BOCA RATON, Fla. – The Chip Kelly spin on his Philadelphia Eagles demise is now a matter of public record. Here's how Kelly scored his remarkably responsibility-free (by his account) reign on Wednesday at the NFL owners' meetings: He was given power by ownership that he never asked for. His pursuit of Marcus Mariota never happened. His free-agent additions during his tenure were signed to contracts he had nothing to do with, by a personnel department he didn't run. And he apparently never really spoke to his executive nemesis Howie Roseman, whose name Kelly basically refused to speak.
Kelly could have saved everyone a lot of time this week by wearing a T-shirt that said: "Don't ask me, man. I just coached there."
Looking back, it was a stance that might have been suspected. But looking forward, it might not bode well for the San Francisco 49ers. Consider that the franchise is already on the doorstep of two pivotal quarterback decisions: What to do with Colin Kaepernick, and whether or not to spend a high draft pick on the position. How that plays out could ultimately be the difference between a successful rebuild or yet another ugly round of divorce court for both Kelly and the 49ers.
Both have to show they've learned relationship and responsibility lessons from their past failures. How the quarterback spot is handled will say a lot about that. After listening to Kelly essentially dodge any responsibility for his end with the Eagles, it's worth wondering if failure has taught him anything.
To his credit, Roseman has already publicly pointed a finger at himself for his failings during a five-year run at general manager. Some of his miscalculations as a GM ultimately created an opportunity for Kelly to gain more personnel power. Those familiar with the fallout say the overriding theme was that Roseman was insecure – and maybe for good reason. Either way, he let his insecurities creep into his relationship with Kelly and some of the coach's key allies.
When Roseman moved to eliminate Kelly confidant and head of pro personnel Tom Gamble in 2014, his relationship with the head coach was over. The trench-digging on both sides had concluded, and the Eagles were in trouble. But this is also where team owner Jeffrey Lurie failed. In early January 2015, he had a choice: fire Kelly or Roseman. Instead, he tried to split the difference, keeping both men in the building after a nasty coup d'état that ended with Roseman being demoted. In retrospect, Kelly needed Roseman out. Or Roseman needed Kelly out. Lurie spit into the wind and kept them both and well …
How that saga played out should matter to the 49ers because it largely orbited around power, personalities and roster-making. And as what played out in San Francisco in the past two years, those haven't been the soundest pillars in the franchise. And that brings us back to Kelly. More specifically, whether he learned enough from his Eagles experience to avoid the same mistakes.
Right now, that's debatable. Kelly spent the larger part of Wednesday completely removing himself from the Philadelphia debacle.
Personnel power? He said he never asked for it and ultimately never had it. Indeed, he effectively called Lurie a liar, disputing the owner's claim that Kelly sought the power. Leaning on semantics, Kelly once again pointed at general manager Ed Marynowitz as being the guy in charge of personnel with the Eagles. Let's air that one out: Marynowitz ultimately served at the pleasure of Kelly … and that made Kelly the de facto general manager. It's a plain and simple reality.
It went further than that.
Contracts? Kelly said that he and Marynowitz told Roseman who the good players were, and it was up to Roseman to figure out the money. That was Kelly's way of saying, "Roseman is dumping his own bad contracts right now, not mine."
"I've never negotiated a contract in my life," Kelly said at one point. "I've never had a conversation with an agent in my life. I had nothing to do with any contracts. … We never told [Roseman] to get them at any cost. We just gave an evaluation of who we like and who the good players are."
Kelly explained DeMarco Murray's failures in Philadelphia as being injury-related. Kiko Alonso? Injuries. Byron Maxwell? Well, he didn't address Maxwell.
The problem with that approach? Murray had an injury history. Alonso too. Isn't that part of evaluating "who the good players are"?
The bottom line in all of this is Kelly never felt close to that watershed moment where some coaches look back at a failure and admit responsibility. Maybe part of it was not giving an inch to the Philadelphia media that went after him hard on Wednesday. Maybe part of it was a response to Roseman lighting the Philadelphia roster aflame as media danced around it almost gleefully. Or maybe it's just new Chip Kelly being a lot like the old Chip Kelly, filled to the brim with passive-aggressive answers and explanations, with no ground to give when it comes to his place in a failed mechanism.
Whatever it is, it's a troublesome stance given where the 49ers are going at quarterback. If there's one thing that turns a front office and coach inside out quickly, it's failing to make the right call at quarterback.
At least Kelly left no ambiguity about his power position this time around, saying he'd like to work with Kaepernick but that the quarterback had to work out his business with the front office. Still, the true test will come next, when someone – anyone – succeeds or fails at that position in 2016 and beyond.
Kelly will surely embrace success with open arms. But accountability in failure? If Wednesday was any indication, 49ers fans shouldn't ask Kelly. He just coaches there.
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