49ers QB Alex Smith has history with Eagles coach Chip Kelly

The way the story goes, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith was partly responsible for starting Chip Kelly's meteoric rise. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

Quarterback Alex Smith was partly responsible for Chip Kelly's meteoric rise to head coach of the Eagles.

  • Smith was at Utah, where Oregon coach Mike Bellotti first caught a glimpse of the offense that led him to New Hampshire coordinator Chip Kelly.
  • It would be fitting, if Smith wound up being Kelly's quarterback in Philadelphia.

The way the story goes, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith was partly responsible for starting Chip Kelly's meteoric rise from assistant coach at New Hampshire to head coach of the Eagles.

So it would be fitting, somehow, if Smith wound up being Kelly's quarterback in Philadelphia. More on that idea in a bit. First, the anecdote that jumped out while researching Kelly's background earlier this month.

In 2003, Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti caught a glimpse of football's future in a game against Utah. Coach Urban Meyer's team ran a spread offense with Smith at quarterback. The Ducks had no answer for it, and Bellotti reached out to Meyer for insight into his innovative system.

Meyer referred Bellotti to Kelly, then the offensive coordinator at the University of New Hampshire. Bellotti went a step further. He hired Kelly as his offensive coordinator in 2007. After two years, Bellotti became athletic director and replaced himself as head coach by promoting Kelly.

After four years and a 46-7 record, Kelly made the jump to the NFL. He took over an Eagles team without an obvious franchise quarterback. The debate, upon Kelly's hiring, was whether he would go with second-year man Nick Foles, veteran Michael Vick, or rely on a draft without an obvious franchise quarterback in it.

Here's where Smith comes in.

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft lost his job to Colin Kaepernick after being knocked out of a game with a concussion. Kaepernick has been extraordinary, and figures to be San Francisco's starter for years to come. Smith, according to a report by profootballtalk.com, is expected to ask for his release after the Super Bowl.

The Niners were 6-2 with Smith as their starter. His numbers - 70 percent completion mark, 104.1 rating - were outstanding. Oh, and he took the team to the NFC championship game last year. This is clearly a case of Kaepernick's success rather than Smith's failure.

If he wants out of San Francisco, and if the Niners are willing to release him or trade him, this is the first place Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman should look for their 2013 starting quarterback.

Vick? Forget it. He will be 33. He is injury-prone. Worse, he is a one-man turnover factory. Over the last three seasons with the Eagles, Vick threw 51 touchdowns and 30 interceptions.

Over the last three seasons, Kelly's Oregon quarterbacks threw 105 touchdown passes and just 25 interceptions. The idea that Vick is a good fit for Kelly's offense is just wrong.

The Eagles must decide whether to keep Vick on the roster. Doing so would be the kind of mistake that raises alarms about Kelly. The only way he'd go with Vick is if he plans to waste 2013 as a rebuilding season. With the way teams can be turned around in the NFL now, there's no excuse for that.

As for Foles, he certainly has some upside. He is not mobile enough to do what Kelly did at Oregon.

Kelly has said he can adapt his system to suit his players' skill sets, but that just doesn't compute. He revolutionized the college game and earned an NFL opportunity with a certain style and now he's going to jettison all that for a more traditional approach?

Smith is hardly the runner that Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III have proven to be. But he is athletic, mobile and accurate with the ball, all key elements for a Kelly-style QB. He will be 29 when the season starts - four years younger than Vick and five years older than Foles.

Getting Smith would allow Kelly to continue developing Foles. It would also remove the temptation to reach too high for a QB in the draft. The Eagles could address their many other needs while still having the freedom to scoop up a project QB in the third or fourth round.

Smith, Foles and a rookie would make for a solid QB situation. With the other skill players and the return to health of the offensive line, Kelly would have plenty to work with on his side of the ball.

Add some talent and a good coordinator on defense, and the Eagles are back on the right track.

It is not the only way Kelly could succeed here, to be sure. But considering Smith's supporting role in Kelly's story, it would be the most poetic.


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe.