Lane Johnson was Chip Kelly's first-ever draft pick and started three seasons for the Eagles' former coach. Johnson complimented Kelly, but he also acknowledged underlying problems and the internal turmoil that ensued.
"I know he's a brilliant coach," Johnson said. "It's tough, making the transition from college to the NFL. It's different. If you're set in your ways, maybe close-minded a little bit and not willing to change, it's going to be difficult. It's going to rub people the wrong way."
Johnson pointed out that the Eagles set offensive records in Kelly's first two seasons, which proves Kelly's ability as a coach "if we get the right personnel." After dramatic offseason changes, it was clear the roster had problems.
"I think that's where things went wrong," Johnson said. "I think . . . there was tension upstairs, and ultimately that's what led to him being released."
Kelly made some changes to benefit the players, and Johnson found the coach to be approachable. But he acknowledged that, "maybe to some players," Kelly was aloof.
"I think everybody just talked to their position coach and hoped it would trickle, kind of a chain reaction," Johnson said. "Ultimately, it doesn't work that way because those guys are employed by him and [Jeffrey] Lurie. There may be an intimidation factor, maybe a hard guy to approach. People didn't feel comfortable doing that. People feel most comfortable talking to their position coaches because that's who they were seeing most every day."
It was revealing that Lurie said the next coach must open his heart to players and value "emotional intelligence." Johnson offered an idea of what Lurie meant from a player's perspective.
"He just wants a guy who, if issues arise, you're able to talk to and communicate and solve the problem, instead of maybe being a one-way guy who's set in his ways," Johnson said. "I think you could say that. And I think Chip really did care about this team. It's just that there were some difficulties in coming out and saying what he needed to say."
Three days after Sam Bradford said he wanted to remain in Philadelphia and play in the same system for the second consecutive year, Kelly was fired and the quarterback's future appeared more uncertain than ever.
"I still enjoy the guys on the team, enjoy the city, enjoy my time here," Bradford said. "Obviously, a lot of it depends on who they hire as a head coach and what type of offensive system he wants to run. . . . The future is uncertain right now. We play the Giants on Sunday. That's all I'm focused on."
Bradford, who was surprised by Kelly's dismissal, said he did not think the coach lost the locker room. And he emphasized that Kelly did not lose the quarterback. Bradford said that the players must take "a lot" of responsibility for Kelly's departure, and that Kelly is a good coach. But without Kelly in Philadelphia, Bradford is bound to learn another new system.
"I'd like to be in the same system; it's only happened once in my career," Bradford said. "But at this point, whether I'm here or somewhere else, I'm going to learn a new system. Just part of it."
It was hard to find a player who expected the move. Connor Barwin was eating dinner Tuesday night when the Eagles app sent an alert to his phone. That's how he found out Kelly was out. Other players learned from text messages from teammates and searching online.
Lurie met with the players Wednesday morning. Interim head coach Pat Shurmur oversaw practice. The players went about the day, but they were stunned.
"I knew after the season there probably was going to be some changes," Barwin said. "I didn't know who they would be or what would happen. But I had no idea it would be Chip or not, and didn't expect it to be last night."