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Jeffrey Lurie wasn't wowed by Chip Kelly after all

TURNS OUT, Jeffrey Lurie was not as thrilled to hand full personnel power over to Chip Kelly as Lurie said he was a year ago.

Jeffrey Lurie said he gave Chip Kelly no leeway to try to keep his job. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)
Jeffrey Lurie said he gave Chip Kelly no leeway to try to keep his job. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)Read more

TURNS OUT, Jeffrey Lurie was not as thrilled to hand full personnel power over to Chip Kelly as Lurie said he was a year ago.

Maybe this was a revisionist portrayal Wednesday on the part of the owner. He doesn't want to come off as fickle or easily fooled, as he tries to get fans believing in his ability to shepherd another coaching search, in the wake of his abrupt firing of Kelly on Tuesday evening.

But as Lurie took the NovaCare auditorium stage and tried to explain his decision to end the three-year Kelly era, along with all the Kelly innovation and fresh thinking Lurie had championed, he seemed to say he acceded to Kelly's demands only so that if everything went south, the coach couldn't complain he wasn't given what he said he needed to succeed.

"I wanted to make Chip accountable for everything he wanted to have happen," Lurie said. "And one of the ways to make him accountable was to have him make those decisions, because that is what he insisted on decisively doing.

"There was a risk involved in allowing Chip to have that kind of say over player transactions. However, you know, risk-reward. Sometimes the risks don't work, and in this case, it didn't work."

The "all-encompassing vision" that would "seamlessly integrate the personnel and coaching departments in order to maximize every facet of the process," as Lurie explained it last Jan. 2, is now sitting at the NovaCare curb like a discarded, yellowing Christmas tree.

In its place is Howie Roseman, the general manager Lurie reassigned at Kelly's request, back to running football operations, with former senior adviser Tom Donahoe now in charge of player personnel. Roseman and Donahoe were not available to reporters.

The fact that Lurie slid Roseman so easily back into being in charge of Eagles personnel would seem to buttress the view that Lurie was never all that sure exiling Roseman was a great idea. It's clear Lurie prefers the "much more collaborative approach between player personnel and coaching" that he outlined Wednesday, and that the Eagles tried to embrace during the Andy Reid era. That also is the structure Lurie outlined when Kelly was hired, before Kelly asked for more say.

As Lurie told it Wednesday, he did not give Kelly the option of remaining as head coach while giving up some personnel control, as was reported Tuesday by ESPN. Their meeting, which also included team president Don Smolenski, was for Lurie to tell Kelly he was dismissed; Kelly was given no leeway to change Lurie's mind.

If Lurie had already made his decision by Tuesday, this further raises the question about exactly when he began to have misgivings. Though Lurie strongly endorsed Kelly just before the season started - calling Kelly "a builder of a roster, culture builder. He's everything that I think we all thought when we interviewed him, and more" - a source close to the situation said Wednesday that organizational communication was a constant problem during the Kelly era, and that Lurie wanted Kelly to fire James Harris, his chief of staff, after last season.

Players Wednesday painted a picture of Kelly as a distant figure; apparently, he used Harris - who also was dismissed Tuesday, though the Eagles didn't announce it, along with director of player engagement Marcus Sedberry - as an emissary, to avoid speaking with players directly. A source also said there were times when Harris didn't convey things to Kelly that players wanted conveyed - such as their feeling that they were overworked.

Maybe we should have looked much more closely at Lurie's fiery pregame speech and the "53 Angry Men" T-shirts he had printed up after the New England game. In retrospect, the owner might have been trying to fill a void, provide an emotional spark, a connection he felt was missing.

It seemed significant Wednesday that when Lurie listed the reasons for dismissing Kelly with a game left to play - instead of at the end of the season - after he mentioned giving the Eagles' search a head start and letting Kelly get going in the job market, Lurie spoke of wanting to use this week to meet with players.

"I want to engage them and have them understand," Lurie said. "What they felt was lacking, I need to understand - have them understand and take accountability, and also, at the same time, (I want to) be a sponge for what is leadership like in today's football world? . . . It's very, very different than it was 10, 15 or 20 years ago. I would like to think that we're always going to try to be on the progressive end of how to lead, and that's top-down, but it's also through the head coach and people the head coach surrounds himself with."

One of Kelly's most famous quotes as the Eagles' coach was that "culture beats scheme." As the Eagles slid to 6-9 this season, it was apparent that Kelly hadn't created the type of culture he prized. It was interesting Wednesday to hear Lurie say, "sometimes there's a culture within an organization with players that create a momentum and create energy and create a fluidity. We never achieved that. It was too inconsistent."

It was hard to find players who seemed devastated by Kelly's firing. Tight end Brent Celek said he liked and never had any problems with the coach; ditto outside linebacker Brandon Graham, who did allow that he understood why other players had issues.

Quarterback Sam Bradford said he "had a great relationship with Chip." Bradford, who can be a free agent this offseason, said whether he returns will hinge on who the next coach is and "what kind of offensive system he wants to run."

Offensive tackle Lane Johnson offered a harsh critique of Kelly's distant manner, and his fast-tempo practice and game setup. Johnson said players sensed the front office wasn't getting along.

"Chip and Howie weren't happy together, didn't deal well. Just a lot of tension up there that didn't need to happen, because when you throw it up there, it does trickle down to the team, and the team knows what's going on," Johnson said. "It's just a negative energy that doesn't need to exist. It wasn't a big deal at all times, but we always knew it was there. We always knew there was a little bit of tension - knew it wasn't just sunshine and rainbows."

Lurie said he is "looking for somebody who interacts very well and communicates clearly with everybody he works with and comes in touch with. Understands the passion of our fans and what it's like to coach the Philadelphia Eagles. It's a unique and incredibly passionate fan base that just wants to win, and you've got to incorporate that in your life and your heart . . . You've got to open your heart to players and everybody you want to achieve peak performance."

On Twitter: @LesBowen