A year ago today, the Eagles announced the hiring of Chip Kelly as Andy Reid’s successor.
There were plenty more ups than downs in his first season, as the Birds went 10-6, won the NFC East and earned a postseason berth.
Birds 24/7 has been around the coach and the team every step of the way. Keeping that in mind, here are 10 things we learned about Kelly during his first year on the job.
1. He can design/call offense at an NFL level.
This was the biggest question going in. Kelly moved up the ranks quickly, going from offensive coordinator at New Hampshire in 2006 to Eagles head coach in 2013. So naturally, there were doubts about how his ideas would translate against bright defensive minds and talented players.
But the Eagles finished with the second-best offense in the league, per Football Outsiders. They were second in yards (417.2) and fourth in points (27.6). The team set franchise records in points, yards, touchdowns, passing yards and (fewest) turnovers.
The offense did it in a variety of ways, finishing as the league’s top rushing attack while also leading the NFL in pass plays of 20+ yards (80). LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper all had career years. Nick Foles put up the third-highest passer rating in NFL history, led the NFL in yards per attempt (9.12) and became the first quarterback ever to throw 25+ touchdowns and three or fewer interceptions.
The adjustments Kelly made are noteworthy as well. The running game evolved rather dramatically towards the end of the season with Foles at quarterback – moving from zone read plays to split zone runs that did not leave an unblocked defender. There were also many more run plays from under center.
There are still some questions about what kind of offense Kelly wants to run. But he showed he can adjust to his personnel and have a lot of success.
2. He hates labels.
We learned this right away, but it was a relevant theme all season long up until Kelly’s final press conference when a reporter asked a question about his offense.
“It’s not my offense,” Kelly said. “It’s the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense, and it was put together by a bunch of guys on our staff that are really smart that played to our players’ strengths, and that’s what it’s all about. If we have a different set of players, then the offense would look different. This offense didn’t look like it looked when it was at Oregon, but I’m not at Oregon. Our offense at Oregon looked different every year depending on the personnel we had.”
Ask Kelly about being an innovator, and he bristles. Question him about his up-tempo offense, and he’ll point out that they don’t always go fast. The two-gap 3-4 on defense? Kelly will likely fire back that the Eagles line up in four-down alignments in nickel.
The list goes on and on, but one thing’s for sure: The guy does not like to be put in a box and can’t stand generalities about him or his team.
3. He’s not familiar with this injury term you speak of.
Want to get Kelly annoyed? Ask for the specifics of a player’s injury or status. You’ll likely hear an anecdote about Foles.
Leading up to the Week 6 game against Tampa, Foles suffered a groin injury during Friday’s practice. Kelly often uses that as an example of why he won’t answer questions about the status of injured players in the days before the game. In other words, anything can happen right up until kickoff, so what’s the point?
Then again, the real reasons…
“I think there is a huge competitive advantage to not discussing injuries,” Kelly said, via The Oregonian back in 2011.
“I look at some programs and all they do is talk about injuries. I think they become built in excuses for those programs. … We believe injuries are a part of the game. It happens.”
Thanks to the sports science initiatives and/or plain luck, the Eagles were incredibly healthy in 2013.
But if that changes in the future, don’t expect Kelly to provide any more injury information. That may bother some and be a non-issue to others.
4. The game management needs work.
The most glaring example of this came in Week 2 when the Eagles lost to the Chargers. Late in the fourth quarter, Michael Vick got banged-up. The Eagles faced a 2nd-and-10 from the Chargers’ 14-yard-line, down by three points. Instead of calling a timeout, Kelly inserted a cold Foles, who threw incomplete to Jackson.
There were some other examples too. Against Chicago, Kelly drew a penalty for throwing the red flag on a play that was already being reviewed.
The replay protocol as a whole seemed to be shaky on the Eagles’ end. They were successful on three of seven chances, but missed others. Sixteen teams had a better percentage than them on challenges (granted, extremely small sample size).
I wouldn’t describe this as a glaring issue, but one that warrants some attention this offseason.
5. He doesn’t set the bar as high with the defense.
The Eagles’ offense is Kelly’s baby. He takes every slight personally. The defense? It’s more: Just keep us in this thing.
After McCoy set a franchise record for rushing yards in a game against the Lions, Kelly mentioned that he missed one opportunity for a bigger run in the second half because he cut back inside in the open field. When the Birds lost to the Vikings 48-30 late in the season, Kelly pointed out that Foles was inconsistent. While he didn’t say the defense played well in that game, he was quick to give credit to Minnesota QB Matt Cassel.
Perhaps Kelly’s stance in Year 1 had more to do with personnel than anything else. The offense was the more talented group, and the defense was moving from a Wide-9 4-3 to a two-gap 3-4. That could explain the lower expectations.
