PHOENIX - Asking the same question several times in different ways, to see whether the responses remain consistent, is a tactic used in police interrogations - at least the ones we see on TV cop shows. It also happens more or less by accident whenever a group of at least three dozen reporters encounters a subject willing to stand and talk for nearly 40 minutes.
Jeffrey Lurie didn't say why he wasn't available to talk about the Eagles' front-office restructuring from the time of the Jan. 2 announcement that Eagles coach Chip Kelly was taking charge of personnel until lunchtime yesterday, outside the Arizona Biltmore hotel at the NFL meetings. But once Lurie showed up in front of an array of microphones, wearing a dark gray suit but no tie, often closing his left eye against the fierce midday sun, he didn't seem to dodge anything, and he articulated a consistent message.
Over and over, the Eagles chairman was asked about taking the general manager's title away from Howie Roseman and giving Kelly control. Over and over, Lurie talked about the difficulty of going "from good to great," and the need to "maximize Chip" by giving Kelly the power he sought. (And, yes, Lurie made it clear this was something Kelly sought, though the coach tried to pretend otherwise when he emerged to answer questions 2 weeks back.)
Roseman, Lurie insisted, does not feel stabbed in the back by the coach he was instrumental in hiring 2 years ago. Roseman worked his way up from the business side, and made it clear when he became GM in 2011 that personnel had always been his passion, the reason he wanted to work in the NFL.
"He's such a selfless guy. He just wants what's best for the team," Lurie said of Roseman, now executive vice president of football operations, in charge mostly of the salary cap.
"I think with Chip, he wanted his own player personnel guy next to him at all times. And I don't blame him. That's what he wanted. So we're providing that" in 31-year-old player personnel VP Ed Marynowitz, who also was brought into the organization by Roseman.
Did Lurie have to give Kelly control to keep him happy, to keep the coach from seeking other opportunities?
"No, no, not at all," Lurie said. "You just want to maximize somebody. I remember having these conversations when I came into the NFL with Bill Walsh. In terms of, when you have someone you really very much respect, and what they're all about, and it's different than what you've been doing, you've got a decision. Do you want to adapt to it, or do you want to say, 'No, we've got a better way in the NFL'?"
The rub with Roseman running personnel, Lurie indicated, was that Kelly's player requirements are so very specific - though Roseman, unavailable to reporters since the restructuring, always seemed to think he was doing a good job of finding the kinds of players Kelly wanted. Lurie emphasized changes Kelly and Marynowitz are implementing in the way the Eagles scout players.
"I think what we're evolving into is a roster that fits much better what [Kelly] wants to accomplish schematically and playing style and all that," Lurie said. "He's talked about this for 2 years. This is not new news for us internally. He's been very definite about how he wants to evolve. He was patient and wanted to play it out, I think, in terms of these outstanding young athletes we had," such as LeSean McCoy and Nick Foles, both recently traded.
"This has allowed Chip to take a step back and take a look at where the program is at. To get from good to great - because we're at good - we've got to do some things."
Such as, say, trading the franchise's all-time rushing leader to Buffalo, then signing DeMarco Murray away from the Cowboys.
"LeSean McCoy is a great running back - all-time franchise leader. Great guy in every way. To maximize [Kelly's] power spread offense, he's always admired the one-cut runners," Lurie said. "You've gotta let a coach try to bring in the players that fit best what he's all about, to maximize what he's trying to accomplish. It really boils down to that. You have a decision as an owner: Do you want to fight that? Or do you want to adopt it? I went all out to try and get Chip as the coach, and I'm really happy we did. He's got a great potential future, and I'm happy to be able to provide him the resources [he needs]."
Lurie said the dismissal of player personnel VP Tom Gamble, 3 days before the restructuring was announced, "was a long time coming" and had no connection to the other events of that week.
Kelly's rapid-fire series of personnel moves this offseason was not impulsive, Lurie said.
"These are not flippant decisions of a head coach," he said. "These are very studied decisions. He watched [new quarterback] Sam Bradford hundreds of times. He talked to every coach he ever had. This is well-researched. It wouldn't satisfy me if it wasn't."
Lurie recalled that when Bradford was coming out of Oklahoma in 2010 as the first overall pick of the St. Louis Rams, the Eagles "thought he was the best young quarterback we'd seen in a long, long time. Probably since Peyton Manning coming out of college. Rookie of the year his first year. Outstanding. Pat Shurmur had him as an offensive coordinator, reconfirmed everything we'd heard about him in the draft process. Extraordinary competitor. Incredibly accurate and needs to stay healthy."
Lurie did little to discourage talk of the Birds trading up to draft Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, though more than once he referenced keeping the Mariota talk alive "to boost ratings." Kelly said 2 weeks ago he would not harm the organization's future by trying to move up near the top of the draft from the Eagles' 20th overall slot. Lurie was more coy.
"It's great to mortgage the future for Peyton Manning. It's not very good to mortgage it for Ryan Leaf," Lurie said. "It's great to mortgage it for Donovan McNabb, but not for Tim Couch or Cade McNown. Again, it comes back to people. It's not a system. If the Redskins had traded for Andrew [Luck instead of Robert Griffin III], we'd all be saying what a great trade. So, you tell me."
Lurie was asked whether this restructuring of the front office and the roster could have taken place earlier, instead of in Year 3 of Kelly's reign. Listening to the chairman yesterday, you almost got the sense that he had reset the clock on his coach, that the real Kelly era was just beginning.
"No, I think it evolved," he said. "I think Chip was new to the league and it took a couple years to assess how to maximize him. I think that was legit. It would have been a different way to maximize him Day 1, than in the third year.
"I think it's possible that our success made us all believe that we were absolutely headed on the right track [under the old setup]. But when you really want to critically analyze where you're at, and don't just accept that we got double-digit wins, because that gets not that interesting, you step back and say, 'How can we get really better?'
"That's what it's all about. I feel that responsibility to our organization, our fans, and everybody. How can we really get better? Not interested in staying the same."