First in a six-part series.
It has been just more than five years since Andy Reid's departure. The glory seasons of the early 2000s had given way to a 4-12 record in 2012. It was time for a change.
Here are six twists and turns the Eagles have endured since then. All were critical in getting to this point — where the Birds can end a 57-year championship drought. Didn't see this coming.
It was on New Year's Eve 2012 when Jeffrey Lurie announced that Reid would not be retained. Appropriate, almost, because the franchise was getting stale, like flounder left in the cabinet for a week. New year. New coach. New way of doing things. Not the same old standard.
Sure, Reid had brought the Eagles its longest run of sustained success, but there was still a hole in the trophy case where the Lombardi Trophy was supposed to go. Couple of holes, actually.
"It's better to find the right leader than to make a fast decision," Lurie said in announcing Reid's dismissal. "There's no guarantee I'll make a great decision, but I'm confident I will."
Lurie had his eyes on Chip Kelly, an offensive whiz who was running circles around the college game.
Kelly's skill to innovate and keep the scoreboard popping was without question. His ability to lead men – rather than order around college kids – was the great unknown. Kelly's roots were sewn in New Hampshire and sprouted at Oregon, but this would be his first jump into the pro game.
The relationship between Kelly and Lurie/the Eagles seemed like a marriage made not in heaven but in Vegas. Kelly also had talked with the Buccaneers and Bills but decided to stay at Oregon. Then he changed his mind a week later and became the Eagles head coach on Jan. 16, 2013. Oregon was stung. Eagles nation rejoiced.
Kelly's first training camp was blighted by the Riley Cooper racial-slur controversy. On the very first drive of Kelly's first regular-season game, Michael Vick rolled the Eagles offense down the Redskins' throat only to see a fluky lateral turn into a Redskins defensive touchdown. The Eagles won the game, but talk about omens. Fool's gold.
They were 3-5 when Nick Foles threw for seven touchdowns at Oakland and ignited a run to the NFC East title. They would go 10-6 and — even in the wake of a disappointing playoff loss at home to the Saints — there was reason for encouragement.
The Eagles again went 10-6 in 2014 but missed the playoffs. Then the coach pivoted.
In the offseason, Kelly demanded – and received from Lurie — full control of personnel. Lurie was going all in on Kelly like a blackjack addict doubling down on an eight while the dealer is showing a king. General manager Howie Roseman was asked to go in the other room while the adults played cards.
Kelly wheeled and dealed, letting go of the team's two best playmakers – wide receiver DeSean Jackson and running back LeSean McCoy — and trading Foles for Sam Bradford even though Bradford had missed the previous season with a torn ACL. Running back DeMarco Murray was signed as a free agent but was a poor fit for Kelly's high-paced offense.
The Eagles went 7-9, highlighted by an unlikely win at New England when they were 24-point underdogs, but Kelly was fired after 15 games. It was the first time in nearly three decades an Eagles coach did not finish a season. "I'm not the general manager," he grumbled.
"The original hiring of Chip was a bold choice," Lurie said. "We knew what the potential pitfalls were. … There's a risk involved in allowing Chip to have that kind of say over player transactions. However, it's risk/reward. Sometimes the risks don't work, and in this case, it didn't work."