BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – A little more than two years ago, when Jeffrey Lurie pulled the plug on the Chip Kelly experiment in Philadelphia, fear and uncertainty rippled through Kelly’s Eagles staff.
When the head coach fails, so does everyone who worked for him. It’s a little like working for a losing political candidate: You have to wonder how badly you will be marked, and how quickly the mark can be erased, if it can be erased.
Kelly failed again the next year in San Francisco, or, at least, he didn’t survive a change in general managers, and now he is back coaching in college, at UCLA – something he was very clear about not wanting to do when he first arrived in the NFL. But you take what you can get.
For many of those who worked with Kelly at the NovaCare Complex, fate has been kinder. Pat Shumur, Kelly’s offensive coordinator, was named head coach of the New York Giants last week, after a two-season interlude in Minnesota. And the four Kelly position coaches Doug Pederson retained – secondary coach Cory Undlin, running backs coach Duce Staley, tight ends coach Justin Peelle, and offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland — along with Kelly special-teams coordinator, Dave Fipp, find themselves poised to coach in Super Bowl LII on Sunday. The marks have been erased; their coaching resumes sparkle.
Undlin came to Philly from Denver for the final year of the Kelly regime. Undlin has coached for the Broncos, the Jaguars, the Patriots, and the Browns. He has had head coaches fired above him before. How many times was he able to stay on, after that happened?
“First time,” Undlin, 46, said Thursday. He has a wife and three children, who had just settled into Haddonfield when Kelly was dismissed with a game remaining in the 2015 season.
“We love Philadelphia. At that point, we’d only been here a year. When it goes down like that – Chip hired me. You get hired by somebody, you are committed to that guy … That situation is never good. And it wasn’t good,” Undlin said. “When you sign up for this profession, that’s what it is.
“Fortunately for me, Jeffery had come to me early on and said, ‘Just so you know, I want you to be here.’ Obviously, when the owner tells you that, you feel pretty good. But [just as] obviously, that probably doesn’t mean anything, at the end of the day. I’d never met Doug, I’d never seen Doug in my life.”
Pederson had coached in the NFL only for Andy Reid, and didn’t really have an extensive network of coaching buddies with whom to build his staff. When they finally met, Undlin found he didn’t have to pass a rigorous test.
“Doug told me, ‘Want to be here?’ ” Undlin recalled. “So, cool, I’m staying.”
New coach, new defensive coordinator in Jim Schwartz – Bill Davis is coaching linebackers at Ohio State these days, by the way – new setup for Undlin and the other holdovers.
“The schedule changes, everything changes,” Undlin said. “Fortunately for me, I haven’t had to change, as far as my philosophy, the way I coach, and the way I teach and the way I demand.”
“I still coach the techniques and stuff the same,” Stoutland said. “The timing of it all [is different]. We used to have to be able to pick up signals – the O-line would have to see hand signals and stuff like that. … [Using a huddle] gives you a little more time as a player to gather your thoughts on what you might need to do here on this play.”
The Eagles were said to have told Kelly he couldn’t take Stoutland with him, though Stoutland, 55, says now that “if I had the opportunity to stay, I wanted to stay.”
“The only one that I knew was Duce,” Pederson said Thursday. “The other ones, as I was preparing and putting a staff together, and thinking of potential candidates, these guys came highly recommended by other coaches around the league. I was excited to get to Philadelphia and to talk to these guys, to talk to Jeff Stoutland and to Dave Fipp and Cory Undlin, who’d been there about a year, and Justin Peelle and these guys. I wanted to talk to them and see whether they could fit into what I saw bringing to Philadelphia.
“In Fipp’s case, and really in Stoutland’s case, these were two men that came highly recommended to me.”
The whole Pederson-Kelly comparison is tricky with the holdover coaches. It’s rare to hear negativity from coaches still in the business about other coaches still in the business – you never know what the future holds, whom you could end up working with or working for.
Also, Kelly hired these guys. It was Stoutland’s first NFL job, after coaching at Alabama, Miami, Michigan State, Syracuse, and Cornell. Ditto Peelle, now 38, who was just starting his coaching career after 10 seasons as an NFL player. Fipp, now 43, had previously been a special-teams assistant with the Dolphins and 49ers; Kelly gave him a chance to run the group.
Asked if they remain close to Kelly, a few of the holdover coaches said only that they hadn’t talked to him in a while. (That’s NFL coachspeak for “No.”) “We’ve both been busy,” Staley said.
But this was not universal.
“Chip’s a good friend of mine,” Stoutland said. “He’ll be great [at UCLA]. They’ll have headaches over there, trying to defend that offense. … I think he was pretty productive, when he was in the NFL.”
“No,” Stoutland said, when asked if he had any thoughts on why Kelly didn’t last with the Eagles.
“He’s a close friend of mine,” Undlin said. “Chip’s in a great spot. It is what it is.”
Also in a great spot are the Kelly holdovers.
“It’s a great place to coach,” said Fipp, like Undlin, a Haddonfield resident, who said he has formed a deep appreciation for the fan base and the area. “If you love football, this is where you want to coach.”