BY THE TIME Eagles general manager Howie Roseman sat down with a reporter in the NovaCare cafeteria yesterday afternoon, five NFL teams had fired their coaches upon finishing disappointing seasons. One of those teams was the Cleveland Browns, run by former Eagles president Joe Banner. The Browns and the Eagles both interviewed Chip Kelly a year ago. The Eagles hired Kelly, and Cleveland ended up with then-Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who went 4-12, including 10 losses in the final 11 games, enough to turn Chudzinski's 4-year contract into a one-and-done.
Replacing your head coach is a big decision. The better teams seldom do it. Next season's new guy will be the Browns' seventh hire of a head coach since Cleveland returned to the NFL in 1999.
Roseman, weary yesterday but excited, like the rest of the Eagles' traveling party that returned from Dallas in the predawn hours to prepare for Saturday's NFC wild-card playoff visit from the New Orleans Saints, has no doubt whatsoever that he and owner Jeffrey Lurie hired the right coach to replace Andy Reid last January, that they will not be looking in a new direction anytime soon.
Roseman said yesterday he is not surprised to be in the playoffs in Kelly's first season, though Kelly is the first Eagles coach ever to win the NFC East in his initial season. Has anything surprised him, then?
"Top to bottom, the incredible buy-in they've had, since [the players] reported in April," Roseman said. "Usually, when you have a regime change, you have some outliers. When you look at our roster, every single one of our players has worked incredibly hard and tried to do whatever they were capable of to improve."
A good bit of the credit there goes to Kelly and his staff, Roseman said, for being able to explain why doing something their way will benefit the player and the team.
Kelly and Roseman wondered how Kelly's new ways of doing things would go over, when Kelly came to the NFL from Oregon with no pro coaching experience.
"Everything we asked them to do as a staff, from the first day we got there on April 1, until tonight, they've bought in," Kelly said minutes after the final gun of the 24-22 victory in Dallas that won the NFC East, bringing Eagles fans a playoff berth for the first time since 2010. "It's an awesome feeling, when you can work as hard as they've worked, and to see it pay off. And the results are 10-6 and division champs. It's a real credit to those guys. They didn't flinch."
Getting players to buy in, to follow the program wholeheartedly, is really what coaching is about, in every sport, more than some hot strategy or system. Kelly spoke on the subject again yesterday, indicating that the players deserved more credit than he.
"It was evident to me on April 1, when I got here with these guys and got a chance to be with them for the first day, that they were of the mindset, 'Whatever it takes, what do you want us to do, and where do we got to be, and how are we going to do it?' And I think that's a credit to them. I think that's why we are where we are, because they are the ones that play.
"They are the ones that go out there every single day. They are the ones that train . . . You can't fake football. You get out of it exactly what you put into it, and these guys put in an unbelievable effort, and it's paying off for them on the field."
Roseman said it's easier when players see tangible benefits right away. With Kelly's sports science emphasis, not only is a team that was 4-12 in 2012 now 10-6 and in the playoffs, but serious injuries have been avoided, over-30 players feel fresh.
"Obviously, there's no team that can beat the fact that we haven't had a player go on IR since the season started," Roseman said.
Roseman said he had no expectations as far as what the first season should look like or accomplish.
"We just wanted to make sure we were getting the right people, on and off the field, inside the building," he said.
Kelly was asked yesterday how the Eagles got from 3-5, in the wake of their 52-20 loss at Denver Sept. 29, to 10-6 as they prepare for the postseason.
The Eagles lost the only other two times they played on a short week this season, Week 2 to the Chargers and Week 3 to the Chiefs, both at home . . . Chip Kelly did not offer an update on safety Earl Wolff, who sat out Sunday's game with a knee problem he aggravated against Chicago.