When owner Jeffrey Lurie decided to "take back" his team and fire Chip Kelly with one game remaining in the 2015 season, he also opted to take the Eagles back to a time when the power within the organization was better balanced between the coaching staff and the player personnel department.
Or, at least, that was the plan. How it plays out might be something else, but the Eagles begin the 2016 season with a far more traditional structure on the surface than the one that had taken hold when Kelly completed a power grab in the third year of his tenure.
Most NFL teams operate with a push-pull of influence divided between the coaching department and the scouting/personnel department. Usually, that means the head coach and the general manager are expected to collaborate on a roster plan to meet both the short-term and long-term needs of the franchise.
In every organization, that pendulum of power is always in motion. A coach's influence can wax and wane with good seasons and bad, and the same goes for a GM who has a streak of success in drafting and free-agent signings or one who goes on a cold streak.
Kelly collected all the power, with Lurie's blessing, pushing Howie Roseman into the equipment closet in the process. He stocked the personnel department with his guys and proceeded to run the operation exactly as he saw fit.
The list of NFL coaches who wield power similar to what Lurie granted Kelly is a short one and doesn't extend far past Bill Belichick in New England and Pete Carroll in Seattle. There are other coaches who are respected halves of true collaborations - among them Mike McCarthy with Ted Thompson in Green Bay, and Sean Payton with Mickey Loomis in New Orleans - but, as with Belichick and Carroll, and unlike Kelly, it is hard to argue they haven't earned their status.
Lurie eventually had to admit and undo his mistake, although he maintained that Kelly had to be given completely free rein in order to find out if the horse could really run. That's nonsense, of course, because if a head coach is too ego-driven or stubborn to operate collaboratively with a colleague who might differ, those traits will seal his failure as a coach, too. Nevertheless, that's the narrative the owner was selling and it led to where the Eagles are now.
Where they are is a place in which the pendulum has swung completely to the other side, with Roseman regaining all the power he lost in the previous three seasons and adding some, to boot. When he was the general manager in the final years of the Andy Reid era, after Joe Banner was moved out of the way, he worked with a head coach who held considerable sway and, until the very end, got pretty much what he wanted. Then, in the two seasons he maintained the title during Kelly's tenure, Roseman was clearly in a battle.
Well, at least for now, the battle is over, and Lurie, whether meaning to or not, has replaced one unbalanced organizational system with another. Roseman, whose title is executive vice president of football operations, runs the team and there is no other way to express it. He remade the player personnel and scouting staff with people loyal to him, hiring a vice president of player personnel in Joe Douglas and an assistant director of player personnel in Andy Weidl. Among other moves, he also brought back Anthony Patch, who was fired by Kelly, as the senior director of college scouting, and again made Mike Bradway the assistant director of college scouting after a one-year demotion to area scout. For every arrival, there were departures as well.
Among other NFL general managers (and we'll use that title for convenience), very few operate with the power held now by Roseman. Certainly, Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore and John Elway in Denver qualify, and there are two special cases, Mike Brown in Cincinnati and Jerry Jones in Dallas, in which the owner is the GM. A few others are pretty powerful, like Rick Spielman in Minnesota and Steve Keim in Arizona, but among guys who have never won much of anything, it's hard to find a current parallel to Roseman. (Ironically, Kelly landed in San Francisco where general manager Trent Baalke won an organizational trench war with coach Jim Harbaugh. Let's see how Kelly's takeover goes there.)
It could be that Roseman is the next Newsome or Elway, and deserves the high seat he's been given. That's a ways off, though, and, in the meantime, his vision won't be balanced by a head coach with a track record for solid personnel decisions. As the Eagles flipped the script from Kelly, they turned it completely upside-down by hiring a head coach in Doug Pederson who is expected to be a pliant soldier in the organization.
This is apparently the setup Lurie wanted, because he certainly has it. The structure is standard issue for the NFL on the surface, one attempting to strike that power balance between front office and field. The actual disparity is pretty remarkable, however, as much in one camp right now as it was in the other exactly a year ago.
That didn't work out so well last time. Perhaps they merely had the wrong guy holding down his end of the seesaw and they have the right guy this time around. They better hope so, because getting things back in balance can be a messy and painful deal.