A HEAD-COACHING job opens up at USC and everyone wonders whether Chip Kelly might hop the next flight back to the Pac-12.
Mack Brown resigns under pressure at the University of Texas and rumors start circulating that Kelly could be headed to Austin.
In his first NFL season, the guy has done a loaves-and-fishes thing with an Eagles team that won just four games last year. He has proved he can hold his own with the best coaching minds in the business.
And yet, and yet, and yet, there still are reasonably intelligent people out there who continue to believe that Kelly is just a short-term renter in the NFL. That he's still a college guy at heart and will be returning to a campus soon.
Tony Dungy, the former NFL coach and current studio analyst for NBC's "Sunday Night Football," knows Kelly a little better than most media types. His son Eric has been a wide receiver at Oregon for the last 4 years, the first 3 under Kelly.
Dungy doesn't think Kelly is the next Bobby Petrino or Nick Saban. He doesn't think he will run back to the college game after this season or next season or the season after that. He thinks Kelly is in the NFL for the long haul.
"I don't know him that well," Dungy said. "I know him from being around him for 4 years, and I do know this: If he wanted to be in college and win, he had probably the best job you could have.
"To me, I don't think it was ever in his mind that, 'I'm going to go up there [to the NFL] and dabble for a while.' I think he made a conscious decision that, 'Hey, I did what I wanted to do. I didn't quite win the national championship in college. But I did what I wanted to do. And now I'm turning the page and going to the NFL.'
"I don't see him going back, just from what I know about him. If he had wanted to do that, he would have stayed [at Oregon]. He would have given it two or three more shots at winning the national championship and then gone. I think the fact that he left when he did tells me that he felt good about what he did in college and I think he's moved forward."
Dungy thinks a couple of things triggered Kelly's decision to say yes to the Eagles last January. One was the success of NFL offenses like San Francisco's and Seattle's that had implemented some of the things he was using at Oregon, including the read option. But more important, Dungy thinks Kelly wanted to compete against the best coaches in the game.
"That's what eventually brings everybody to the NFL," he said. "You want to do it against the very best. To me, I think that was the real driving force. He had a great situation at Oregon. A great job. You could compete for a national championship every year.
"But I think he wanted to find out if he could go against the best in the world and have the same kind of success he had at Oregon."
Dungy has no doubt that Kelly will be a successful NFL coach.
"I thought he would have success," he said. "I can't say I thought they would be playing for a division championship in Year 1. But I didn't think it would take long.
"The thing that I think is really great about Chip is he has the ability to look at people and figure out what they can do and how to use them. He had several different types of quarterbacks at Oregon and tweaked the system so that it accentuated what each did best.
"Dion Jordan was a tight end when he came in there, and Chip had the idea to make him a [pass] rusher. [Bills safety] Jairus Byrd and other guys who came through there weren't highly recruited, weren't big names.
"LaMichael James wasn't a highly recruited guy. People thought he was too small. USC wanted De'Anthony Thomas as a corner. They thought he was too small to be a running back. Kenjon Barner was a defensive back who ended up running for a ton of yards for Chip.
"Chip looks at a guy and says, 'Here's what he can do. Here's how I can implement what he does well.' He just has a way of figuring out how to accentuate the best out of everybody."
Tony Romo missed another day of practice yesterday, and the chances of him playing in Sunday's do-or-die game against the Eagles get slimmer with each passing hour.
Eight-time Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten, probably Romo's closest friend on the team, said on a conference call with the Philadelphia media yesterday that if there is any way for his buddy to play Sunday, he will.
"I know he's working through it," Witten said.
Witten praised Romo for the job he did in last week's come-from-behind win over the Redskins. He engineered the winning drive and threw the winning TD pass to DeMarco Murray after injuring his back.
"It was an unbelievable job by him willing himself [to play] in allowing us to win," he said. "He's the ultimate competitor.
"It's one thing to finish the game. It's another to put the team on your back and go down and score the game-winning touchdown and create the plays he did.
"If he's able at all [to play against the Eagles], I know he will be out there. He the ultimate competitor."
