COMMENTARY | If Chip Kelly is truly as smart as most folks seem to think, the Philadelphia Eagles' new head coach knows that he has to address the poor attitude and lack of effort that infected the locker room and contributed to the Birds' disappointing 8-8 record in 2011, and their abysmal 4-12 finish in 2012.
Kelly has undoubtedly reviewed tape of the frustrating fusillade of missed tackles, dropped passes, blown coverage and uninspired special teams play that defined the last several seasons. According to ProFootballFocus.com (PFF), the Eagles missed 13.24% of their tackles in 2011, and clearly there was no improvement in 2012. Using statistics for a three-year-period, PFF ranked defensive back Nnamdi Asomugha third in missed tackles, whiffing once in every 4.6 attempts, while Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was 12th worst among defensive backs, missing once in every 5.8 tackle attempts.
Midway through the 2012 season, Andy Reid tried to shake things up by canning his defensive coordinator, Juan Castillo. When that failed to help, he later fired defensive line coach Jim Washburn. But ultimately, those desperation moves were just Band Aids thrown on a festering wound. They did little to address the real issues: uninspired player performance and lackluster attitudes.
So what does Chip Kelly need to do to change the losing football culture in Philadelphia and turn things around for the beleaguered Eagles?
1. Hold players accountable for lack of effort and bad screw-ups.
Reid was known as a "player's coach," but to him that seemed to mean always taking the blame and never holding players' feet to the fire for poor performance. "I've got to put players in a better position" became a groan-inducing Andy Reid meme in South Philly, which did nothing but irk fans who wanted some player accountability. There's no need to publicly humiliate underachievers, but there's nothing wrong with saying someone "needs to do a better job" when the cameras are rolling. The flip side, of course, is publicly recognizing players who put forth outstanding effort and who demonstrate superior leadership skills. If done properly, this can be a powerful motivator.
2. Bench repeat offenders.
Reid waited until the final quarter of the Eagles' season-ending 42-7 humiliation by the New York Giants before finally benching Asomugha, but by then it was far too late. If a defender continually misses tackles or a receiver drops multiple passes in a game, Kelly should bench them immediately. The same goes for defenders who blow coverage, receivers who lay down to avoid hits, players who frequently fumble, etc. It shouldn't matter if the next man up isn't as talented. Give him a chance to prove that he's hungry and wants to win. Talent means nothing in the NFL without effort and the will to win. Benching repeat offenders right away will send a message that lack of effort or frequent mental mistakes won't be tolerated.
3. Waive or trade players with a poor attitude.
OK, this may seem totally obvious, but it wasn't to Reid. Sure, he eventually banished bombastic defensive end Jason Babin to Jacksonville after 11 games. But again, that was far too little, too late. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson flat-out admitted that he dogged it through the 2011 season because he didn't have a new, high-dollar contract. Apparently, the fact that he had agreed to his existing contract by signing it meant nothing. So DeSean sulked, played half-heartedly, skipped a team meeting before an important game, and all but disappeared on the field. How did the Eagles deal with this egregious betrayal? By rewarding DeSean with a new five-year contract worth nearly $50 million. The team would have been far better served by recognizing DeSean's attitude as a cancer in the locker room, and excising it immediately. Instead, they sent a message that bad attitudes and poor performance get rewarded.
Eagles fans can only hope that Chip Kelly is indeed smart enough to avoid the same pitfalls as his predecessor.
Gary Strassberg is a lifelong fan of the Philadelphia Eagles and has been a journalist for more than 20 years. He has worked for the E.W. Scripps Company, The Nielsen Company, and other media outlets.