Chip Kelly’s introductory press conference in 2013 was full of memorable quotes — mostly for their irony at this point, more than anything — but the one that always stuck out to me was when he cited a Spanish conquistador, Hernan Cortés, in reference to not returning to college like the coaches who failed before him:
“I’m all in. I think it was Cortés who burned the boats. Well I burned the boats. I’m not going back. I’m an NFL guy.” ~ January, 2013
For people who lack the off-hand knowledge of Spanish conquistadors that Chip Kelly apparently possesses, Cortés led the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire — which basically makes him the Mexican Christopher Columbus.
What Chip didn’t realize was that while Cortés did in fact burn his boats (look it up, the dude was pretty bold) he actually ended up needing more ships to return to Spain after all. Which, in an ironic twist of fate, makes the comparison even more apt as Chip set his sails for UCLA.
Much like Cortés and Columbus spark controversy for the way they pillaged Native Americans, Kelly sparks anger in the city of Philadelphia for the way he pillaged our native roster of talent and hope.
When the team first hired Chip I predicted that he would deliver us a Super Bowl, and, in a roundabout kind of way, can you really say I was wrong?
Most reasonable people would.
But the argument could be made that Chip Kelly was low key the best thing to ever happen to The Eagles.
I realize how that may sound, but let’s ponder for a second the sequence of events that lead to the signing of Doug Pederson as head coach, the drafting of Carson Wentz at quarterback, and the circumstances from the previous three seasons that laid the foundation for those decisions.
Chip came to the NFL poised to turn the league upside down with his innovative offense, hyper-efficient practices, and dedication to sports science. As a coach who had been highly coveted for the previous few offseasons and atop every NFL short list for a head coaching vacancy, he came from college with a clear mandate to implement HIS vision HIS way. In short, unlike most first year head coaches, Chip wasn’t just given the keys, he was given the whole castle.
Without rehashing all the gritty details, the team descended into a nosedive from the moment Chip was elevated to GM, and the rest is history.
In the aftermath, the team understandably wanted nothing to do with making the “sexy” hire, or “winning the offseason” by making a splash at HC as they did three years prior. Instead, the organization chose to take the Andy Reid blueprint; hire an unproven coach who simply didn’t have the cache to become a power hungry egomaniac.
Here’s this quote from Lurie on what he was looking for in his next head coach:
“I would say it was important to have a very genuine, collaborative coach who was smart and poised, could be tougher whenever [needed] and the players could really relate to.”
Genuine, collaborative, and relatable are three words nobody used to describe Chip Kelly.
It’s safe to say that at the time, the reason Doug Pederson was hired was because he was the antithesis of Kelly. Where Chip was reputable Doug was unknown, and where Chip was power-crazed Doug was collaborative.
But for as much as Chip’s arrogance influenced our desire to hire a coach like Doug, the more transformative sequence of events in those three years was the hope and subsequent fallout of not being able to land would-be franchise QB Marcus Mariota.
While we can debate how things would have turned out differently had we been able to move up to draft Mariota, it’s hard to argue that the fallout from missing out on him didn’t have an influence on the team’s motivation for trading up to #2 in 2016.
Lurie said in hindsight:
“We were going to do everything possible to build around an elite quarterback.”
Enter Carson Wentz.
From the get-go Howie and Lurie set off on a mission to not only get their franchise quarterback, but surround that player with coaches who create the best environment for success. Once Pederson had his combo of Reich and DeFillipo — two highly regarded QB minds — they set their sights on finding the Drafts’ franchise quarterback. When they determined that that player was Wentz, Howie was given the authority to do everything in his power to move up and get their guy.
And isn’t fair to suggest that Chip brought us the new Howie?
Howie being ostracized is what allowed him to survive the regime change. With him out of the picture entirely on personnel moves, he was absolved of all responsibility (and subsequent blame) that fell squarely on Kelly. Had Howie never been banished, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where he would have been elevated to his current role with the Birds into the Pederson era.
For all Chip Kelly’s failure did in molding our current vision, Howie Roseman is the guy who was able to execute that vision, and we have Chip to thank for that.
Lane, Ertz, Hicks, Algholor
We also can thank Chip for the players he brought to Philly — something we can link directly to him.
Lets start with Lane Johnson. The best right tackle in football and the bell cow that our running game runs behind. He was the first pick of Chip Kelly era and probably the best pick the Eagles have made in the first round all decade.
Beyond Johnson being a 1st Team All-Pro last season, he is undoubtedly one of the biggest leaders in the locker room. While the identity of the Birds doesn’t boil down to one player, it’s fair to say that he embodies the grit and heart of Philly like no other; this can be summed up by his wearing the “underdog” mask and inspiring the movement that followed.
In that same draft, Kelly also brought us what is now our top offensive weapon, Zach Ertz, and in later drafts added Jordan Hicks and Nelson Algholor; two more important players still on the roster.
Perhaps the most obvious reason we have to thank Chip Kelly isn’t for Wentz, Pederson, Howie, or any of the players that he drafted. It has to do with Nick Foles.
A lot of Foles success in the playoffs has been traced back to Kelly and understandably so. Pederson made a concerted effort to install as many of Chip’s concepts into his offense as he could. Mainly, through an increased use of RPO’s. While run-pass options have been around for a while, and previously existed in Pederson’s offense, it’s not hard to connect the team’s near reliance on that concept in the playoffs to Foles’ near MVP campaign (27-2 TD-Int.) with Chip in 2014.
Shortly after Chip boasted about “burning the boats” back to college in his opening press conference, he was asked about Foles:
“I’m a huge fan of his. He’s tough.”
We are too, Chip.
Thanks for everything.