Eagles' Kelly suprisingly adaptable in debut NFL season
Despite preconceived notions, Chip Kelly was able to adjust his system to accommodate Michael Vick or Nick Foles at quarterback.
AS WE ALL begin to reflect on the last 12 months in the life of the Philadelphia Eagles Football Club, it becomes more and more clear that there is a book in there, somewhere. And if someone feels like writing it, about the arrival of a new coach with a revolutionary reputation, about the instant turnaround that he wrought, this would be the best title:
Chip Kelly, Narrative Assassin.
It isn't just the way he stands behind a lectern at his news conferences and systematically refuses to play along with any question containing a preconceived notion - which he does with a withering consistency. It isn't just the words, but the way he lives his professional life.
There are no preconceptions. There are only results. The last 12 months in the life of quarterback Nick Foles provide the clearest example, but it is only one example. The truth is that Kelly surprised us at many turns along the way. We thought we knew him by reputation but found out that we did not know him at all.
College guy. Super-fast tempo. Needs a running quarterback. Arrives with a rigid offensive concept. All of that was proved false. What we found out, instead, is that Kelly is more adaptable than any of us might have predicted. He made the offense work for Michael Vick and he made it work for Foles, two very different players. He played fast at times, but not lightning. He added wrinkles throughout the season, evolving and then evolving some more. He had no trouble adjusting within games - throwing it deep in the second half in the snow against Detroit was the best example. His philosophy was plain: Whatever works.
And, of course, the best example of that was with Foles. The most revealing thing Kelly said at his end-of-the-season news conference came in response to a question about the unanticipated aspect of Foles' game that might have convinced the coach that he was the guy.
And Kelly said, "I don't have expectations of this-has-to-be-this. Our evaluations are based upon demonstrated abilities, and he demonstrated in the time that he was in there that he deserved to be the starting quarterback."
The narrative clearly never mattered. True confession: With regard to Foles, I bought into that narrative as badly as anyone. It went back to last year, when Foles had that touchdown run against Tampa Bay that you could have timed with a sundial, and I made some crack on Twitter that Kelly just crossed Foles off his list. Damn Twitter.
But it was more than that. I watched the Eagles bring back Vick. I watched them draft Matt Barkley. I watched them allow Vick to win the starting job last summer. The narrative assumption, at that point, was that Kelly just did not see Foles as the potential guy and that it was time to trade him while his value was good after a solid preseason. Damn narrative.
We all know what happened. Vick got hurt, then Foles got hurt, then Vick got hurt again, then Foles took the job for good and put up absurd numbers. His success was real. He was careful and he was accurate and, at the same time, he made a ton of big plays down the field. We can argue until September about how much he was a product of Kelly's system, but the results were the results.
Only very late in the season, against Dallas and against New Orleans in the playoff game, did Foles hold the ball to his detriment. There were times in both games when he looked young. But it is crucial to repeat these two truths, even at the risk of annoying people: He won the Dallas game, an elimination game, and he was leading in the New Orleans game when he left the field with just under 5 minutes to go.
That is objective evidence. Those are "demonstrated abilities," especially the part where Foles did not implode under the pressure of the Eagles being down by 20-7 in the third quarter against the Saints. None of us knows if Foles can win a Super Bowl, but how anyone could suggest that he does not deserve to start for this team next year is beyond me.
But what of the long term? In the NFL, a verbal commitment by the head coach is meaningless. There is only one way that somebody really gets anointed as "the guy" and that is when he signs "the contract." Before that happens, everything is just conversation. That is where we are with Foles, who cannot have his deal renegotiated, by NFL rules, until after next season.
What happens then? I don't know, you don't know, and I don't think Kelly knows. There is another year of evidence to be gathered, after all. And if we have learned anything this season, it is that trying to fit that decision into some predetermined story line is a waste of everyone's time. Chip Kelly will make sure of that.