COMMENTARY | From the moment I heard Chip Kelly was being hired as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I felt a little down. After years of fatigue from watching Andy Reid run his course in Philadelphia I was looking for change. I wanted to see the Eagles hire a winner who was not afraid to try something new. I wanted a guy like Chip Kelly. I didn't know if I wanted Chip Kelly, but I wanted a guy like him. A guy the Eagles could experiment with. I was OK with an unknown because the Eagles had never reached the top of the mountain trying the normal method since I started watching them.
The Eagles had gone the assistant coach route before twice while I was paying attention, first with Ray Rhodes and later with Reid. Not knowing as much about the NFL I admit I was not sure which assistant coach in the league would make for the best coaching candidate any more than I could tell you what the weather will look like two days from now without getting the so-called expert opinion. Knowing the Eagles needed a little bit of a change of pace, I felt a guy similar to Kelly would be just the guy the franchise was waiting for and Tampa Bay had him heading to their franchise instead.
At least for a night they did.
Just when it appeared to be a done deal in which Kelly would leave the college sidelines to enter the NFL coaching ranks, Kelly had a change of heart and opted to stay at Oregon with the belief he had unfinished business in Eugene. It only made sense he called a quick audible on his coaching career, because everything he does is fast. Kelly returned to Oregon and led the Ducks to a Fiesta Bowl victory over Kansas State, with Stanford throwing their defensive power in the way of Oregon's potent offense to claim the Pac 12 championship. Kelly still kept an ear open to NFL suitors. With the Eagles finally bringing an end to the Reid Renaissance, a period of franchise history that had actually reverted to a bit of the dark ages, there were two directions the franchise could have headed. The Eagles could have played it safe with a coach who brought a bit of an NFL mindset to the team or they could think outside the box and try something brand new. Bill O'Brien, coming off a successful season at Penn State with the weight of the NCAA weighing him down, would have been a fine selection if they could convince O'Brien to leave State College so quickly. Syracuse's Doug Marrone may have been a decent fit in to the team as well, but he ended up joining the Buffalo Bills. There were NFL assistants out there as well, but Eagles owner Jeff Lurie took the plunge with a guy who had never coached a game on a Sunday in his life.
Chip Kelly was the answer as far as Lurie was concerned. Finally, the Eagles had gone in a direction I had been hoping for.
A history of failure by college coaches in the NFL, I believe, has been taken out of proportion over the years. Steve Spurrier was a disaster, but his ego was not in the right frame of mind when he left Florida for the Washington Redskins. Nick Saban's move from LSU to the Miami Dolphins didn't quite work out and the infamous Bobby Petrino era in Atlanta ended well before the regular season did. These men have cast a dark shadow for college coaches when it comes to NFL chances, but as the college and pro game evolve we are already seeing some coaches have a smoother transition to the pros. John Harbaugh went from transforming Stanford in to a Pac 12 power to making the San Francisco 49ers a Super Bowl contender. Greg Schiano's work at Tampa Bay -- the Bucs ended up with the former Rutgers coach as a consolation for missing out on Kelly -- is just getting started. Carroll fled from USC just before the Trojans were hit by the NCAA and has found a way to make the Seattle Seahawks a playoff contender as well. Now Kelly gets his chance to prove that the old stigma against college coaches is as stale as saying Philly fans threw snowballs at Santa. Critics and analysts will have to find new material if Kelly succeeds in his coaching in Philadelphia.
Kelly is off to a fantastic start. He quickly changed the way the Eagles practices, trained and took care of themselves. He has every player set up with specialized protein shakes after practices. He's blaring music at practices. He's cramming in as much offense as he can in practice and on the field. Before the season ever started Kelly had to manage controversy with a key free agent not showing up for optional practices, another getting in to an abusive Twitter rampage, and yet another finding himself in the middle of a racially charged controversy. Just days before the start of the season, TV cameras caught two of those players -- Carey Williams and Riley Cooper -- in a scuffle during practice. To add to that, Kelly had to oversee what many would suggest was a pretty open quarterback competition between a veteran who returned for one more season in Michael Vick and a second year player Kelly knew a little bit about in Nick Foles, who played against Kelly at Arizona in the Pac 12. Kelly even received some criticism for what appeared to be a loyalty to players who had previously played for him at Oregon, although that criticism was small and out of place in a world where we feel a need to react to every little thing and make it a story. Kelly was 46-7 with Oregon players, so in my book if he wanted to work with players used to winning it was fine by me.
Time would be wasted in evaluating what Kelly had done to this point. Whether you liked what Kelly had done or not, all that mattered was whether or not the Eagles could win some games. On a Monday night in FedEx Field the Eagles, and Kelly, were winners.
It was just one game but the Eagles entered the game taking on a role of Rocky Balboa, the spunky underdog that nobody knew much about. The Redskins were certainly no Apollo Creed, but they were far removed from Spider Rico status. The Eagles delivered the first punch but it was the Redskins who landed the first punch to the gut when a Vick pass was ruled to be moving backward behind the line of scrimmage and the Redskins picked the deflected backward pass up and returned it uncontested for an early touchdown. The early miscue could have quickly unraveled the Eagles, but fighters fight. This Eagles team had plenty of fight in them as they took command in the first half, building a surprising 26-7 lead at halftime against the defending NFC East Division champions. The return of Robert Griffin III to the Redskins was clearly rusty, with the former Heisman Trophy quarterback unsuccessfully recruited by Kelly at Oregon -- Griffin attended Baylor -- playing his first game since leaving the NFC Wild Card match-up with the Seattle Seahawks after tearing his knee up. If there was one team who should have been expected to pack a little power in the season opener, it may have been the Redskins.
But that's because everybody underestimated Kelly and his healthy team. The Eagles may not be an NFC East favorite after one night, but if that one night is any indication of what to expect the rest of the year than we know it will be an entertaining season in Philadelphia.
Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sportswriter and member of the Football Writers Association of America. You can follow McGuire's Eagles commentary on Yahoo and on Twitter @krmcguire. Interested in college football? Follow @KevinOnCFB.
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