Following the 1975 season, Dick Vermeil was ready for a new lifestyle in the National Football League. He had just led the UCLA Bruins to a victory in the Rose Bowl over the undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes, but the challenge and appeal of life in the pros was too much to pass up. He soon became the new head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, Thirty-some-odd years later, Oregon’s Chip Kelly has made the same jump to the same city, hoping to replicate Vermeil’s success in Philadelphia. He’d love to add one thing Vermeil did not bring to Philadelphia (but did later in his coaching career): a championship.
Heading into this week, it was long assumed that Kelly was a lock to return to the Oregon Ducks for another year. After all, the media had reported as much just ten days ago. That said, Kelly never faced the media, never had a fancy press conference saying that Oregon was his home, never stated that what the media had said was true. Ten days later, Kelly reversed course, and now finds himself as the head coach of the Eagles.
It’s not known why Kelly changed his mind after he reportedly was happy to be a Duck. The earliest quotes from Kelly say that it was just a tough decision and took some time to think over. We can also bet money had something to do with it. (Kelly could receive a contract of five years and make over $6 million a year according to earliest indications.) But, at the end of the day, it came to down to whether or not the Eagles and Kelly could come to a happy marriage. Owner Jeffrey Lurie and GM Howie Roseman are thrilled to have the guy they wanted from the beginning.
Now the questions begin: Who will be Kelly’s coordinator? After all, you can throw a ton of offense at opposition and wow people with points, but the Eagles did have a pretty awful defense this past year. Will Mike Vick stay? The Eagles need an answer shortly after the Super Bowl. If Vick is gone, will Nick Foles be the quarterback? Will they keep the number four pick?
At 49 years of age, Kelly is just five years younger than Andy Reid, but he doesn’t have the 14 years of NFL miles as head coach on him as Reid does. There will be grueling nights of no sleep and film watching, scouting, mini camps, training camps, free agency, drafts, and more to take on for Kelly. The life of a college coach isn’t exactly a cakewalk, but the NFL is a different animal. Kelly’s Oregon team averaged 49.6 PPG this season, second most in college football. Hey, nobody is expecting him to average that in the National Football League. What people are expecting of Kelly is to bring a high-octane, fast-paced offense to the league.
The Ducks’ time per play last season was at 20.9 seconds. The Patriots were the fastest in the NFL at 24.9. Will Kelly keep up that pace in the NFL? It’s hard to say, but he has been known to consult with Bill Belichick, and it’s easy to see some of Kelly’s offense emanating from New England. Tom Brady released the ball from his arm on average three seconds after the snap in 2012, which is also fastest in the NFL. For the Patriots, it was not just about having plays in to the quarterback’s helmet in a speedy manner, it was about getting the ball out of his hands once the ball was snapped as well.
Can that type of offense work in Philadelphia? We shall see. The Patriots, in those quick-release plays, are usually keen on a wide receiver screen, usually getting the ball to Wes Welker. The Eagles don’t exactly have a Wes Welker on the roster, but Jason Avant could develop into one as a slot guy. Oregon’s recent Fiesta Bowl victory also featured a beautiful play in which Kenjon Barner got himself open on a delayed play to the running back in which he was able to get open in the flats while the other receivers had cornerbacks tied up downfield. Eagles fans would love to see LeSean McCoy benefit from this type of play calling.
The big question, in terms of on the field play and financially, is whether or not the Eagles will have Michael Vick running Kelly’s offense. It’s not totally out of the question, but it just doesn’t seem likely. Vick’s base salary in 2013 is $15.5 million, and sources say Vick is not open to restructuring. When people think of a Chip Kelly offense, they surely think of Dennis Dixon and think that someone like Vick is needed to run the offense.
To put this bluntly, if Kelly thinks he can just come to the NFL and need that type of quarterback to run an offense, he’s sorely mistaken. But, to be honest, I don’t think Kelly is hard-headed enough to do that. By all accounts, everyone raves about Kelly’s football mind and his smarts. He will have to adapt to the NFL game with the personnel he is given. Given what we have heard, that shouldn’t be a problem for Kelly. He will have to cherry-pick parts of his offense and what he did in the college game and modify it to the personnel he has with the Eagles and the pro game.
This will not be an easy task for Kelly. The Eagles were 4-12 in 2012, and despite having some talent on the roster, plenty of pieces will need to be added. Having the fourth pick in the draft won’t hurt. Kelly comes to the NFL with a lot of pressure on his shoulders. We have seen college coaches succeed (Vermeil, Jim Harbaugh, Jimmy Johnson) and we have seen some fail (Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, Bobby Petrino). It remains to be seen what category Kelly will fall into. Then again, ten days ago, there was a pretty high chance we would never see Kelly in the NFL. But now, the chips are down. You’re up, Mr. Kelly.