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Chip Kelly's circle of confidants has always been small, but within that group there was a sense that this, for sure, was the year the offensively innovative coach would leave the University of Oregon for the NFL.
It was a matter of the proper fit – control and comfort.
With eight league jobs open, one would almost certainly make sense. Then, after a slew of rushed interviews in the wake of a Fiesta Bowl victory, including a nine-hour session with the Philadelphia Eagles, Kelly, in trademark speed, decided none did.
He "returned" to Oregon, although the school never issued a statement concerning it and Kelly said little to nothing about it. His NFL interest never waned, according to sources, and when the Eagles reached out again this week after fellow college coach Brian Kelly of Notre Dame turned them down, the dialogue resumed.
Wednesday it all came back around, Kelly agreeing to terms with the Eagles after all, a surprising and sudden change of course for a man who built his offense around just such a concept.
"Chip Kelly will be an outstanding head coach for the Eagles," owner Jeffrey Lurie said in a statement. "He has a brilliant football mind. He motivates his team with his actions as well as his words. He will be a great leader for us and will bring a fresh, energetic approach to our team."
The Eagles are gambling on a coach with zero NFL experience – as a player, assistant, staff member or headman. However, Lurie was convinced that leadership translates and remained enthralled with Kelly's groundbreaking offensive style that is predicated on tempo.
While a mobile quarterback – such as Michael Vick – can be ideal, the style can work in a more traditional way also. The New England Patriots fully embraced the speed offense this season and led the league in offensive plays despite having a prototypical pocket passer in Tom Brady.
The trend in the NFL is toward a Kelly-style offense – San Francisco, Washington, Seattle and others, including the Patriots, are all running systems that are non-traditional. It stands to reason that the league, and its players, are more open to a college coach today then it was just a year or two ago. It is also imperative on Kelly, of course, to be as flexible in regard to talent as possible.
The Eagles are convinced this will work. Their task was about making sure Kelly felt comfortable in the potential of the franchise, both immediately and going forward. There is expected to be some changes in the front office although the amount of control Kelly will hold remains to be seen, according to a source.
Kelly has never shied from expressing his desire to coach at the game’s highest level, but he was adamant that it was under an ideal situation. He also interviewed with the Cleveland Browns, but a source said he didn't feel it was the right spot. Last year he turned down a chance to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Lurie, the impressive Eagles owner, was able to finally get Kelly to see what he had in Philadelphia.
This wasn't about money, per se. Kelly was already handsomely paid at Oregon and while he'll get millions more in Philadelphia, he's not known for his materialistic side. A 49-year-old bachelor, he lives a relatively modest and simple life in Eugene.
His hobbies appear to be grinding game film and hanging out with old friends from New Hampshire.
He's an obsessed coach who has risen through the ranks. Kelly has just four seasons of head coaching experience [46-7] and just six seasons ago he was the offensive coordinator at the University of New Hampshire of Division I-AA.
Oregon is in the midst of a NCAA investigation into Kelly's recruiting practices. Potential violations center on Kelly authorizing a $25,000 payment in 2010 to a Texas talent scout named Will Lyles, who also played a critical role in the recruitment of Lache Seastrunk, a star running back at Temple (Texas) High School. The story was first reported by Yahoo! Sports.
The case is due in front of the NCAA's committee on infractions this year, which could mean nearly any penalty, including a postseason ban. That would make the 2013 team, which is very capable of going unbeaten and playing for a national title, ineligible. Such a penalty would be particularly devastating and make for a near worthless season for Kelly, who has nothing to prove in the college ranks other than winning a national championship.
That said, because Seastrunk never actually played for Oregon – he transferred to Baylor – there is a belief that any sanctions would focus on scholarship reductions, not postseason bans. With the NCAA, however, no one knows for certain.
If Kelly were motivated to get away from the NCAA however, he would've taken the Eagles job weeks ago. Instead he stepped back with no guarantee that they would return to offer him the job.
This was about Kelly believing Philadelphia was the spot where he can win a Super Bowl. And if it took a little extra time for persuasion, well, that’s about the only thing Chip Kelly has done slowly of late.
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