Hours before meeting the abundantly assembled Philadelphia media on Thursday, Chip Kelly inked a five-year contract to be the team’s Head Coach. He likely won’t need that long to change the culture.
To say Kelly made an impressive first impression on the media and fanbase may be an understatement coming on the heels of 14-years of press conferences that began with the world ‘injuries’ and chalked full of throat clear’s, ‘better job’s’ and of course making sure that we knew that the time was ours. Kelly was altogether engaging, funny and enlightening, especially when explaining his change of course from January 6th to January 16th when he ultimately chose to make the jump from the University of Oregon to the Philadelphia Eagles.
“I think that’s something that is extremely important to me because of the history and the tradition here,” Kelly said, cementing his knowledge of the history of the Eagles franchise. “From Tommy McDonald to Chuck Bednarik to Reggie [White], there [have] been some unbelievable people here. I have a saying that I learned a long time ago that is, ‘We can see farther than other people right now because we stand on the shoulders of the people who came before us.’ When you just walk into this building and you see these pictures, it really makes you do a double take. But it also makes you understand that every time you come to work there’s a standard of excellence that this organization stands for.”
So go ahead, and check the box next to engaging with the Philadelphia fanbase next to the list of qualities Reid’s replacement was requisite to possess.
Make no mistake about it, this was a fanbase that swung alternately between apathetic and enraged towards it’s football team over the course of the last 24 months and Kelly seemed a breath of fresh air during his hour plus long introductory press conference.
But that’s just scratching the surface.
It’s one thing, having the ability to connect with one of the most rabid fanbases and scrupulous media contingents in sports, it’s entirely another to convince your players to buy into what you’re preaching and turn the tide of the staleness that had descended on this team in recent years.
As important as putting points on the board will be, and finding the right quarterback to succeed within Kelly’s innovative offensive scheme and fixing a porous defense that surrendered nearly 28 points per game will be on the Head Coach’s agenda, as they should be, changing the culture around this team may be most important. That will need to happen before the first pass is thrown in April minicamps.
In the hours immediately following the Eagles disheartening 42-7 loss to the New York Giants which emphatically punctuated the disappointment of the Reid era on December 30th, Eagles players were pointing fingers like hunting dogs in search of fallen quail.
“I don’t think a lot of guys left it all on the line at times, McCoy said as he cleaned out his Novacare Complex locker. “It’s obvious, I mean, you watch the games.”
That type of attitude is as disastrous as it is divisive in football, the ultimate team sport and changing it may be the most important building block as Kelly takes control of his era in Eagles history.
“I can’t speak to anything that went on before [I got] here,” Kelly explained. “I wasn’t here so my message to our players, and I’ve gotten a chance to meet a few of them, is we have one goal and our goal is to get to the Super Bowl. We’re going to find a bunch of guys who are like minded individuals that understand that the game of football is played by everybody. It’s not an ‘I’ deal, it’s a team deal. And that’s the thing that wins. Whether it’s at the high school level, the collegiate level, or in the National Football League, the best team wins. Not the team with the most talented players. We’re going to surround ourselves with the best team.”
There will be time to find a quarterback, and decide how much of his spread-option offense to implement. What appears to be true, at least on Thursday, is that Kelly will tailor his offense and his team and his schemes around the personnel that is in place or will be put into place, rather than try to mold his players to fit the scheme.
“Our offense is always going to be tailored to who’s playing,” Kelly said.
The most obvious cure to a culture of losing where scapegoats are made more often than points are scored, is winning. It is the ultimate elixir in the National Football League. Kelly’s track record shows he has the ability to do that, after his Ducks averaged 45 points per game in his 53 games there and lost just seven times.
“I’m an equal opportunity scorer, and we’ll score any way we can,” Kelly said. “It’s all based on what our personnel is. I’m not married to try to take a quarterback who can’t run and make him run, and a quarterback who can’t throw and make him throw. It’s putting your players in the best position you can to be successful, and how you can score points.”
The personnel may or may not be in place today, for Kelly to run the offense he’d like to run moving forward. However, even when that personnel is in place, changing the culture and getting the team focus and moving in the same direction may be even more important than how many times a game the offense runs a misdirection or play action on third and short.
It may very well take Kelly five years to rebuild the talent on the Eagles roster, but it likely won’t take him nearly that long to turn the culture of the locker room on it’s heels.