I'll put it right out there. I have no idea if Chip Kelly is going to succeed. The odds are stacked against any coach who doesn't have NFL experience. But, then again, they're stacked against the ones who do as well. Most head coaches don't last more than four years.
To that end, I'm happy because whether or not he succeeds, Kelly is going to make things exciting in Philly. This is going to be the most exciting offseason in decades, as we anticipate new schemes and a revamped training routine. I don't think it's a stretch to say that Kelly was the smartest coach in college football. Maybe not the best recruiter or the best motivator or the one with the best NFL credentials, but the Eagles just went out and brought one of the brightest football minds in to run the organization. I can get behind that decision in a big way, win or lose.
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Thank goodness we're done with this coaching search, if only so we don't have to hear another beat reporter on Twitter complain about how tedious it's been for them. Give me a break, guys.
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Filling out a staff is the top priority for any head coach, but it will be especially important for Kelly. He needs assistants who can implement his unique system, not ones stuck in their own ways of teaching. Yet he also needs assistants who have lots of NFL experience, since Kelly himself has none.
Derrick Gunn reports that University of Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is at the top of Kelly's list to run the Eagles defense. With top talent at his disposal at Georgia for the last three seasons, Grantham put together highly-ranked defenses. Before that he was an assistant in the NFL for 11 seasons, including three as the Cleveland Browns coordinator (with poor results). Interestingly enough, from 1996 to 1998, Grantham served as Nick Saban's defensive line coach at Michigan State. He employs the 3-4 defense, a change that would require some serious personnel changes in Philly -- not that those aren't necessary anyway.
Another name that has popped up in the rumor mill: Mark Whipple, most recently the quarterbacks coach for the Cleveland Browns. Whipple coached at New Hampshire around the time Kelly played there, and was known for running wide-open spread passing attacks at the college level. He was also an offensive assistant in Philadelphia from 2007-2008, and Derek Sarley wrote a hopeful profile of him back then.
Other NFL assistants Kelly has coached with in the past include Pete Carmichael (OC, Saints) and Jack Bicknell Jr. (OL, Chiefs). Of course, he may also recruit a few Oregon coaches to make the NFL leap with him.
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Come on, Jon Gruden, you know you want to come back to Philly to be Kelly's offensive coordinator.
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Hiring Kelly was also a stick in the eye of a lot of naysayers. First, Joe Banner, who has trashed Eagles executives since he left and engaged in his own highly public pursuit of Kelly. The fact that his former protege Howie Roseman and (former?) friend Jeff Lurie beat him is wicked karma. Second, what about all those national reporters who attacked the Eagles organization for being unable to get a top coach? Jason LaCanfora said that Roseman is "drunk with power" and that his presence ruined any chance of Kelly coming to Philly. Since Roseman's persistent recruiting was actually key to Kelly leaving Oregon, LaCanfora is eating his words now.
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Interesting nugget about Kelly's version of "complete control" from Jeff McLane's story:
Kelly can be a control freak, two sources close to the coach said. But he is selective over the things he wants to control. Kelly will want little interference over how he coaches his team. He will want to decide on the strength and conditioning program. He will obsess over details as minor as what kind of thigh pads the players wear. As one source said, "He will turn that place upside down. But he only wants extreme control in certain areas."
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The quarterback question is huge going forward. In some ways, Kelly's Oregon offense decreased emphasis on the position. For example, the team averaged 53 rushes vs. only 29 pass attempts per game in 2012. Kelly cycled through four different quarterbacks without a drop-off in offensive production. Still, this is one of the trends I would be most skeptical about him being able to continue in the pros. The NFL is a passing league, and teams without top quarterbacks are relegated to also-rans.
So does Kelly have his quarterback of the future on the roster right now? I doubt it. He may be able to adjust the offense to accommodate Nick Foles, but I see little reason to install the Kelly offense only to deprive it of one of its best weapons -- the running quarterback. Plus, as I've written before, we don't have any idea yet if Foles is even worth changing an offense for. He's still unproven as a long term option.
Michael Vick certainly seems like he was created to run Kelly's offense, at least based on his athletic gifts. But at 33, he's not an option beyond a year or two -- and he may be too old to learn a completely different offense anyway. Plus there's the situation regarding his contract. No way he returns to the Eagles at all unless he accepts a pay cut. Still, I think if Kelly wants to try him out, there's some upside with Vick.
Other than those two, you have to start looking at trades, free agency, and the draft. Alex Smith might be an option. He's an efficient, if not explosive, passer and still retains some of the athleticism that allowed him to run for over 1000 yards in college. West Virginia's Geno Smith may be available at the fourth overall pick. He's a mobile QB, if not a running one. EJ Manuel out of Florida State may be a later round option.
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I love that there's a headline on Philly.com Sports right now that reads "Too soon to judge Kelly." I'm glad we're all waiting until at least his second week.
Photo from Getty.