Pat Shurmur didn't know a whole lot about Chip Kelly when the just-hired Eagles coach called the recently fired Cleveland Browns coach last January to see if he might be interested in coming to work for him as his offensive coordinator.
Nearly a year later, Shurmur has absolutely no regrets about returning to Philadelphia, where he spent 10 seasons as an assistant for Andy Reid, and joining Kelly's staff. He's not calling the plays. He's not getting much credit for the success of the offense. But he's OK with that.
"I have thoroughly enjoyed it," Shurmur said. "I felt like it would be a good thing working with Chip. I've enjoyed every minute."
Shurmur had some other coaching options. He didn't know a whole lot about the specifics of Kelly's offense other than the fact that it was played at a really, really fast tempo. But Kelly had him at hello.
"I just knew after meeting Chip that, although the mindset was going to be different and we had very different backgrounds, we were similar philosophically. I was looking forward to being a small part of what he was trying to build. We've blended up some things."
The Eagles are second in the league in scoring and total offense, first in rushing and ninth in passing. They have the league's leading rusher and top-rated passer.
And Shurmur says you ain't seen nothin' yet.
"The sky's the limit," he said. "We're still in the beginning phases of what we want to do. Players getting used to one another. We feel like we can get a lot better."
Figuring the Eagles
* Since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, no team has had the league's rushing champ and top-rated passer in the same season. But the Eagles are close to pulling it off. With a 189-yard lead over the Chiefs' Jamaal Charles heading into Week 17, LeSean McCoy has the rushing title all but wrapped up. Nick Foles has a 5.8-point lead over the Broncos' Peyton Manning for the passing title. Foles has a 118.8 passer rating, Manning 113.0. Currently, Foles has the third-highest passer rating in NFL history, behind only Aaron Rodgers' 122.5 in 2011 and Manning's 121.1 in 2004.
* Foles owns the league's top passer rating against the blitz. He has a 126.3 rating when opponents have sent extra rushers after him, completing 61.7 percent of his attempts, averaging 9.5 yards per attempt and throwing eight TDs and no interceptions. The Saints' Drew Brees is second at 113.0, followed by the Titans' Ryan Fitzpatrick (104.6) and the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick (103.9). Foles also leads the league in third-down passing with a 112.5 rating. He has a 121.1 rating in the red zone that includes a .688 completion percentage, 13 TDs and no interceptions.
* McCoy's rushing average gets better as the game goes on. He is averaging 4.3 yards per carry in the first quarter, 4.8 in the second, 5.3 in the third and 6.4 in the fourth.
* When Foles hit Riley Cooper for a 5-yard touchdown in the first quarter against the Bears, it was just the fourth time this season the Eagles had scored on their first possession. The Eagles defense hasn't given up first-possession points in the last 10 games.
* The Eagles are sixth in the league in run-play percentage. They've run the ball on 466 of their 988 offensive plays, or 47.2 percent of the time. In the previous 10 seasons under Andy Reid, the Eagles were ranked higher than 22nd in run-play percentage just once (14th in 2011), and never had a higher run rate than 43.3 percent.
* In their last four games, the Eagles have held opponents to 2.9 yards per carry and have given up just seven double-digit-yard runs in 109 carries, none longer than 12 yards. On 27 of those 109 carries, they held opponents to zero or negative yards. They are third in the league in yards allowed per carry (3.8). A breakdown of the Eagles' run defense by quarter and down:
Att. Yds. Avg.
First Quarter. . . 118 419 3.5
Second Quarter. . . 110 515 4.7
Third Quarter. . . 89 318 3.6
Fourth Quarter. . . 108 360 3.3
First Down. . . 222 801 3.6
Second Down. . . 161 664 4.1
Third Down. . . 38 142 3.7
Fourth Down. . . 4 5 1.2
* The Eagles have thrown the ball on just five of 35 third-down situations of 2 yards or less. The Chiefs, coached by Andy Reid, have thrown the ball on 11 of 26 third downs of 2 yards or less. They have converted just six of those 11.
