.
What is about Bradford that makes the organization think he can be a franchise quarterback?
When he was scouted out of college, we thought he was the best young quarterback we had seen in a long, long time. Probably since Peyton Manning coming out of college. Rookie of the year his first year. Pat Shurmur had him in St. Louis. Extraordinary competitor. Incredibly accurate. And needs to stay healthy.
Do you feel you’re staying true to your own convictions as an owner by obliging Chip Kelly’s vision?
I do. I don’t think in the NFL structure is the end game. I think it’s maximizing the people you have. That can change the structure. But structure is not the way to win. It’s a foundation to have. But picking the right coach is big. Getting a franchise quarterback is big. Managing the cap is huge. And managing people. I think we overemphasize structure. There’s no ideal structure. As an owner, I think I can maximize the assets of the organization best by maximizing the people at any given time. Which means the structure can change. I don’t have any problem taking that risk.
Because of the moves you’ve made, the cap flexibility isn’t what it’s been previously right now. What makes you think Chip can handle that part of the job?
The whole organization manages the cap. This is not all on Chip. We are very philosophically committed to being very sound in the future with that. We want to re-sign our best young players. Chip will decide which are the best young players to put our resources in. But that’s exactly what the plan would be. But in terms of building, the draft is the way to go. I think we’re all committed to that. There are moments in free agency where you have either market opportunities. But we’re not a team that wants to build around paying top dollar per player in the free agent market. That’s not how you win. You fill holes through it. But philosophically, we’re all on the same page.
How would you compare this roster to the one in Chip’s first year as far as structure?
I think what we’re evolving into is a roster that fits much better what he wants to accomplish schematically and play style and all that. He’s talked about that for two years. This isn’t new news for us internally. He’s been very definite about how he wants to evolve. He was patient and wanted to play it out in terms of these outstanding young athletes that we had. This has allowed Chip to take a step back and take a look at where the program is at and say, to get from good to great – and we’re at good – we have to do some things. As an owner, that’s what you have to be accepting of, assuming you respect it. And I completely respect it.
You mentioned that LeSean isn’t the type of runner Chip was looking for. Is there a concern that some of those requirements are a big too stringent when you have a limited pool of players you can acquire every year?
No, I don’t think so. Especially at the running back position. They’re findable. The hardest is the quarterback. LeSean is a great running back. All-time franchise leader. Great guy in every way. To maximize his power-spread offense, Chip always admired the one-cut runners. That’s what he admired. You have to let a coach try to bring in the players that fit best what he’s all about to maximize what he’s trying to accomplish. You have a decision as an owner. Do you want to fight that? Or do you want to adopt that? I went all out to try to get Chip as the coach. And I’m really happy we did. He has a great potential future and I’m happy to be able to provide him the resources to maximize what he’s all about.
But that’s what Howie thought he was doing. Using Chip’s template to bring in the type of players at each position that he wanted. Was he not doing a good enough job of it?
You can always argue that you’re never good enough until you win the Super Bowl. And even then you’re going to lose players and you’re not good enough then either. I just think Chip wanted his own football player personnel guy next to him at all times. And I don’t blame him. That’s what he wanted. So we’re providing that.
What makes Ed Marynowitz the right person for that job?
Ed’s just a well-trained, bright young star in the league.
But how do you go from good to great when the best talent – DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin – is being removed?
I don’t sense that it is. When you can add Kiko Alonso, Sam Bradford, Byron Maxwell, the list goes on, the drafts coming up, Jordan Matthews and others, that’s just not the case. It’s not the way the NFL operates. You’re going to have to give up good talent to be able to clear space to get good talent. To optimize you have to try to get the players at the hardest positions to get that are the most important positions to get. That’s ideal.
Howie had a lot to do with bringing Chip in here. Do you think he feels stabbed in the back by these developments?
I don’t. We talked about it soon after we hired Chip. No, not at all. I don’t. He’s such a selfless guy. He just wants what’s best for the team.
Was Tom Gamble’s firing made on the stop that day or was it a long time coming?
It was a long time coming.
How long do you stick with Chip if a lot of these moves backfire?
Let’s play it out. I think with any coach you need patience, you need vision. And you need them to be able to gamble and fail and gamble and succeed. Because the last thing you want to do is make a coach risk-averse. I just don’t believe in that. I think one of the keys to our success with Andy, I never wanted him to be risk-averse. Either on the field or off the field. You want them to be bold. You don’t want to be like every other team. You want to try to separate yourself from the back. Sometimes it’s not going to work. Other times it can work great.
Were you too slow to recognize this was the best way to go? That this was the way Chip preferred things?
I think it evolved. I think Chip was new to the league. It took a couple of years to assess how to maximize him. I think that’s legit. I think it would have been a different way of maximizing him day one. It’s possible our success made us all believe we were absolutely headed on the right track. But when you really want to critically analyze where you’re at and don’t just accept, oh, we’ve got double-digit wins, that stuff doesn’t get that interesting. You step back and say, how can we get really better. That’s what it was all about. I feel that responsibility to the organization, our fans and everybody. How can we really get better? Not interested in staying the same.
Do you agree with Chip’s statement that it’s not smart to mortgage the future for one player?
It’s a great question. I think it’s great to mortgage the future for Peyton Manning. It’s not great to mortgage it for Ryan Leaf. It’s great to mortgage it for Donovan McNabb. It’s not great to mortgage it for Tim Couch or Cade McNown. Again, it comes back to people. It’s not a system. If the Redskins had traded for Andrew (Luck), we’d be saying what a great trade, right?