There's a story, and it may be apocryphal, that one day a reporter asked John Maynard Keynes, the famous British economist, about the apparent inconsistency over time of Keynes' positions. "When my information changes," Keynes is said to have responded, "I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?"
John Maynard Keynes, meet Charles Edward Kelly. His friends call him Chip. And he's not ready to alter anything yet.
If nothing else came through clearly from Kelly's news conference Monday at the NovaCare Complex - with the Eagles 1-3, in the wake of a terrible 23-20 loss to the Washington Redskins - his obstinacy did. Twenty times over 16 minutes, Kelly repeated or used a variation of the two-word phrase that in his mind would solve all the Eagles' problems, that would take care of a running game stopped in its tracks and a quarterback still searching for his groove and an offensive line fraying like an old blanket and a defense spending a lot of time, maybe too much, on the field. All those problems, all with the same solution: make plays.
"I think when we have an opportunity to make plays, we have to make plays," Kelly said. "That's how we look at it."
Well, that's how he looks at it, because he doesn't seem inclined to turn inward for the answers. Aside from some second-guessing about some play-calling - "What could I have done on second down that could have put us into a more manageable third down?" - Kelly put the onus for the Eagles' awfulness on his players, on their inability to execute the offense as he orchestrates it. Everything will work in time, he seemed to be saying, or it should. The line will pass-protect and run-block. Sam Bradford will make all the throws. The receivers will catch the ball. The corners will cover on third down. We're only a few plays away, if we make them. All those problems, all with the same solution, none of them requiring Kelly to change a thing.
"You don't throw the baby out with the bathwater and say, 'OK, we're going to change our offense, change our defense, change everything we're doing with our approach,'" he said. "We just need to settle down, take a deep breath, and when we have an opportunity to make a play, make a play."
The thing is, the Eagles haven't taken a deep breath for eight games, dating to last season. They're 2-6 over that stretch, stoking questions about the predictability of Kelly's offensive system and assertions that opposing defenses know what the Eagles will do before they do it, and his apparent refusal to carry out any meaningful self-reflection links these concerns and others into an onerous chain. It's fine to have a coach who is sure of himself. Every coach is, or should be. But it's not fine to have a coach who can't or won't admit when he's wrong, who's unwilling to alter his conclusions based on new information or experience.
Consider an example: Kelly was asked Monday whether, given the injuries to and performance of the Eagles' offensive line, his decision in June to release guard Evan Mathis might serve as a lesson for him. Though Mathis was in the midst of a five-year, $25 million contract, he wanted a new deal, and Kelly banked that the Eagles' offensive line wouldn't suffer for Mathis' departure, that cutting Mathis was the functional equivalent of swallowing two Ibuprofen caplets to take care of a headache.
"It's not a lesson learned," Kelly said. "We weren't going to renegotiate his contract, and I'll say it again, we were told by his agent if we didn't renegotiate it, we weren't getting him back."
Except after the Eagles cut him, Mathis ended up signing with the Denver Broncos for one year and $4 million. So it's illogical to think that he wouldn't have shown up for training camp, tail between his legs, and played for the Eagles under his old contract, which paid him more. Players - most recently Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor - often return in such situations, once they run out of leverage.
It's also illogical to think that Drew Rosenhaus, Mathis' agent, was doing anything other than bluffing when he told Kelly that Mathis wouldn't report. And it was a weak bluff at that, considering that Mathis turns 34 next month and had little hope of signing a lucrative, long-term contract with another team.
Nevertheless, Kelly plowed ahead, cutting Mathis and Todd Herremans, failing to find suitable replacements, and his precious offense is paying the price. The information has changed, but his answers didn't Monday. Everyone gets it, Chip. The players need to make plays. And when they don't, what do you do, sir?