This and that
* While center Jason Kelce still has another year left on his rookie contract, signing him to an extension will be a high offseason priority for the Eagles. "Everything that we get started on the offensive side of the ball starts with him," Chip Kelly said. "He's very, very smart. A real student of the game who spends a lot of time with [offensive-line coach Jeff] Stoutland going over how we want to block this, how we want to do that. He's really almost the coach on the field for that group." Kelce said he doesn't like to think about business during the season, but would be very interested in a long-term deal. "I would love to play in Philadelphia for as long as I can," he said. "I would like to be here as long as possible if the Eagles are willing to have me."
* McCoy has fumbled just once this season and only 10 times in 1,393 career touches. Given the way he often carries the ball away from his body, that's a little surprising. But the Eagles running back seems to have a spidey-sense knack for knowing when he needs to tuck it away and protect it. "We work on it with LeSean," Shurmur said, "just like we do with all players. There are times when the ball is loose and we remind him of that frequently. In fact, you can ask him that." As a team, the Eagles have fumbled just 18 times, losing nine. They have just four lost fumbles in the last 12 games. Last year, they had 37 fumbles and lost 22.
FROM THE LIP
* “You have to understand the [situation] coach is putting him in. He doesn’t want him to look good. And you can write that. He doesn’t want him to look good because, if he looks good this week, it makes the past 5 weeks look like a bad decision. He doesn’t want [Terrelle Pryor] to look good. He wants him to look bad. That’s what’s going on.” — Pryor’s agent, Jerome Stanley, on Raiders coach Dennis Allen’s decision to start Pryor over Matt McGloin against Denver this week after not playing him for five games
* “The thing I love about our football team is that we are a team of faith. We believe. We trust. Because of that, we’ll fight. We will run the race right down to the end. That’s something that our football team does. I’m very proud of them for that.” — Ravens coach John Harbaugh, whose 8-7 team is in a three-way battle with the Chargers and Dolphins for the sixth and final AFC playoff spot
THE WISDOM OF CHIP
“Every single time you get a chance to compete, you’ve got to consider what’s on the line. There’s not a magic formula of, I’ve got to get geared up for this and not get geared up for this. If you do, you’re living in peaks and valleys. I think we’ve got a competitive team. They take a 2-minute situation in practice as a competitive situation, and that’s what you want.”
BY THE NUMBERS
* Tom Brady has led the Patriots to 11 division titles, which is the most of any starting quarterback in league history. Peyton Manning is second with 10. Joe Montana is third with nine.
* Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon has caught at least five passes in all 15 games this season.
* The 49ers are 30-2-1 under Jim Harbaugh when they score 20 or more points.
* The Niners are the only team in the league that has not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season.
* The Broncos need just 18 points against the Raiders on Sunday to pass the 2007 Patriots for most points in a single season. The ’07 Patriots scored 589 points. The Broncos are averaging 38.1 points per game. The only team in history that averaged more was the 1950 Los Angeles Rams (38.8).
1 49ers 11-4 (2 last week)
2 Broncos 12-3 (3)
3 Seahawks 12-3 (1)
4 Panthers 11-4 (5)
5 Patriots 11-4 (6)
6 Cardinals 10-5 (9)
7 Colts 10-5 (10)
8 Chiefs 11-4 (4)
9 Saints 10-5 (7)
10 Bengals 10-5 (11)
11 Chargers 8-7 (14)
12 Eagles 9-6 (15)
13 Ravens 8-7 (8)
14 Cowboys 8-7 (19)
15 Steelers 7-8 (18)
16 Bears 8-7 (12)
17 Packers 7-7-1 (17)
18 Lions 7-8 (13)
19 Dolphins 8-7 (16)
20 Rams 7-8 (20)
21 Jets 7-8 (21)
22 Titans 6-9 (24)
23 Giants 6-9 (26)
24 Bills 6-9 (28)
25 Vikings 4-10-1 (22)
26 Jaguars 4-11 (23)
27 Bucs 4-11 (25)
28 Falcons 4-11 (27)
29 Browns 4-11 (29)
30 Raiders 4-11 (30)
31 Redskins 3-12 (32)
32 Texans 2-13 (31)