I asked the question aloud myself this past offseason when Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach Chip Kelly was handed over full control of the organization…what is more important, the players or the system? Kelly took control and immediately made it his team. He was going to succeed his way or fail his way. And this week we found out the answer, failure.
After four years as head coach at the University of Oregon, taking the team to a new level and perfecting the newest trend of tempo offense, Chip Kelly joined the NFL. He had quick success with the Eagles, taking the team from a 4-12 record in 2012 to back to back 10-6 seasons. But this year, his first after his coup and taking over control of personnel decisions, was a disaster.
Kelly shipped off Nick Foles, albeit which now seems like a neutral decision (neither good nor bad), LeSean McCoy, Evan Mathis, Bradley Fletcher, Cary Williams, Todd Herremans, and Jeremy Maclin. This, after previously jettisioning DeSean Jackson. We heard numerous times these players did not fit his system, the team could succeed without them because the players replacing them fit better.
It turns out that in the NFL, you can replace players but you better replace them with just as talented players. Kelly felt that he could take players without nearly the same amount of talent and plug them into his system and they wouldn’t miss a beat. He was obviously wrong.
Kelly’s system is reliant on the run game. He moved two Pro Bowl guards from his offensive line. What happened? The line was a shambles this year. He moved an electric running back that thrived in his system because of his contract. But he decided to replace him with DeMarco Murray, coming off an outstanding year but not the one cut back Kelly uses in the offense. In addition anyone in football knows the history of running backs coming off seasons in which they have 425 or more touches…it’s not good. Only three runninb backs have ever duplicated their stats the season after 425 touches, those three are Walter Payton, LaDanian Tomlinson, and Edgerrin James; two Hall of Famers and one that may be. Is Murray that good? I don’t think so. A decline was evident. Kelly also sent away his top two recievers, both game breakers with speed (Jackson and Maclin) in back to back seasons. He decided to rely on average and young wide receivers. How did that work out? Well the Eagles led the league in dropped passes this season.
If you watched any of the Eagles games this year, you saw the lack of a running game and costly dropped passes more than the explosive big plays you saw the first two years during his regime. The Eagles simply did not have the talent needed to run his system, heck they may not have enough talent to even field a competent regular offense. Kelly the coach finishes his tenure as Eagles head coach with a winning record. But Kelly the general manager took a promising, exciting offense and turned it into the 30th ranked offense this year.
Kelly may be a successful head coach, even if players hated playing for him. But winning makes that okay. The fact remains Kelly never attained the type of success needed to overcome that disdain. His egotistical, controlling attitude may be better suited for college. Where he can control everything about his program. But in the NFL it typically takes a team of people to be successful, unless you are Bill Belichick or Bill Parcells and have that success factor that gives credences to buying into their attitutde.
Kelly believed his system would transfer from Oregon into the NFL. And for awhile there it looked like he would be right. But that was when he had the players for the system. I think what the Kelly run in Philadelphia goes to show is that a system may work in the NFL but no matter how innovative the system is, you need talented players. Execution is key but talent is vital. He simply believed too much in his system (himself) and not enough in who he was using to execute that system. I am sure he will not be done in the NFl but maybe next time he will spend more time figuring out how to perfect a gameplan and less time in the general manager chair.