How Will Chip Kelly Handle Losing In the NFL?

So far, the fans in Philadelphia have greeted Chip Kelly with open arms.

“They’ve been great,” said the new Eagles’ head coach. “It’s obvious they’re extremely passionate about the Eagles. That’s evident no matter where you go. It’s been awesome. But we haven’t played a game yet either, so that could change.”

During his four-year run at Oregon, Kelly suffered just seven losses in 53 games. While anything’s possible, there’s a good chance he’ll suffer that many defeats in his first season in the NFL.

So how is that going to sit with the new Eagles’ head coach?

“Every day you go out there you don’t think, ‘Hey, we’re gonna win 46 out of 53,’ ” he said. “It’s a competition every single day, so I don’t think that way, that ‘Hey, I’m not used to losing.’ We’ve got the utmost respect for whoever we’re gonna compete against. I know it’s extremely difficult to win in this league. You just look at everybody’s record over the history of the game. It is a different game from that standpoint. But that’s just part of it. That’s the challenge. You look at it and kind of embrace it. You’re excited about it. Every single Sunday, you better bring your A game or you’re going to be in trouble.”

Kelly’s first game as the head coach at Oregon was somewhat of a disaster. The Ducks managed more penalties (eight) than first downs (six) in a 19-8 loss to Boise State. After the game, star running back LeGarrette Blount punched an opposing player on the field and was suspended.

One thing about Kelly is, like most coaches, he remembers the losses with stunning clarity. When the Eagles drafted Zach Ertz, Kelly immediately recalled the game-tying touchdown the Stanford tight end caught against Oregon last season. And when asked about the loss to Boise State, he was quick to point out that the Broncos finished that year 14-0.

“It wasn’t like this catastrophic… we lost by 50,” Kelly said. “We lost 19-8 to the No. 3 or No. 4-ranked team in the country at the end of the year that had a quarterback named Kellen Moore that ended up going 50-3 and had really, really good players on it. I think he [coach Chris Petersen] maybe had 10-12 players off that team drafted that are running around this league right now. So it was a good football team.”

When looking at opponents, Kelly doesn’t believe in rivalry games. Watch this season when a reporter asks about the importance of facing an NFC East team. You can put money down now that Kelly will respond with an explanation of how every game is important.

At the college level, he took pride in avoiding letdown games against lesser opponents.

“I always looked at it when we were in college is that we didn’t have a rivalry game, we had 12 rivalry games,” Kelly said. “Because if we play 12 games, we better treat each opponent like it’s our rivalry game. I think that method worked for us in terms of never letting our guard down, and we’ll take the same approach here. But do we expect to go 46-7 over the next whatever years? No.”

While he knows replicating the success he had at Oregon is unrealistic, Kelly is not conceding anything. The moves the Eagles have made in the last seven months indicate that they know this isn’t a quick fix. Jeffrey Lurie and Howie Roseman are thinking long-term.

And while Kelly is doing the same to a certain degree, he knows it’s common for teams to pick in the top-10 of the draft one season and challenge for a playoff spot the next. Year 1 is about establishing a culture, but that’s a lot easier when the team is winning and having success on the field.

“I just think the league is set up that way,” Kelly said when asked about quick turnarounds. “Everybody has the same rules. Everybody has the same salary cap. If you finish first this year, you draft 32nd the next year. If you finish 32nd this year, you draft one the next year. The league is set up in that manner so if a team was successful because they had all older players, you can’t keep them all because you don’t have enough money to keep them all.

Ed Reed’s playing somewhere else now. You can’t sign everybody. You can’t keep everybody. So the league is structured that way where it doesn’t take five, six, seven years to develop your minor leagues and continue to get depth and bring them up through the ranks. It’s set up for, you get a chance if you do a good job in your selections of who you’re bringing in.”

Since he was first introduced, Kelly has made it clear that he’s no miracle worker. Just like in college, the NFL is personnel-driven, and the Eagles need to make sound decisions in the draft and free agency to turn the franchise around. During his job interview back in January, Kelly explained to Lurie, Roseman and Don Smolenski specifically what he was looking for out of each position. The Eagles made significant changes to their roster this offseason, and they’ll continue to shuffle players in and out until Kelly finds a mix he’s satisfied with.

“We had great players, so we had great teams,” Kelly said when asked about the key to success at Oregon. “We didn’t have maybe great individual players, but we had a bunch of guys that understood what the mission was, understood how to work and understood what it takes. Because it’s not always the most talented team that wins, it’s the best team that wins.”

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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