Sure, the afternoon started with the Eagles introducing their new head coach, but owner Jeffrey Lurie took the opportunity to voice his opinion on a couple other issues.
One, he offered an aggressive defense of general manager Howie Roseman. And two, he made sure to point out that his old buddy Joe Banner was never in the mix for Kelly’s services.
During the search process, Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com wrote that Roseman was “drunk with power” and said the GM’s presence was turning candidates off. A Harrisburg Patriot-News report suggested that Patriots coach Bill Belichick held Roseman in “low regard.” The article made the point that Belichick’s opinion would hold weight with Eagles target Bill O’Brien, who served previously on the Patriots’ staff.
Lurie indicated that perhaps there were some in the league who stood to benefit from making the Eagles’ job out to be undesirable.
“We knew strategically what was going on with ‘league sources’ and stuff like that,” Lurie said, speaking to a group of writers after the initial press conference. “This was such erroneous reporting it was insane. The reputation, in terms of the people we interviewed and the people who called the people we interviewed, was so positive that I think it dwarfed any of the individual agendas of anybody that was quoted as league sources. It was a joke to us, really.”
Back when the search process first began, Lurie said the Eagles’ job was the best in the NFL. As the team appeared to get turned down by Kelly, O’Brien and Brian Kelly, some mocked Lurie’s proclamation. But the owner defended his initial stance and praised Roseman for his role in the process.
“One of the things I learned – as an owner you learn as you go – was the really great respect that Howie had across the league,” Lurie said. “People were calling our candidates to say, ‘This is a young GM. But he is a very, very sharp guy.’ Andy [Reid] also called some of the candidates and told them what he’s like to work with.
“The benefit we had here, and I can’t underestimate it, and it wasn’t even our doing, but some of the real iconic names in the sport were telling our candidates before they came in that this was by far the best organization to come in and work for – as an organization and a great city. That was all work we didn’t have to do. …They did their research too. It was incredibly positive. I didn’t have to convince anyone of anything.”
Lurie was hesitant to name names, but Kelly mentioned that he talked to Reid, Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden and Dick Vermeil during the process.
Banner and the Browns met with Kelly the day after the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona. An NFL Network report said the two sides were close to a deal. They were scheduled to meet again Saturday evening, but the Eagles got their shot at Kelly earlier. The meeting lasted nine hours, the session with the Browns was pushed back, and Lurie knew then that the Eagles didn’t have any competition.
“The other thing that was really clear after we interviewed Chip, we got a call from his agent, and we also found out via Chip that it was just a question of if he was going to come back to the NFL, it was only with the Eagles,” Lurie said. “That was obvious. And it was obvious in the interview as well. That was the question, was he going to stay at Oregon or come to the Eagles? That was the basic dilemma he had.”
Kelly backed up the owner’s story. Asked about the report that said he was close to a deal with the Browns, Kelly responded, “No, that wasn’t accurate. And I don’t know if it’s a shock to you, but sometimes things that are printed aren’t always true. I met with the Browns, and I was scheduled to meet with the Bills, and I was scheduled to meet with the Eagles. So at the end of the day, meeting with the Browns, they asked kind of where we are. I said my whole approach was that like a recruit. I was going to take my three official visits and then make a determination on what the best spot for me was, and that was always my plan.
“It wasn’t who gets to go first, who gets to go last. I understand how some of that stuff works, but there was never any commitment one way or the other. I was always going to visit with all three teams that expressed interest in talking to me. I said I would always sit down, and when I did listen, it was evident to me that I was either going to go to Philadelphia or stay in Oregon.”
During his time here, Reid often talked about Lurie’s competitive nature. On Thursday, after the owner introduced the coach he coveted, that was on full display.
Update: The Browns released a statement to Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com in which Banner fired back:
“It is always difficult to comment on a quote that may or may not be accurate or in context. In this case, from the comments which Jeffrey made that were communicated to me, it is necessary for me to make this clear, unambiguous statement. Any implication that I had anything to do with Jason La Canfora’s story is completely false, outrageous and borders on being libelous.
“I had absolutely no conversation with Jason La Canfora. Having demonstrated my character over the last 44 years to Jeffrey and the last 14 to Howie, it is beyond disappointing that they would suggest such a thing. As tempting as it is to go further, other than defending myself, I will continue to take the high road on all such matters as I have since the day I left the Eagles.”