But the guess here is that for as long as Kelly is the head coach, the bar he sets for the offense will be higher than the one for the defense.
6. His whole “explain everything” philosophy earned him credibility.
We heard about this prior to Kelly’s arrival. His philosophy is to explain every aspect of the program to the players in a way that makes sense. If unable to provide sound reasoning, he figures he should re-think what he’s doing.
“I think he’s a very knowledgeable person in terms of what he wants done and I think he does an extremely good job of motivating players,” said tight ends coach Ted Williams, the oldest coach on Kelly’s staff. “I’ve never been around somebody that has his skill in that vein.
“I think he explains to them the reasons why you do things a certain way. I can tell you a lot of things, and I’ve always used this axiom: I can’t get you to change your mind about anything. I can give you enough information where you change your own mind. And that’s kind of the way he does it. He gives ‘em enough information that they understand that there’s a better way, and if we do it a better way, we’re better off.”
Talking to players last week, many pointed out that a crucial point came when the Eagles were at 1-3. Kelly did not start hollering and screaming. He asked them to stick with the plan and said things would turn around. The players did just that, and the Eagles finished the season on a 9-3 run.
7. Open dialogue is important to him.
When the team signed Connor Barwin in the spring, Kelly called Trent Cole to let him know where he stood. Same goes for Brent Celek. He received a call both when the Eagles signed James Casey and when they drafted Zach Ertz.
“He called me both times right afterwards,” Celek said. “And I think that makes you have a lot of respect for a guy too when he’s telling you where you stand at all times, and I can really appreciate that.”
Following the Riley Cooper incident at the Kenny Chesney concert, Kelly gathered the team and allowed players to speak up in an open forum.
During the Lions’ game, when Cary Williams noticed how hard it was for defensive backs to cut on in-breaking routes, he relayed his observation to Kelly. The coach took it to heart, and the Eagles hit on some big plays downfield in the second half.
8. He delegates responsibility (so far).
I’d imagine one major challenge for new NFL coaches is deciding how much to take on themselves. They are, after all, control freaks by nature.
But there were signs during Kelly’s first season that he’s willing to delegate responsibility to assistants on the biggest coaching staff in the NFL. For example, assistants are in charge of rotating players in and out during the game. When Bryce Brown gets a snap instead of McCoy, that’s Duce Staley’s decision.
We covered the defense above, but it’s Billy Davis’ operation on that side of the ball. Kelly made it clear when he hired Davis that his plan was not to micro-manage. And by all accounts, he didn’t in Year 1.
9. He’s obsessed with speed and efficiency.
The Eagles set up a tent outside next to the practice fields at the NovaCare Complex for press conferences this season. The reason? So that Kelly could go from his meetings to his press conference to practice without wasting any time.
We wrote about the practices all spring and summer. Again, the key word was efficiency. Several short periods where players shuffled from one activity to another. No wasted time in between.
Kelly was mic’d up for the Eagles’ second matchup against the Redskins. Before the game, he was telling anyone who would listen that he can’t stand waiting for kickoff on gamedays. In other words, this is not a patient man.
As for the speed of the offense, it wasn’t as fast as some observers might have expected. Part of that was the Eagles holding several fourth-quarter leads where they tried to use up the clock. And part of it was that the tempo was new. The players had to figure it out, Kelly had to see how the officials spotted the ball, etc. Don’t be surprised if the pace picks up in Year 2.
10. He’s in no rush to go back to college.
Granted, this is my personal observation, but I sense that Kelly likes the NFL lifestyle.
“My schedule, the day the season was over was a lot worse than my schedule here because, you know, you’re planes, trains and automobiles recruiting from Sunday night until Friday afternoon,” Kelly said. “And hustling back and practicing, getting a practice in Friday afternoon, practice Saturday, practice Sunday, get back on a plane and fly around the country chasing down recruits. So it wasn’t, I think, maybe a misconception is when you’re a college coach and the last game is done and then the bowl game comes, you don’t have a month off. I would argue my schedule was more hectic from a recruiting standpoint than it was here. So I’m looking forward to being in the office every day and watching tape. That is the fun part of our job.”
Asked in the spring what he liked better, the draft or recruiting, Kelly said: “The draft because it’s over and done with in three days and you’re not on the phone with a 16-year-old high school kid for five years. Three days and it’s done. There’s nothing you can say about it.”
Things obviously can change, but the sense I got throughout the season was that building relationships with players at the professional level (and getting them to buy in) was not as difficult as Kelly anticipated.
The guy is a football-obsessive through and through. The pro lifestyle cuts out some of the distractions that a college coach has to deal with. I think Kelly really appreciates that aspect of it.