O'Brien offers praise about longtime friend Kelly
ATLANTIC CITY - New Englanders Bill O'Brien and Chip Kelly are old coaching friends who happened to be the Eagles' main targets when management set out in January to replace Andy Reid.
O'Brien decided to stay at Penn State after an 8-hour interview on Martha's Vineyard with Jeffrey Lurie and Howie Roseman. Kelly ultimately took the Eagles' job, after first deciding he wanted to stay at Oregon.
The Eagles have told us Kelly was at the top of their list, but because he was involved in the Fiesta Bowl, they met first with O'Brien. We don't know they would ever have gotten to Kelly if O'Brien had decided he was ready to leave State College at the end of his first season.
So all of that was lurking in the background Friday morning when O'Brien appeared at Harrah's Resort to be honored as the Maxwell Football Club's Collegiate Coach of the Year. Kelly later arrived for the evening banquet.
"I know Chip very well. He's one of the brightest coaches I've been around. He's a very bright guy," O'Brien said. "He's a quick-minded guy; he thinks well on his feet. He's got a lot of great ideas, he's creative. He knows how to surround himself with really good people, which he's done in Philadelphia. Philadelphia fans can expect a very exciting, competitive football team."
Since Kelly took the job, they have texted each other fairly frequently, O'Brien said. Hmmm. What about?
"That's between him and me. Just good conversations about football," O'Brien said.
They should have texted during the afternoon to get their stories straight.
"I've known 'Obie' for about 20, 25 years," Kelly said. "He started coaching at Brown when I was at New Hampshire, we had a lot of mutual friends . . . A lot of times, we're not talking football. We're not texting about what coverage to install . . . Most of the time when I talk to Obie, it's about a friend back home or someone like that. It's not as much about football as you would think."
Kelly said he and O'Brien didn't discuss the fact that each interviewed with the Eagles. (We'll pause here for the readers to roll their eyes.) "I don't know who else interviewed - that wasn't a big deal for me, and it probably wasn't a big deal for Billy, if he did [interview]," Kelly said.
Kelly was accompanied Friday night night by Roseman, the Eagles' general manager. Their focus right now is preparing for free agency, which starts later than usual this year, March 12.
"I have a sense [of what the Eagles need] from what we've seen on tape, but I wouldn't say that's 100 percent, locked-down, slam-dunk," said Kelly. He spoke at the NFL Scouting Combine of wanting to see his players on the practice field before making decisions, which, of course, won't be entirely possible. As a first-year head coach, Kelly gets an extra minicamp, which will occur right before the April 25 draft.
Kelly noted that he wasn't here in 2011 (Roseman can probably fill him in there, one might think), but Kelly agreed that the Eagles won't solve all their problems with free agents.
Kelly said that after taking the job, he met with cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, whom the Eagles have asked to take a substantial pay cut from $15 million this year to avoid being released. Kelly said he was impressed with Asomugha, who was about to embark on a trip to Nigeria when they sat down. In the week since Roseman and Asomugha's agent, Ben Dogra, met in Indianapolis, there has been no sense that Dogra and Asomugha will agree to the reworking.
Roseman said that with free agency moved back, it will add a different twist to the NFL meetings, March 17-20 in Arizona.
"Normally, league meetings is the transition from free agency to the draft," Roseman said. This time, the coaches, GMs and owners will convene in Phoenix with the talent bazaar in full swing. It sure seems there will be a decent crop of free agents this year, with teams scrambling to stay under a relatively flat salary cap.
"It's like being in an ice cream shop - there's a flavor for everyone," Roseman said.
The Maxwell Club also honored Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o with both the Maxwell Award as college player of the year and the Chuck Bednarik award as defensive player of the year. Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome got the Reds Bagnell award for contributions to football, and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson received the Bert Bell award as the NFL player of the year. Chuck Pagano and Bruce Arians, of the Colts, were Greasy Neale Award winners as the NFL coach of the year. (Arians was the interim coach whilel Pagano was being treated for leukemia and has since moved on to become head coach at Arizona.)
O'Brien's 31 seniors from last season accepted the Tom Brookshier Spirit Award. They stayed with the program and built a solid 8-4 year in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation case, what has to be the most wrenching scandal in the history of college sports.
O'Brien talked of how much he owes them for what he called "one of the most enjoyable years I've had in coaching."
The Penn State seniors arrived with O'Brien Thursday night, he said, and he and his players "hung out till midnight just talking."
Other O'Brien highlights:
Year 2 is "much more comfortable, because you have a much better working knowledge of your players, from an acamdeic standpoint, a skill-set standpoint, a health standpoint . . . You understand where they fit better, who they are better."
Penn State players are still free to transfer without sitting out, up until the first day of preseason practice. O'Brien said he doesn't have a feel for whether anyone else is leaving. "They're more comfortable with our expectations, with their own expectations" than when O'Brien arrived, he said. "We're very aware of it. We're always aware of it. It's something we definitely try to stay on top of. We try to make sure the kids understand where they stand in our program. That's what we do. We don't sit there and worry about it . . . We just try to be honest and truthful and make sure the guys know where they stand."