I THINK CHIP KELLY is really, really smart, one of the sharpest people I've met in sports.
Eagles fans had better hope I'm right about that, because the restructuring the Eagles announced Friday, buried beneath layers of horrid corporate-speak, means their hopes and dreams are now totally riding on Kelly being not just a good coach but a transcendent, bronze-bust-in-Canton-level figure.
Chip has a lot to prove and to learn to get to those heights. Bill Belichick had spent a quarter-century in the NFL, including a failed head-coaching stint in Cleveland, before he got the Patriots job and total personnel control. Yet, that is what Kelly now has, as he approaches the second anniversary of his entrance into the league.
The Eagles' power structure that was announced Friday goes beyond anything that was ever explicitly stated in the Andy Reid era. There was a time, early in the last decade, between when Andy hired Tom Heckert after getting rid of Tom Modrak, and when Joe Banner and Howie Roseman began exerting influence beyond the contract realm, when Andy might have enjoyed the kind of clout Chip now wields. Those would have been the NFC championship years and the Super Bowl XXXIX year, but they were not great draft years, which was a big reason the team declined, and why Banner and Roseman eventually were allowed to have their say in personnel. Even Andy's mentor, Mike Holmgren, eventually stumbled when he went to Seattle and tried to run the whole show while coaching.
A few fans wanted to know Friday what Chip has done so far that makes him a draft/personnel expert. The answer would be "not much," but right now that really isn't the point. Jeffrey Lurie made a choice, 2 years ago, to bring in more than a coach, Lurie proudly bragging that he had acquired a "program builder" in Kelly. The Eagles bought into Chip Kelly instead of, say, Gus Bradley, and they knew what they were buying. They probably sensed this day might come, but Lurie liked having his closest confidant in charge of personnel, and Roseman had done a good job on the 2012 draft (except for the Russell Wilson part), so they started out with a structure in which Kelly and Roseman shared power. Now, in his new job, Roseman can take what CSNPhilly's Reuben Frank reported was a raise from $1.5 million to $1.7 million a year, sit back, and see what happens with Kelly in total charge. Howie has been here since 2000, and has a contract through 2020.
In a weird way, 2014's abrupt, unsatisfying ending, with the Eagles missing the playoffs at 10-6, might have worked in Kelly's favor. It allowed him to go to Lurie and say, "See, I can't get this done just with tempo and LeSean McCoy. I'm going to need to be able to control the players we bring in, fit them precisely to our schemes."
See the part of Lurie's statement Friday where the chairman notes: "It's most important that we find players that match what our coaches are seeking."
Lurie had two choices: go along with Kelly's vision, or cut bait. Can you imagine the outcry if the Eagles had announced Kelly's departure Friday? That would have been chaos. The entire organization, largely rebuilt along Kelly lines over the past 2 years, would have been reduced to rubble. What would Plan B have been, exactly?
And yet, the fact that this was Lurie's only viable choice doesn't mean it will work out. What we know so far about Chip and the draft isn't promising. Kelly and Roseman chuckled after last May's selectathon about Howie having had to explain to Chip that he didn't need to draft Oregon defensive end Taylor Hart in the third round, Hart would still be there in the fifth. They took Hart in the fifth - after taking another Oregon Duck, wideout/returner Josh Huff, in the third - and Hart became the only Eagle to spend the entire season on the 53-man roster without ever being active for a game.
Yesterday, Bleacher Report's Jason Cole reported that Roseman and Kelly also clashed over the first-round pick. The Eagles traded down from 22nd to 26th, and Kelly wanted to select wide receiver Jordan Matthews there, Cole said, but Roseman persuaded him Matthews would be available in the second round. The Eagles took pass rusher Marcus Smith 26th, then traded up to 42nd overall in the second round to nab Matthews, who turned out to be the star of their draft class.
(No, Cole did not report that Smith was Howie's idea. Assigning blame for that pick seems to be many fans' only interest in last week's Tom Gamble firing and front-office restructuring. When the team released a statement Friday explaining the Kelly-Roseman changes, people on Twitter actually wanted to know if the statement said who drafted Smith. Sure. Right there in the fourth paragraph, after "all-encompassing vision" and before "fully integrated approach," there's a sentence that says, "BTW, Marcus Smith was Gamble's fault. Or Joe Banner's.")
Anyhow, Cole's point wasn't that Chip's idea of drafting Matthews first might have actually worked better than what they ended up doing; it was that, as with the Hart business, Chip lacked a feel for where players were going to be slotted by other teams. Let's hope the personnel czar Chip hires has that vision, and that he can get Chip to listen to him. ("Oregon's long snapper in the second round? Geez, Chip, I dunno . . . ")
Pro Football Talk reported over the weekend that Eagles assistant director of player personnel Ed Marynowitz was a candidate for the job. Marynowitz, who turns 31 next month, is a former La Salle quarterback who transferred to Central Florida after that program folded, is said to be very sharp, but obviously also is pretty young by personnel-czar standards. He worked at Central Florida and for the Dolphins, then directed recruiting at Alabama from 2008-11, when the Crimson Tide tended to get some fairly decent players, before coming to the Eagles in 2012.
There are several more-experienced personnel voices in the Birds' front office - director of pro personnel Rick Mueller has an extensive background with the Jaguars and Saints - but Mueller interviewed yesterday for the Jets' general-manager job. We don't know what Kelly thinks of the personnel staff, which was assembled by Roseman. People close to the situation say he likes Marynowitz, whom Gamble once predicted "is going to be a star in this business."
If Marynowitz had played or coached at Oregon, we probably could have penciled him in for the job already.