Johnson: ‘Tension Upstairs’ Led To Kelly’s Firing

Photo by: Jeff Fusco

Lane Johnson. (Jeff Fusco)

Lane Johnson was asleep when his head coach was fired.

He woke up from a nap to a text message from a teammate, telling him Chip Kelly had been let go on Tuesday evening. His first reaction was to Google it, to make sure his teammate was telling the truth.

Of course, he was. Kelly is out after just under three years as head coach of the Eagles, and Johnson spoke to reporters at length about what he believed went wrong during Kelly’s tenure, including a potential communication gulf between Kelly and his players.

“I think Chip really did care about this team,” Johnson said. “I just think there were some difficulties with him coming out and saying what he needed to say.”

Johnson said he was able to talk to Kelly, but he believed other players might have found their head coach unapproachable, and would air suggestions or grievances to their position coaches with the hopes of the messages being relayed to Kelly.

“It seemed kind of like [Bill] Belichick,” Johnson said. “You know how, sometimes in his press conferences, he’s kind of unapproachable sometimes? Maybe some guys felt that way.

“I think everyone just talked to their position coaches and hoped it would trickle, you know, like a chain reaction. Ultimately it doesn’t work that way, because those guys are employed by [Kelly] and [Jeffrey Lurie], so maybe it was an intimidation factor a little bit? Maybe a hard guy to approach? People didn’t feel like they were comfortable doing that, especially after some of the changes that were made.”

Changes like releasing DeSean Jackson, trading LeSean McCoy, and letting Jeremy Maclin walk away.

As Kelly’s team underwent a drastic makeover in the past three years, Johnson said he was sometimes taken aback by the moves, but was powerless to do anything.

“It was surprising, it definitely was,” Johnson said. “All the major moves, I just personally sat back and watched it, and wondered, ‘How’s this going to pan out? And if it doesn’t, it’s going to be real bad.’ And that’s kind of the feeling of a lot of the players. Just let things unfold where they did. I basically had no control. It was shocking, so basically I just sat back and let the chips fall where they may.”

Johnson said he had no doubt that Kelly, who won 26 games in his time with the Eagles, is a talented coach.

“Hell, the first two seasons, we broke franchise records,” Johnson said. “He’s proven he can do it. When we get the right personnel, he’s proven he’s a great coach.”

But what about when he doesn’t have the right personnel?

“I think that’s where things went wrong,” Johnson continued. “I think, like I said, there was tension upstairs, and ultimately I think that’s what led to him being released.”

Lurie said Wednesday that he wants to talk to players and get a feel for what they want in the team’s next head coach.

Johnson had a general idea of the qualities he wants in a new head honcho, and they sounded like damning criticisms of the last one.

“[Lurie] just wants a guy that, if issues arise, you’re able to talk to, communicate, solve the problem, instead of maybe being just a one-way guy that’s set in his ways,” Johnson said.

“I just want to see a guy who really cares about his players, and if you have any suggestions … just do well at communicating. Not set in stone with his ways, and just be willing to all work together in one direction.”